A bunch of ongoing storylines converge in the Season 8 mid-season finale of The Walking Dead, most notably Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), finally trading punches for the first time. However, their one-on-one brawl is brief, because there’s one twist that really, truly matters above all: Carl (Chandler Riggs).
The angsty teenaged son of Rick in The Walking Dead has paid a dear cost for his kindness to a stranger, and that’s where The Walking Dead leaves its fans until February.
Spoilers for The Walking Dead ahead.
After half a season of stops and starts, something like 200 plot threads finally interweave in “How It’s Gotta Be,” the most recent episode and mid-season finale of The Walking Dead. Everything from Carl’s (Chandler Riggs) mercy to Siddiq to Maggie’s (Lauren Cohan) rise as a ruthless leader of the Hilltop to Dwight’s long-awaited, and anti-climactic, betrayal of the Saviors, everything matters. How novel. Yet even a heartbreaking finale that seals a major character’s demise — Carl, who has been bitten by a walker — kind of takes a back seat to the sheer intensity that is Rick and Negan, two men who just really have it in for each other.
Another extended 90-minute episode, as The Walking Dead tends to do, “How It’s Gotta Be” opens with Negan knocking on Alexandria’s door. It’s only a matter of time until Negan and the Saviors light the place up with grenade launchers, thereby commencing a spontaneous demolition of Alexandria.
While Alexandria burns, what follows is some 45 minutes of urgency that, inexplicably, feature a lot of people walking, talking, and only sometimes, ducking bullets. There really is no greater summation of Walking Dead nowadays. The entire place can be on fire, but it’s supposed to be a big deal when Maggie stuffs a coffin with the body of a Savior and graffitis it with the mildest dare to surrender given by any war general. Maggie might as well written down “Please.”
It’s when Rick and Negan finally fight when The Walking Dead feels like it’s finally getting somewhere. This is a battle advertised on all the posters, for heaven’s sake. And though it’s brief and ends in a draw, the fight delivers, promising their rematch to be even better.
Not since Shane has Rick shown such seething hatred for another living human being. Negan, meanwhile, clearly gets off that someone finally has big enough cojones to defy him. I’m hesitant to describe their relationship as the Batman and the Joker, but their fight scene in “How It’s Gotta Be” is one hell of a compelling “for” argument to validate the cliche.
In the end, though, someone’s gotta go. And someone will: Carl, who has been in a pretty unimportant subplot helping the wandering, neutral survivor Siddiq get on by underneath Alexandria, has been bit by a walker. Initially, it seems like it could’ve been just a mundane injury — there’s a weird shot where Carl is scary close to an exploding car, making him fly like a Power Ranger — but, remember back to a few weeks ago when Carl, trying to connect to Siddiq, was wrestled to the ground by two walkers. We never saw Carl get bit, but now “How It’s Gotta Be” shows that yeah, he got bit. No one is immune, not even if you’re a popular character like “Coral.”
If you’re still in denial if Carl’s fate is sealed, well, producer Scott Gimple said it’s a “one-way ticket.” So, sorry, but Coral’s time is almost up. Don’t worry, though: It’ll be February when Carl actually dies.
The Walking Dead will return February 18 at 9 p.m. EST on AMC.
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