MAJOR Spoiler Warning for the Mid-Season Premiere (Season 8, Episode 9) of “The Walking Dead,” as well as all episodes of the previous seasons. Certain spoilers from the graphic novel series will also be discussed.
The most heartbreaking and controversial episode in “The Walking Dead’s” eight-year run has finally aired. Following the shocking turn of events at the end of December’s Mid-Season Finale, closure is presented to the viewers after an extended hiatus. When one looks back on the series, there are several episodes that stand out as turning points due to major character deaths; Shane’s demise in “Better Angels,” Lori’s farewell in “Killer Within,” Hershel’s brutal end in “Too Far Gone” and the Glenn/Abraham slaughter in “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” serve as these turning points, ushering the series into a new era. “Honor” throws a wrench into all preconceived thoughts about the show’s future by killing off the biggest character to date and establishing itself as the most jarring turn of events in over 100 episodes. On all levels, this episode is a testament to the show’s ability to tell a compelling story, even this many years in. Some issues do persist, mostly in regards to structure, but this is an episode that will stand the test of time.
There’s plenty of good to be discussed about this episode, but its better to get the issues out of the way. This is the final episode featuring Carl Grimes, yet a significant chunk is spent with Morgan, Carol, Ezekiel and the Saviors at the Kingdom. While these scenes do a wonderful job at serving as both a parallel and juxtaposition to what Carl says in his final moments, the constant switching back and forth takes away from the rich emotional tone that is present during the Alexandria scenes; this problematic structure is incredibly reminiscent to that of the aforementioned episode “Killer Within.” That being said, there is something to be said about the show’s use of parallelism to hint at what is to come.
This episode jumps back in time a bit to show the lead up to Gavin’s takeover of the Kingdom. At the Sanctuary, Morgan is caught off guard when he sees that the Saviors inside have found a way to escape by mowing down the walkers that had previously trapped them; it was revealed in the previous episode that Eugene was responsible for coming up with this escape plot. Saviors shoot at Morgan in his sniper position and force him to retreat outside where he uses walkers to escape before making his way to the Kingdom. Following the escape of the Kingdom residents and King Ezekiel’s capture, Morgan plots outside of the walls, looking for an opportunity to strike. He can’t do it alone though. A few miles down the road, Carol orders Nabila to lead the Kingdom refugees to the cottage that she spent much of Season 7 in; Nabila expresses her confidence in Carol to take down the Saviors and rescue the King. There’s also a brief moment in which Henry boldly proclaims that he wants to go with Carol to avenge his brother’s death, but she shuts him down. It’s refreshing to see that at least a few Kingdom members have survived and will continue to be recurring characters in the series; Nabila, in particular, is an entertaining minor character who evokes joy and hope, similarly to Jerry. Carol doesn’t have much time to rest as she sets off to be a one-woman army.
In the center of the Kingdom, Gavin lambastes Ezekiel for rebelling against Negan and the Saviors. Ezekiel stands strong, unashamed of what he did, even turning the table on Gavin and offering a way out of the tyrannical Savior group. This is a fascinating moral quandary that is presented to the characters, wherein they are forced to ponder their actions and decide what they should do with their future, a common theme in the series. Gavin has always been a Savior that is less-enthusiastic about how harsh the Saviors are, but he wants to save his own skin. He does show humanity when loading Ezekiel up in a truck to take him to the Sanctuary to face Negan, ordering his men to make the King comfortable for his final journey. At the perimeter of the Kingdom, Morgan has snuck in and spots Henry running into the community alone; Morgan reunites with Carol and the two come up with a game plan to rescue Ezekiel, plotting to go slow and not attract attention. Together, they kill off several Saviors, but it’s clear that Morgan is dangling in a dangerous mental state; he isn’t quite in full-blown “clear” mode, but he is certainly close. After killing Saviors with his spear, he justifies his actions to Carol, who seems to notice that Morgan isn’t doing well. It’s difficult to see Morgan so fractured and conflicted, but it fits his character and serves as a necessary marker for where he has been, where he is now and where he is going.
As Team Carol and Morgan slaughter Saviors, Gavin realizes something is up and orders his men to relocate Ezekiel to the theater to better defend themselves. Gavin slaps Ezekiel, angry that nothing is ever able to run smoothly; there’s also a heavy feeling of worry present with Gavin as he mentions that the threat of Lucille hangs over him. Suddenly, an explosion at the theater entrance sends the Saviors into fight mode with Gavin demanding that the attackers surrender. Carol and Morgan burst out from backstage into the theater and begin shooting at the Saviors, giving Ezekiel the opportunity to get free and arm himself. A single Savior attacks Morgan, but savagery comes out as the aikido-master uses his bare hands to rip the Savior’s intestines out through a bullet hole; just when it seems as though the series has turned down the gore, a scene like this reminds viewers that this isn’t a show for those with weak stomachs.
Gavin is horrified by what Morgan did to the Savior and exits the theater in a hurry, limping after being shot in the leg. Morgan isn’t going to let him get away though and a tense chase begins that ends with Gavin being held with the spear to his throat; to say Morgan is a terrifying figure is an understatement, he may just be scarier than Negan at this point. Gavin pleads for Morgan to spare him, but also states that they will never defeat Negan; Carol and Ezekiel dissuade him from carrying out the execution, but Morgan wants to finish the job. In a shocking turn of events, a spear rips through Gavin’s throat, revealing Henry to be the executioner; he finally avenged Benjamin’s death, but Carol and Ezekiel are stunned and disturbed by his actions. This scene perfectly parallels an event in the series that Carl mentions in this episode and plays into his overall message that not all people should be killed. It’s worth noting that this is the first major case of development for Henry after the murder of Benjamin; it will be interesting to see if he is developed into a more significant character, possibly fulfilling some of Carl’s post-war arcs from the comics. The scenes at the Kingdom demonstrate Carol and Morgan’s individual skills as fighters, but also their badassery as a team.
The time has come to discuss the elephant in the room. It’s the loss that no one wanted to happen, the one that has been in the headlines for months now: Carl’s death. Fans have known that Carl would die since he revealed that he was bitten in “How It’s Gotta Be.” This episode takes viewers on the journey of Carl’s last day on Earth, beginning with the moment that he was bitten by a walker, shown from a different angle than was originally aired in “The King, The Widow, and Rick.” Carl fights off walkers with Siddiq, but is caught off guard when one of the undead take a bite out of his abdomen; there’s a look of pain and shock on his face, but there’s no time to be sad. He returns to Alexandria with Siddiq, who he sends into the sewer tunnels, before proceeding to his house where he removes his shirt and examines the bite. A song called “At The Bottom of Everything” (by Bright Eyes) is played over a montage of Carl’s final day; he spends time with Judith, putting paint hand prints on their porch and snapping Polaroid pictures. He also writes letters to Rick, Michonne and Enid, clearly aware that he might not be able to say goodbye in person. The song that plays is oddly upbeat and cheery, but also bleak and dark with lyrics that are symbolic of Carl’s life: “while my mother waters plants, my father loads his gun”/”he says death will give us back to God, just like the setting sun is returned to the lonesome ocean.”
The narrative catches up to where it left off as Rick and Michonne discover that Carl was bitten. They’re both shocked and very slowly realize what this means: their son will die. Carl explains that it happened when he was bringing Siddiq back, not as a result of the Saviors or the ongoing war. Siddiq offers medicine to help with Carl’s fever and it is revealed that he was a resident before the apocalypse; this is crucial as characters with medical experience are a rarity. Explosions continue to ring out as the Saviors bomb what remains of Alexandria; the tunnel rattles and it becomes clear that they can’t stay there. Michonne charges for Dwight and demands that he put a stop to the bombing, but he explains that he cannot do that; Rosita steps forward and comforts Michonne, while proposing that they evacuate to the Hilltop. Michonne leaves it up to the others to decide what is next; she has more pressing matters to deal with. Carl is clearly at the end stages of the infection, but he still has time to impart some wisdom on the group as they do their best to make him comfortable in his final hours. The scenes with Carl are absolutely gut-wrenching; everyone knows that he is dying, but there is a sense of calmness as Carl seems to have accepted his fate…he’s almost at peace with it all.
With the sound of the bombings having subsided, Daryl leads Tobin, Scott and a few of the Alexandrians out of the sewers to investigate. They return and report back that the Saviors have left, allowing them to leave Alexandria. This is when the episode goes from being sad to flat out heartbreaking; Rick tells Michonne to take Judith to the Hilltop, choking up as he considers the possibility of her also dying. Michonne vows to stay with Rick and Carl, prompting Daryl to step forward and take Judith; Carl obviously wants to say goodbye though and they place the toddler in front of her big brother. Carl removes his hat and passes it to Judith, telling her the story of when Rick gave it to him after he was shot in Season 2; he states that the hat always made him feel closer to Rick, making him feel strong like him as well. He also mentions Lori and recites her final words to him; “before mom died, she told me that I would beat this world. I didn’t…but you will.” Judith begins crying and Daryl collects her before saying his final words to Carl, his friend since Season 1; “these people, you saved them all. That’s all you, man,” he tells Carl, who smiles at Daryl’s gratitude to him. While emotional, it would have been even more rewarding to have a longer goodbye between Carl and Daryl, but the hunter is a man of few words, so we’re lucky we got what we got.
In fact, Siddiq got a a longer goodbye to Carl, which is a bit unusual, but definitely serves to set up his character moving forward. The two discuss the fact that working together on the day Carl got bit was to honor both of their mothers. Siddiq basically tells Carl that he will work to honor his life and make sure that his sacrifice wasn’t in vain. Carl is clearly comforted by this and welcomes Siddiq into the group; “congratulations, you’re stuck with us.” The rest of Carl’s life is spent with Rick and Michonne…and it is heavy. He flat out tells Michonne that she can’t break down after he is gone and that she needs to be strong for Rick and Judith; Michonne has been through this before and something tells me that she will be the one to keep the group going, using the pain from losing her two sons as a catalyst to build a better future so that no one will have to experience this type of loss again. Quite possibly the most powerful moment in the episode comes as Carl calls Michonne his best friend, to which she responds by calling him the same. Since they first met in Season 3, there has been a unique bond that has developed between the two, one that balances on this fine line between parent/child and a friendship; their relationship is by far some of the best material ever covered in the series due to its simplicity and humanity in such a dark and depressing world.
A sewer is not the place for Carl Grimes to take his final breath. Rick wants to get his son to a better place before he passes, so he and Michonne decide to carry him out of the tunnels and up into Alexandria. The community is in flames with homes burning all around them; the theme of religion is present once again as they discover that the church is not on fire, even after being exploded during the bombings. They make their way inside and settle Carl on the ground and the reality of it all sets in; in an eerie way, the church is peaceful and beautiful, symbolizing the fact that even after all of the destruction they have experienced, there is still solace to be found. Carl takes a moment to thank Rick for getting him to this point, making it so he could have a life worth living. He also tells the story of the time that the Prison was attacked by The Governor and Woodbury during the Season 3 finale; a young fighter came across him in the woods and began to surrender, but Carl shot him in the head. This was a massive turning point for him and set him down a dark path until Rick decided to ease them back, put away his gun and focus on peace rather than war. It wasn’t easy for them, but it brought both Rick and Carl back from absolute darkness; they could have just as easily ended up becoming evil people, but they let their humanity lead the way. Carl tells Rick that he needs to do that again, not for Carl, but for himself, for Michonne, but most importantly, for Judith.
With their time running out, Rick tells Carl that he is sorry that he couldn’t keep him safe; this is something that both Shane and Lori eerily predicted back in Season 2. Carl comforts his father by stating that it isn’t the job of a father to keep his son safe, it’s just to love him; this plays into Carl’s entire purpose in the story in that he actively worked to be a strong and independent person that could survive on his own, not just be protected by others like one would expect for a child. Carl opens up and shares his vision of a future that he has, revealing the context of the “old-man Rick” flashforwards. Carl’s vision has Rick older and grayer, Judith and Michonne happier, Alexandria grown and expanded; Jerry and Siddiq work together, Eugene is back home and most surprisingly, Negan is part of the community. Rick tells Carl that everything they have been through was for him and Judith, but he will now work to make that future that he envisioned, hearkening back to what Rick told Carl in “No Way Out.” Carl realizes that his time is up and pulls out his gun to the dismay of Michonne, who offers to put him down, referring back to the pact they made with each other in “The Next World; “it should be someone you love.” He has to do it himself though, because he can still do it himself, releasing his parents from the burden of putting their son down. Morning comes and Rick and Michonne sit outside as the sound of a silenced gunshot rings out…Carl Grimes is dead. Rick and Michonne bury him in the Alexandria cemetery, allowing him to remain at his home, a home that will hopefully be rebuilt one day.
The time has come to pay tribute to Carl Grimes, the fallen hero. He was first introduced in the Pilot episode, which aired all the way back in 2010. From the start, it was clear that “The Walking Dead” would be presenting the story through a variety of viewpoints, but Carl’s was always unique due to his age and innocence. He was robbed of his childhood and forced to live in a world where death is everywhere; he had to grow up fast to keep up with the world and quickly lost the innocence that he had. Carl always wanted to prove himself to the group and be seen as an equal rather than just a child; because of this, he regularly took some risky moves that endangered himself, but also gave him a wealth of survival skills. In Season 2, he lost his friend Sophia, caused the death of Dale and was forced to shoot walker Shane, all in the course of a few days; the next season, his most game-changing moment came when he stepped forward to kill his mother and prevent her from reanimating. All these years later, he finds himself in a similarly hopeless situation, yet hope always prevails.
Throughout the series, he always danced a fine line between being a possible serial killer and being a caring human being; in the end, he found that holding onto his humanity was the most important thing, because even though it cost him his own life, he was able to save countless others. Carl’s story is one that will forever resonate with viewers due to the fact that he is the type of person that one should strive to be not just in an apocalyptic setting, but also in the real world; he shows that helping others is important and benefits everyone, as does being kind and compassionate. He loved his family more than anything and he took great comfort in knowing that they would be okay without him. Even after constantly being beaten down and seeing his friends and family ripped apart, Carl held onto the idea that things can always get better, because they can always make things better. It’s never easy, but with a little hard work, the future can be bright. Carl’s legacy will be carried by Rick, Michonne, Judith, Siddiq and every single character that he crossed paths with, but also the viewers, who will hold him memory dearly; we are part of his legacy. Over the course of eight seasons, Chandler Riggs portrayed the character in such an eloquent and moving way, helping to grow the boy up into the man he is at the end; this episode is without a doubt his finest performance to date, a brilliant end to his time on the series.
— The Walking Dead World (@TWalkingDWorld) February 26, 2018
“Honor” is such a fitting farewell to the character of Carl Grimes. While the decision to kill him off in the first place is still very strange and may never be fully justifiable, it’s at least comforting that his exit is a satisfying conclusion to his story. The episode itself, while suffering from a few minor issues, proves that while the show’s quality and popularity may have decreased over the past two seasons, “The Walking Dead” is still able to deliver emotionally powerful episodes that keep viewers on their toes. The acting from every single cast member is hard to put into words with Lennie James, Melissa McBride, Khary Payton and Jayson Warner Smith bringing their A-game in the Kingdom siege; Danai Gurira and Andrew Lincoln also deliver some of their best performances to date as they dig deep and pull out all of their emotions to say goodbye to Carl. The real shining star of this episode is Chandler Riggs, who possibly has the most impactful performance in the entire series, showing his character succumb to the infection while still hitting all of the feelings. The cinematography and direction by Greg Nicotero also deserve praise, specifically in the use of hints of light to break up the darkness in the final scenes with Carl. While this may be the end of the road for Carl, the second half of the season is only just beginning as “The Last Stand” of All Out War is now in play. Where do we go from here? How will everyone react to what just went down? Stay tuned.
Be sure to tune into “The Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.