By Nicole Prieto | Staff Writer
On Sunday, The Walking Dead returned with a somber midseason opener. Previously, the Season 8 midseason finale turned the tides in the united communities’ war against the Saviors. Their siege on the Sanctuary was botched after Eugene masterminds a way for the Saviors to escape their overrun compound. Rick once again lost the short-lived allegiance of the junkyard people, led by the eccentric, backstabbing Jadis.
The finale also marked one of the biggest turning points for the series in its eight-year run: the impending death of Carl Grimes, who literally grew up on the show. The last scene was of Carl revealing his abdominal walker bite to Rick and Michonne; he obtained it while helping newcomer Siddiq (Avi Nash) get to the Alexandria community. This was a point of no return for main cast member Chandler Riggs, whose character was already running a fever.
If you have not watched the midseason premiere, this is your final warning — because here is a spoiler-heavy rundown of the good, the OK and the ugly of Episode 9, “Honor.”
Even though Season 8’s overall premiere was a slow burn to the dramatic events between the start and end of the Sanctuary siege, the midseason premiere is a heart-pounding improvement. The Alexandrians continue to hide in the sewers as the Saviors firebomb their community. Carl, sickly, is laid out on a makeshift stretcher, and we get a montage starting from the point where he realizes he is bit to his calm preparations for his inevitable death. From writing farewell letters to friends and family, to sharing precious moments with his baby sister, Carl’s growth over the years reaches its logical conclusion. He reassures Rick and Michonne that he has come to peace with things, and to look toward the future without him. It is a sad sendoff, but compared to shocking, disappointing deaths like Beth’s or Glenn’s, the show takes the time it needs to give us an appropriate farewell.
Carol and Morgan’s rescue attempt of King Ezekiel is the second main plot point of the episode, and it gives us some unexpected interiority on Savior crew leader, Gavin. Ezekiel’s realization that Gavin — the voice of reason in the Kingdom and Saviors’ previous “transactions” — is a coward only looking out for himself is a satisfying touch. Granted, Gavin plays a narratively minimal role beyond being one of Negan’s top-ranking lackeys. But to see such a calm, collected character break down to his true colors is an organic moment.
Carl’s final advice to Judith to honor their father is a little awkward upon reflection but makes sense in context. The entire reason he got his bite was due to helping Siddiq honor the latter’s mother, who believed putting down the dead could help free their souls. The whole affair would not have happened, however, if Rick had not shot at Siddiq earlier in the season in the first place. Bonus points for how it turns out that Siddiq was a doctor pre-apocalypse. Still, at least Rick is appropriately regretful.
The parallel between Carl and Henry is an important one, but like with Rick’s character development, it is ultimately for Morgan’s benefit. When Ben is killed by the Saviors, Henry lost his older brother, and Morgan lost his short-lived protégé. And though it is Henry who gets his revenge upon stabbing Gavin in the throat, Morgan is implied to be the one who must cope with and learn from the experience. He has a choice on whether he is willing to be a cold avenger — or an executioner — and whether he wants to be that kind of role model for someone as impressionable as Henry.
The episode’s biggest shortcoming is thus not of quality, but of message. Carl’s longtime regret was when he shot a surrendering young man back at the prison; Rick’s willingness to take in the Woodbury people was the first step in showing Carl what kind of compassionate person he needed to become. But like with Morgan to brothers Ben and Henry, the kids’ own demons give way to building the character arcs of their morally flummoxed parental figures. (How many times does Rick need to “see the light” about building a better world? How many times does Morgan need to vacillate over whether it is right to kill or not?) Whether toddler Judith will have this same effect on Rick is yet to be seen.
Carl gives his final farewell to Rick and Michonne in the charred Alexandrian church, where he shares a surprising revelation for the viewers: The utopic visions of the future we saw glimpses of earlier in the season — where Rick is full-bearded and graying, the communities are thriving and Judith has grown into a young girl — have been Carl’s all along. His one dream is that everyone, including the Saviors, will one day find a way to live in peace with one another. It is a tough pill to swallow for his grieving father, who nevertheless pledges to make it happen.
Carl ultimately decides to be the one to end his own life. With Michonne and Rick waiting outside, we hear a gunshot go off in the background, and say goodbye to the nearly eight-year run of this mainstay character. Episode 10, “The Lost and the Plunderers,” premieres March 4 at 9 p.m. EST.