Since its debut back in 2010, few shows have delivered more gut-wrenching twists than The Walking Dead. In Sunday night’s mid-season premiere, the massively popular zombie show once again devastated viewers with the death of a beloved character. The difference this time? After being broadsided for eight seasons, viewers actually saw this one coming. In the mid-season finale, Rick Grimes’s son, Carl, revealed to his father and the rest of the survivors that he had been bitten, meaning that it was only a matter of time before he would either have to take his life or risk turning into one of the walking dead.
Knowing it was coming didn’t make Carl’s death any easier to stomach. The entire episode centered around Rick having to say goodbye to the one person he would have given anything to save. It was brutal.
In the show’s first few seasons, Carl was often an afterthought for Rick, who, as the former sheriff, was focused keeping people alive rather than helping his son navigate the intricacies of a childhood interrupted. Naturally, Rick’s distance had downstream effect. Carl hardened and, back in season three, Rick learned that his son killed a young boy who was trying to surrender. It was at that point that Rick became a more present father and a solid father-son relationship emerged over the following years.
The whole thing was well acted and deeply felt. It provided an emotional core and gave the show’s audience, which has always skewed a bit older, something relatable to focus on.
— The Walking Dead AMC (@WalkingDead_AMC) February 26, 2018
Unfortunately, the realness of that relationship only made Carl’s death more heartbreaking to watch. Throughout the entire ordeal, Carl remains relatively calm, giving Judith his cowboy hat and sharing his hopeful visions of the future, despite knowing that he will not be a part of it. He’s ultimately a good kid, which is a tribute to Rick and also to him — growing up in horror it was never a give.
Rick, of course, is devastated. There is nothing that he can do for his son. In a show where tragedy is the norm, it’s still hard not get choked up watching Rick as he is forced to listen to his son shoot himself in order to avoid an even worse fate. In the episode’s final scene, Rick digs his son’s grave alongside Michonne, once again facing unimaginable tragedy in his ongoing quest to save humanity from the brink of destruction.