The Walking Dead’s mid-season finale managed to accomplish something the series has been in desperate need of: change.
[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead.]
Last night’s episode ended with Carl Grimes, one of the youngest cast members on the show and a member of the original five characters, revealing that he suffered a zombie bite. The bite occurred a few episodes prior and, because of its location on his body, there’s no way to amputate the infected area. This means Carl is definitely going to die — slowly and probably not until this current season’s finale or even the beginning of the next season — but he will either succumb to the bite or someone will have to put him out of his misery.
Actor Chandler Riggs told The Hollywood Reporter it wasn’t his decision to leave the series, adding that it “it made sense story-wise for it to happen for Rick and Michonne and all the other characters.” Riggs said it was a huge disappointment and he was sad over his character’s outcome, but it’s his understanding that this needed to happen for the show to continue — and that gets to the argument of The Walking Dead’s current problem.
The show has hit a period of peak boring. The Walking Dead used to be one of the most interesting shows on television and the arrival of Negan at the end of The Walking Dead’s sixth season signified the resurgence of that era. But Negan’s inclusion has been squandered on petty, grotesque violence. While strides have been made this season to return the series to its former glory, it still feels like a half-baked attempt.
As The Verge pointed out a couple of weeks ago, “Season 8 of The Walking Dead is shaping up to be one of the show’s worst, right up there with the roundabout, feet-dragging plot on Herschel’s farm back in the show’s second season.”
It’s not like the show is suffering from a lack of action; there’s been plenty of running and shooting this season. The Walking Dead has instead sacrificed intriguing plot development and character growth for benign action. It looked like the show was trying to tell a story of morality in a post-apocalyptic world, which would have been a step in the right direction, but we never quite get there. As Indiewire points out, “the episode is largely unconcerned with the moral arguments the show’s been raising all season, in favor of a lot of running and shooting.”
The Walking Dead hasn’t been fun to watch for weeks as a result of sacrificing story for action; focusing on storylines that don’t matter and not paying attention to what made the show great in the first place. Carl’s impending death, which showrunner Scott M. Gimple confirmed would take place, is the first time in a very long time that The Walking Dead has felt like it’s ready to make a sacrifice its needed to.
Carl’s death will begin a new conversation about what his father, Rick Grimes, and the rest of the survivor community are trying to accomplish — and how much they’re willing to lose to get to that point. We may finally get to see debates centered around morality in a new Wild West and we’ll return to an age where the death of a major character impacts us.
It’s been a while since I cared about who lived or died on The Walking Dead; hell, it’s been a while since I cared about The Walking Dead. But I’m ready to give the show another chance if it can prove that some of the qualities that made it worth watching in the first place are still alive, buried in the empty shell of a show we’re watching now.
The Walking Dead will return on Feb. 25, 2018.