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The Walking Dead: Here's How Carl Died

It was a heavy send-off for an important character

Liam Mathews

[Warning: Spoilers for the Season 8 midseason premiere of The Walking Dead follow. Read at your own risk!]

The Walking Dead's midseason premiere, "Honor," told the rest of the story that began in the midseason finale, when Carl (Chandler Riggs) revealed that he had been bitten by a walker and was going to die. The heart-tugging episode sent off Riggs, who had been with the show since the beginning, and rerouted his father Rick's (Andrew Lincoln) path forward, as Carl finally impressed upon him the need for peaceful coexistence among the warring communities.

The episode began with a flashback that showed the exact moment that Carl got bit, which happened back in "The Widow, the King and Rick" when he and Siddiq (Avi Nash) were clearing some walkers because Siddiq's mother believed putting down walkers freed the person's soul trapped inside, and it's what she would have wanted them to do. It wasn't necessary at that moment, so Carl's death truly was avoidable.

We were then treated to a lovely montage, soundtracked by Bright Eyes' "At the Bottom of Everything," of Carl coming to terms with his impending death. He wrote letters to his loved ones, he spent time with his sister Judith, he helped Siddiq get settled in his new home in the sewer, and he planted a tree and felt the sun on his face one last time.

Andrew Lincoln, Chandler Riggs and Danai Gurira, The Walking Dead

Andrew Lincoln, Chandler Riggs and Danai Gurira, The Walking Dead

Gene Page/AMC

Then it flashed-forward to the sewer as the sack of Alexandria continued and the survivors mourned Carl and tried to figure out their next move. They decided they'd head to the Hilltop, which meant that Carl had to say goodbye.

"You be good, okay?" he told Judith. "For Michonne, for Dad. You gotta honor him. Listen when he tells you stuff. But you don't have to always. Sometimes kids gotta show their parents the way."

Carl gave her Rick's sheriff hat, which Rick gave to him when he was recovering from being accidentally shot in Season 2. "This was Dad's before it was mine. Now it's yours," he told her. "I don't know, just having it, it always kept Dad with me. It made me feel as strong as him. It helped me. Maybe it'll help you too. Before Mom died, she told me that I was gonna beat this world. I didn't, but you will. I know you will." Judith began to cry, seeming to understand the gravity of the situation, and Rick picked her up and handed her to Daryl (Norman Reedus) to take to the Hilltop. Rick and Daryl's enmity seems to have evaporated in the face of this tragedy.

"These people, you saved them all," Daryl told the dying boy. "That's all you, man."

Siddiq, who it turns out was a doctor before the apocalypse and therefore has uncommonly useful skills (even though that's not why Carl brought him), told Carl that he will honor his memory by living in a way that shows Carl's sacrifice wasn't for nothing.

"Congratulations," said Carl, giving him a bro handshake. "You're stuck with us."

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Then it was just Carl, Rick and Michonne (Danai Gurira). "I don't want you be sad after this," Carl told his surrogate stepmother. "Or angry. You're gonna have to be strong. For my dad. For Judith. For yourself."

"I will," she answered.

"Don't carry this," he said. "Not this part. You're my best friend, Michonne." It was sweet. Remember when she got him the rainbow cat? Michonne's job going forward will be to keep Rick on track if and when he has doubts about building the world in Carl's image.

Rick and Michonne carried Carl out of the sewer and up to the remains of Alexandria's church. Carl reminded Rick of the time he cold-bloodedly murdered a boy just a little older than him at the prison, and how Rick reined in his own tendency for violence after that in order to keep Carl from going further down a dark path. It worked, because Carl grew up to be a kind and self-sacrificing young man, and Carl needs Rick to be like that again. He needs Rick to put down his gun and extend his hand to his enemies, because survival will be unsustainable otherwise.

"I can't be who I was," said Rick. "It's different now."

"You can't kill all of them, Dad," answered Carl. "There's gotta be something after. For you. And for them. There's gotta be something after." (There was a lot of dialogue repeated for emphasis in this episode.)

This conversation between Rick and Carl was intercut with Morgan (Lennie James) grappling with killing Gavin (Jayson Warner Smith), the most reasonable of the Saviors who found himself at Morgan's mercy. Morgan's struggle mirrored Rick's. He didn't want to kill Gavin, and Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and Carol (Melissa McBride) pleaded with him not to, but he felt he had to to get revenge for Benjamin (Logan Miller). Morgan can no longer conceive of a way of life not governed by brutality. But as he was about to stab Gavin with his staff, someone else's staff exploded through Gavin's throat from behind. It was Henry (Macsen Lintz), Benjamin's little brother, who's about the age Carl was when he killed the boy at the prison. History is repeating itself. But there's a way out of the vicious cycle, and Carl and Rick know it, even if Rick's not ready to go back there yet.

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"I know you can't see it yet. How it could be. But I have. You have a beard," Carl said, revealing that the visions we've been seeing throughout the season were his, not Rick's. "It's bigger and grayer. Michonne's happy. Judith is older. She's listening to the songs that I used to before. Alexandria is bigger. There's new houses, crops. And people working. Everybody living. Helping everybody else live. If you can still be who you were, that's how it could be. It could."

"Carl, it was all for you," Rick said. "Right from the start. Back in Atlanta, the farm, everything I did it, it was for you. And then at the prison, it was for you and Judith. It still is, it's gonna be. And nothing is going to change that."

"I want this for you, Dad," Carl said.

"I'm gonna make it real, Carl, I promise," Rick said. "I'm gonna make it real." Carl's vision is the way forward. He sees that now.

"Carl, I'm sorry," Rick said. "I'm sorry I couldn't protect you. A father's job is to protect his son."

"Love," answered Carl. "It's just to love."

Carl reached for the pistol he had in his hip holster. He said that while he was still capable of taking himself out, he would. They all told each other they loved each other, and Rick again promised to "make it real." Rick and Michonne went outside to the porch of the church, and as the sun came up, they heard the silenced report of Carl's gun. It was over. They buried him.

The last of Carl's visions played. Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) was working in the garden at Alexandria and he and Judith greeted each other with warmth.

Then another flash-forward to Rick when his mercy prevailed over his wrath. It looks like Negan's going to survive this war because that's what Carl wanted.

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.