This post contains spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 9, “Honor.”[hhmc]
Is everyone all right? Now that Carl’s death has finally unfolded, we may need a moment to grab some tissues, or cheer ourselves up with a happy song. (Maybe not this one.)
Going into Sunday’s Walking Dead premiere, Carl’s demise was both certain and pivotal—a major moment of transition in the series, and a huge digression from the comics. And in the end, Carl’s departure proved to be just as difficult as fans predicted it would be. His goodbye to his father was both heartbreaking and indicative of where the series might be headed next, as Scott Gimple’s reign as show-runner comes to a close. But perhaps even more gut-wrenching than Carl’s parting words to his father was his final exchange with Michonne. The Walking Dead is all about the ties that bind not only biological family members, but also the families that have formed throughout this bloody, torturous journey through the apocalypse. Carl and Michonne’s relationship was one of the series’ most carefully built and compelling, and seeing it end was uniquely tragic.
For years now, Carl and Michonne have filled specific, painful voids in each other’s lives. Michonne became a surrogate mother after Carl lost his mother, Lori; in fact, it was Michonne who arguably shaped Carl into the person he’s become, to a much greater degree than Rick. And for Michonne, Carl has become an adopted son—a very special role, since as she first confided in Carl alone, she lost her son Andre early in the apocalypse. Since Season 3, Carl and Michonne have developed one of the series’ most compelling friendships—a kinship based on mutual respect, loss, and most importantly, support.
When Michonne first arrived at the prison that season, injured and surrounded by zombies, Carl questioned whether Rick and the group should help her. Back then, Michonne was extremely stony-faced and quiet; Carl was suspicious. It wasn’t until Michonne accompanied Rick and Carl back to their hometown in King County that she gained the younger Grimes’ trust and respect. Carl wanted to find a crib for Judith—and to retrieve an old family photo from a local café so that his infant sister could one day know what their late mother looked like. When Michonne manages to retrieve the photo for Carl, a friendship was born. Plus, she managed to snag a pretty great piece of home decor in the process. It was after that moment that Carl told Rick, “I think she might be one of us.”
Over time, it became clear how much Michonne trusted and needed Carl as well. When they were separated from the group in Season 4’s “Claimed,” Carl was distraught because he thought Judith was dead—which prompted Michonne to share, for the first time, her own story of grief. In the end, that cathartic moment was what prompted Rick to call Michonne Carl’s best friend—a line Carl echoed in Sunday’s midseason premiere. As Michonne answered Carl, “You’re mine, too.”
But perhaps the most crucial moment in Carl and Michonne’s friendship came later—when Carl felt himself consumed by darkness, positive he had become a monster beyond redemption. This was precisely one season after Carl shot a kid in the woods who had already surrendered—a moment Carl recalled on his death bed, saying “it was so easy” to kill that boy. When Carl revealed his morbid thoughts about himself and the world around him to Michonne in Season 4, she refused to let him give up. “I was gone for a long time,” she said, referring to her own extended period of callous grief. Carl and his family, she added, are the ones who brought her back.
In his final moments, Carl also reminded Rick of when he stopped fighting with the other group back at the prison, instead banding together. “We were enemies,” he recalled. “You put away your gun. You did it. So I could change. So I could be who I am now.” But the other person who helped Carl become the person he is was Michonne, who responded to Carl’s grief and self doubt in Season 4 by providing the optimistic path he sorely needed. Someone who insists on reaching out and helping a stranger—a selfless move that, in the end, still got him bitten.
As viewers found out Sunday night, that rosy vision of the future we’ve been watching was actually Carl’s all along. He’s the one who sees the true potential for hope in the apocalypse—the one who appears to have gotten through to Rick, who has now vowed to make it happen. As Rick said in the season premiere—in a moment we now know was a flash-forward—“My mercy prevails over my wrath.” Had it not been for Michonne inspiring Carl, none of that would have been possible.
And then there’s one last moment between Carl and Michonne that had a much narrower impact. In Season 6, Michonne scolded Carl for leading a zombified Deanna to her son Spencer, despite the obvious risk to his own life. To Carl, Deanna deserved the mercy of being put down by someone she loved—just like he did for his own mother back in Season 3, when he was just a child. “I’d do it for you,” Carl told Michonne. By then, to Carl, Michonne was like his second mother. But as he lay dying in the midseason premiere, Carl chose a different path: he insisted on taking his own life. “I don’t want you to be sad after this,” he told her. “Or angry. You’re going to have to be strong for my dad. For Judith. For yourself. . . . Don’t carry this. Not this part.”
When Carl reached for the gun to shoot himself, Michonne tried to stop him, saying, “It should be—”
“I know. I know,” Carl replied. “Somebody you love. But you can’t do it yourself if I still can. I grew up. I have to do this. Me.”
His final words to Michonne? “I love you.”
In the end, Carl forced both Rick and Michonne to step outside the burning Alexandria church once they had said their goodbyes. As the two sat outside, they could hear the gunshot. Even with his last breath, Carl chose self-sacrifice. Thanks to Michonne, he came back from the brink, and might have just become the one who saved everyone—not just in the short-term by waiting out the Saviors’ bombing in the sewers, but in the long-term, with a vision for a world without war.
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This photo has a lot of layers—both literal and figurative. Clearly, the hat is a nod to the blistering sun—which, ostensibly, is also responsible for the impressive amount of sweat soaking through Daryl’s shirt. Then again, if it’s so hot, why on earth is Daryl—the king of bare biceps—wearing this loud button-down shirt? For the love of God, if we’re going to give him an unnecessary layer, make it a poncho.Photo: Courtesy of AMC.
King Ezekiel looks like he’s ready for a snowy hiking trip with Bane in that long, fur-lined leather jacket. Somehow, he barely seems to be breaking a sweat—not that you'd see it through that coat.Photo: Courtesy of AMC.
It’s been many a moon since we’ve seen Rick with dry hair. His perpetually sweat-soaked button-downs and water-logged locks are worthy of the desert—or Disney World in the summer. Yet, there he is, talking to be-leathered, unbothered King Ezekiel. If the rule of good leadership is “never let 'em see you sweat,” Rick should be fired immediately.Photo: Courtesy of AMC.
Carol has taken to wearing a heavy-looking, camel-colored coat. And apparently it’s so cold in this scene that even the zombie had to put on her cardigan before stalking her prey.Photo: Courtesy of AMC.
I guess it’s warm? I mean, everyone is definitely less layered than they were during the season premiere, as they all sat in a semi-circle shaking with fear in their jackets and over-shirts and long sleeves. Sasha’s even wearing short sleeves now!Photo: Courtesy of AMC.
Then again, here’s Maggie, in long sleeves and an undershirt with no pit stains! Oh, to have that superpower.Photo: Courtesy of AMC.
Enid and Carl
I give up. Here are Enid and Carl on roller skates. Enjoy the midseason premiere on Sunday night. I’ll be here, staring at everyone’s clothes and dejectedly muttering to myself.Photo: Courtesy of AMC.PreviousNext
Laura BradleyLaura Bradley is a Hollywood writer for VanityFair.com. She was formerly an editorial assistant at Slate and lives in Brooklyn.