Can “The Walking Dead” Survive Without Carl?

Matthew Loffhagen
(Photo: AMC)

AMC has released a brand new photo of everyone’s favorite zombie-fighting cyclops, Carl, writing a letter.

No big deal, right? It’s just Carl. He’s been with us for almost a decade now, so another picture shouldn’t matter all that much.

Except, of course, that this is an image from Carl’s final episode in the show, as his character bites the big one (after having had a walker take a big bite out of him first!).

The Walking Dead Carl Letter
Source: AMC

It’s clear that the mid-season premiere for “The Walking Dead” season eight part two will focus on Carl in a big way – we already know that Chandler Riggs’ character isn’t long for this world, and as such, we’re all poised for a big, emotional farewell as Carl either turns into a walker, or finds some way to end his existence before he can complete his transformation into an undead monster.

It’s going to be interesting where the show will go after this. Short of killing off Rick himself, axing his son is probably the biggest shocking ratings grab that “The Walking Dead” can manage.

It’s very likely that, at least in part, this move is taken out of desperation. The show’s ratings have been dropping for a long time, and it’s likely that someone at AMC is eager to grab audiences again with a big, flashy gear shift as “The Walking Dead” ditches a beloved character.

Expect, then, the second half of season eight to be driven by Carl’s death. AMC is going to want to squeeze every last drop of potential out of this story, which probably means sending Rick out on an ill-thought-out revenge quest. Everyone likes watching a hero “go dark” for a while.

Carl The Walking Dead
Source: AMC

Of course, this could well compound the problems that the series will face going forward. Carl Grimes can’t be brought back from the dead, and a dark, brooding protagonist can get tiresome very quickly. If the show embraces this inevitable character arc and lets it overstay its welcome, it’s likely that a large chunk of the show’s remaining audience will also get sick of things.

Carl’s death is clearly a move to try and bring back departed viewers, but it could end up driving thus-far faithful audiences away. In trying to reclaim the show’s former glory, AMC might ultimately end up damaging it even further.

Let’s all cross our fingers that Carl’s death ends up having a solid narrative purpose beyond its inherent shock value.

Otherwise, this once-great show might end up losing even more momentum as it spins around endlessly dealing with the fallout from an unnecessary gimmick.