It feels fitting to use Carl's image for this post, given that the one thing we all thought we knew is that though The Walking Dead creators have always maintained that anyone could die, we all really believed Rick and Carl to be the exception to that rule. The mid season finale ended with the big reveal that in attempting to save Siddiq - a man Rick had denied sanctuary to, Carl was bitten by a walker. Much of the mid season premier was dedicated to Carl's tearful goodbye.
When a character becomes the moral center on The Walking Dead, that's usually an indication that the end is nigh. We've seen this trend with Hershel, Dale and Tyreese. It's an attempt by the authors to humanise the character and make the death more meaningful. This is becoming more and more difficult to do with each cast member that dies because in canabalising its cast, the writers have given us less reason to invest in the characters and their various story lines. Who is going to die at the season finale and mid season finale has become a standard question leading to some speculation, but very little real investment.
The other ongoing surety, is the juxtaposition between Rick and Morgan. Rick and Morgan have been teachers to each other, as well as friends, rarely in the same place at the same time. In this case, Rick and Morgan must deal with the result of their influence on the young men that they care about and how this will shape the war with the Saviours and Alexandria itself. I do think it's worth noting that in this case, Rick was clearly painted into the white knight role, while Morgan who is Black, in the negative and I find that to be extremely troubling.
Throughout the season, we've been seeing little flashes into future of an older and wiser Rick. It turns out that these are visions of what Carl hopes the future will be. Carl wants a world where there is no more war and people are refocused on rebuilding society. Carl's vision sees people like Eugene and Negan gardening and working in Alexandria, right alongside people from the Kingdom and the Hilltop; it's his personal utopia. Carl is careful to impress upon his father that this what could be if Rick returned to the man he used to be and when Carl in turn thanks Rick for making him who he is, Rick has little choice but to commit to Carl's vision of the future. Even as Carl is dying, he's becoming the moral compass of the show and giving Rick reason not to give into his grief and fall apart, or commit even worse crimes in the name of revenge or keeping Judith safe. The problem is that unlike Dale or Hershel, we have no idea where this sudden spurt of morality came from and so can only assume that the writers have become overly committed to framing death the same way repeatedly.
Unlike many of the other characters who have died, in the case of Carl, there was a enough time for him to actually say goodbye. Carl took a picture with Judith, used paint to capture their handprints, and wrote letters to all the citizens of Alexandria, lest he run out of time to tell everyone how he felt. Carl stayed alive long enough to receive accolades from the normally silent Darryl about the people he saved and to call Michonne his best friend. Carl and Michonne's relationship is something that we've had to assume because we really haven't seen much evidence of the closeness he implied. Carl, the only born son of Rick Grimes, got the send off that few have ever had and he did it with a grace that doesn't remotely fit his character.
While Rick and Michonne are trying to comfort Carl and grieve, Morgan is on a mission to save the King. Morgan is of course joined by Carol the bad ass. This is an interesting choice given that Morgan and Carol had a conflict about tactics, with Carol's scorched policy conflicting with Morgan's patience and as little violence as possible policy. Morgan has come to see that there are flaws with his philosophy given the end result of his interactions with the Saviours and that's why he turns down Carol's offer to do the killing and even takes the path that would require the most violence from him. Morgan makes the decision to use his staff - a weapon meant strictly for defense- as a weapon to kill, with the full knowledge that Henry is watching.
Inside the Kingdom, Gavin is very confident that the night will end with Ezekiel dead and him safe with the Saviours. Gavin is saddened by this because he always viewed Ezekiel as the calm reasonable one and Rick as the upstart who threw a wrench into the works. Rick as the outside agitator and the one spurring the Black man to action is decidedly problematic. Ezekiel is quick to inform Gavin that he is the author of his own fate tonight, something which Gavin is dismissive of until he notices that his men are disappearing at an alarming rate.
As Carol the awesome and Morgan make their way closer and closer to Ezekiel, it's Morgan who lands the killing blows, watching with grim satisfaction as his victims choke on their own blood. Morgan is so intent on his task, he is unaware that someone is sneaking up on him, leaving Carol to come to the rescue with a single gun shot. We watch in horror, as Morgan takes on the last of Gavin's men, delivering the killing blow by ripping out his intestines. Is this the same man who forswore violence in an effort to be a peaceful being? It's Gavin who expresses the shock that the audience is feeling. Gavin rightfully takes off running, as Morgan stalks him in the same vein as an animal stalks his prey. The transition for Morgan is complete. It's only when Henry strikes the killing blow, mirroring Morgan's plea that he had no choice that the juxtaposition is complete.
Morgan is ruining a young man with his anger and inability to control himself while the quiet grieving Rick is being presented as the potentially peaceful one - the one to solve the world's problems. All hail, King Rick, who gave his only begotten son for our sins. It's telling that the audience is encouraged to judge Morgan's actions and to see him as unfit, whereas Rick, who let's face it has done some pretty heinous things, escapes any kind of prosecution. Rick is the leader that we all need and the only one to set things right. Carl's sacrifice will ensure the future he envisioned. Carl died for Rick's man pain and his greater glory. The Walking Dead needs to stop this shit right now.
There are seven episodes left to the season and I'm sure that we are building up to another big death at the end of the season in a desperate bid to stop the bleeding off of fans. The Walking Dead has given up actually telling real stories and creating interesting arcs to instead capitalise on cannibalizing it's own cast. They've already dragged the war with Negan on longer than it needs to last and at this point, it's impossible to hope that they will just kill Negan off quickly and get on with the business of telling a story of survival in a zombie apocalypse. It's clear to see that that which made The Walking Dead so popular, might in the end be its undoing.