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The Walking Dead returns with the same old lines

Chandler Riggs as Carl Grimes
Photo: Gene Page (AMC)
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Be honest: how much do you care about Carl? Do you care about him as a character? As a symbol? Are you invested in his relationship with his father and/or Michonne? Do you sometimes wonder exactly how old he’s supposed to be? “Honor” isn’t entirely focused on Carl; the plus-sized midseason premiere follows two primary storylines, and everyone gets more than their share of angst and violence. But Carl’s fate is the emotional arc of the hour and change, and if you don’t care that much about him, that’s going to be a problem.


But then, the writers don’t do poor Carl many favors here. “Honor” is another entry in the long-standing Walking Dead tradition of misery posts, an episode that spends a considerable amount of time attempting to find both grief and transcendence in the exit of a familiar face. Given that Carl has been with the show from the start, and also given that he served as a major motivational force for the protagonist, his death should carry some weight. In theory, at least, this is all justified. It’s just a shame that you can feel the air leaking out of the tires almost from the start.

To start with the nice thing first: the episode doesn’t try and pull a headfake. No one acts like Carl might be saved at the last minute, and one of the first things we see (after that shot of red-eyed Rick that’s been plaguing us for months now, and a return to the white-haired Rick fantasy) is Rick and Michonne digging a grave. Well, they’re digging something, anyway, and neither of them seem all that happy about it. Given how much time the show has spent this season trying to distract from its fairly straightforward storyline, it’s a relief to find out by the end that this wasn’t a trick or a twist. What you see is pretty much what you get. Carl got bit; goodbye Carl.

The downside, of course, is that the lack of surprise or twist turns the ensuing episode into a slow miserable march toward an inevitable conclusion, punctuated occasionally by scenes of people doing comparatively exciting things before we go back to the end of Carl. And as mentioned, how much you care about the end of Carl depends an awful lot on how much you care about Carl himself. If you do care about the doomed moppet, then this should be both devastating and satisfying, and at the very least, the show doesn’t just try and write him off without making an effort to pay proper respect.

That means a lot of shots of Carl getting progressively paler while familiar characters (usually Rick and Michonne) try and say comforting things through increasingly obvious tears. It should be heart-wrenching, and the actors do their best, but the longer it goes on, the closer it comes to self-parody. The distance between the episode’s investment in the conclusion of Carl’s arc, and my own general disinterest in the character (he’s had okay moments?), made for a lot of heavy-handed drama without much of anywhere to go. I appreciate that the writers tried to find new grace notes here and there, but…


Well, okay. Late in the episode Carl asks to talk to Judith, and he tells Judith (who I still routinely forget exists) how, “Before Mom died, she told me I was going to beat this world. I didn’t, but you will. I know you will.” And I’m not sure if this is supposed to inspirational or deeply, darkly cynical—actually, that’s a lie, I do know what it’s supposed to be, but c’mon. I’m not sure the show has ever been quite so bald about the con job that drives it, that promise of salvation that always, always ends in misery. I guess we’re not supposed to notice because it’s a couple of crying kids this time, but it’s hard to get past the bleak comedy of the actual line. “Oh no, I’m sure things will work out this time,” Charlie Brown says as he goes running for the football. Then zombie Lucy eats his face. It’s a rich tapestry.

Carl wasn’t the only show going this week. We also checked back in with Morgan, and finally saw how the Saviors escaped from the Sanctuary, which, it turns out, was a perfectly reasonable, if irritatingly obvious plan. Eugene’s tactical brilliance is in realizing that dead zombies make a pretty good barrier. I still don’t know that I completely buy that the group would run out of ammunition before it killed the whole herd (the herd wasn’t that big), and as reveals go, this just makes Rick’s plan look that much dumber. But at least it’s not a horrible cheat?


Morgan escapes, as we already know, and he and Carol meet up for a rescue mission to save Ezekiel, which offers some respite from all the mourning back in Alexandria. (They also succeed in their mission, which is a relief. Ezekiel may be a bit mopey now, but he’s still a likable character and I wouldn’t mind having him around a while longer.) Morgan, having decided to kill people again, is really committed to his new path, to the point where even Carol is a bit taken aback. It’s possible this would’ve been a compelling direction for the character to go (Lennie James is a good actor, which helps), if not for the fact that this is literally the only thing there is to Morgan. Is he killing or is he not killing today? Maybe he should have different hats, depending on his mood.

As usual, it’s a moral struggle that doesn’t really work on a show that has repeatedly told us that mercy is a sign of weakness that will inevitably lead to your death. This season has paid occasional lip service to the idea that people have to find a way forward that isn’t just constant murder, and the fantasy sequences—which turn out to have been Carl’s vision of a utopian future—seemed to promise a tomorrow where that might actually happen. But it’s all a muddle, made even more painfully obvious by the quick vision of Negan himself, all defanged and sweet, greeting Judith in a garden that will never grow. Are we supposed to admire the fullness of Carl’s vision? Feel sympathy that he’ll never see this come to pass? I don’t know. I was too busy laughing.


Stray observations

  • I am legitimately curious to find out what’s going on with a bloody Rick sitting under a tree with hanging stained glass windows. We’ve been getting glimpses of it since the start of the season.
  • Excellent use of Bright Eyes’ “At The Bottom Of Everything.”
  • There is no reason on God’s green Earth that this needed to be longer than a regular-sized episode.
  • “You versus all of them?” “Yes.” “They don’t stand a chance.” (Spoiler: they did not.)
  • Oh yeah, Henry ends up killing the Savior guy instead of Morgan, which is… fine. It’s impressive that I am no longer shocked at the sight of a 10-year-old stabbing a pole through someone’s throat, so I guess that’s something.

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