Warning: This review contains mild spoilers for the start of Season 8’s second half. For full spoilers, read on below.
The Walking Dead returns with what should have been an emotional and gut-wrenching episode in the wake of Season 8’s mid-season finale – and in some ways, it is, literally. Given extra runtime, Honor (their spelling, not ours) feels misused and thus the episode overly long, as has been the case with past episodes granted supplementary minutes. Bouncing between the excruciatingly slow death of Carl (Chandler Riggs) and the internal collapse of Morgan (Lennie James), as he and Carol (Melissa McBride) attempt to free Ezekiel (Khary Payton) from the Saviours only compounds the problems. Nothing is allowed the proper opportunity to digest.
This is (inevitably, after that bite in the mid-season finale) Carl’s farewell to the Walking Dead Universe and, rightfully, Carl does provide some real emotional moments. He has been used as his father’s conscience this season, hoping for a better tomorrow, free from war and bloodshed. These wishes may have already changed Rick (Andrew Lincoln), who remains unusually calm throughout Carl’s suffering, allowing him to say goodbye to his friends and family – even Siddiq (Avi Nash), who we thought Rick would be blaming for this. The impact of Carl’s fate cannot be confined to this one episode, though: it needs to permeate the remainder of the season and drive the story forward, otherwise this creative decision, which has split the fan community, will have been in vain.
Carl has grown up in this apocalyptic world, having lived through horrors both physical and emotional, and it changed him as a character, growing and developing into the voice of reason, the possible narrator of what will drive Rick in the rest of the war. As well as the character, Chandler Riggs has grown from somewhat annoying child actor to someone who is able to stand out against the likes of veterans Andrew Lincoln and Jeffery Dean Morgan. Riggs delivers Carl’s final farewells with finesse and watery eyes, a credit to how far he has come. While Carl does get to tug on our heartstrings, monologuing historical references from the now over 100-episode-strong series, we aren’t allowed to linger on them too long, as the episode cuts quickly between tears and the war at the Kingdom.
For the sombre at Alexandria, the Kingdom is on fire. Ezekiel, having freed his people, is now a capture of the Saviours but showing no signs of giving up the fight. Their leader, Gavin (Jayson Warner Smith), never wanted it to come to this, but refuses to back down despite the countless olive branches being offered to him. It isn’t long until he realises the hunters have become the hunted, as Morgan, engulfed in the red mist, continues his Terminator-like slaughter, picking off his victims like a horror movie monster. The editing between this and Carl’s goodbyes try to show a contrast of who they are and what they could become, but the cuts are too quick, feeling disjointed.
Creative decisions aside, Honor (their spelling, not ours) has moments of pure sentiment and honesty worthy of Carl’s final chapter. Despite his passionate performance, there are just too many goodbyes made to fill the extra minutes in the episode, detracting from what could have been a tribute a character who has grown up with this series and given it everything he has. The real honour (our spelling, not theirs) will be if Rick can keep his promise to his son, if he can change the war they’re fighting, if it’s not too late.
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Innards and entrails (spoilers)
– It’s revealed that the Old Man Rick sequence was really Carl’s vivid imagination of a world he hoped for. In this vision, they work together, they rebuild, they grow up and they let people who tried to kill them be part of the community. The episode ends with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) in the allotments, smiling that wonderful smile to an older Judith. As this is a fantasy, however, it doesn’t add any shock value to carry into the next episode. Carl and Negan had a strange but mutually respectful relationship and, as the whole point of Carl’s goodbye is to build a better tomorrow, that means accepting and forgiving their rivals, no matter how far-fetched it may seem.
– Speaking of Judith, she almost ruins the scene where Carl bids her goodbye thanks to her apparent upset having to be dubbed over as she is carried away. Will she remember her brother and grow up to be as good as he was?
– Finding out the Old Man Rick sequence was a Carl fantasy, the other shots that the episode cuts to may then be reality. Rick is seen tearful and begging for mercy by a wrecked stained-glass window and this time, we see he looks mortally wounded, bleeding out from his side. Is this really the end for the Grimes family? It looks as though Rick cannot fulfil Carl’s wishes, but whether that is through his own fault or an unaccepting Negan will have to wait.
– Kill of the Week goes to Morgan, pinned down by a Saviour he asks ‘What Would Rick Do?’ and proceeds to bury his hand deep into the bullet wound in the Saviours belly and rip out his intestines, just like Rick tore a man’s throat out with his teeth.
– Morgan’s struggle continues and Lennie James perfectly portrays a man unbalanced between killing no one and killing everyone. Carol and Ezekiel seem to be getting through to him, as Morgan stands ready to execute Gavin, but the decision is suddenly taken away from him, when Henry (Macsen Lintz), who has snuck away from the rest of the group, shows great strength in taking down Gavin from behind with a stick shot through the throat. Could Henry’s act turn Morgan again and bring him back to normality, or will it push him over the edge?