‘The Walking Dead’: Mercy mercy me

The Walking Dead
February 25, 2018

And welcome back to The Walking Dead, the Carl Grimes fanservice episode.

We now have confirmation why Rick was crying when the season opened: because Carl’s gonna die. But he’s not dead just yet …

… and we are treated to a little rewind as to how all this happened. As speculated, Carl was bitten in the belly by a zombie when he went on that mission to bring Siddiq back to Alexandria. After he shoves Siddiq into the town sewer for safekeeping, he heads inside the house, takes off his shirt and is like, “Yep, done got bit,” cleans himself up and changes shirts.

Carl heads out to the gate where he asks some dude where Michonne is, and Dude hands him a note from Michonne, explaining that she had to go see the Sanctuary for herself. “NOTES!” Carl thinks to himself, before heading back inside to write everyone he loves goodbye letters.

He then spends a little quality time with Baby, taking a selfie with her, painting their handprints on the porch, you know, the kind of stuff that is going to FUCKING DEVASTATE Rick if he ever sees it. He brings Siddiq some food and shares a candy bar with him, plants a tree and basks in the sun one last time.

Scrawled in the margins of the script: “CRY, BITCHES. CRRRRRRYYYYYYY.”

And now we’re down in the tunnels, Carl showing Rick and Michonne the wound and being like, “whaddya gonna do? I mean, we live in a dystopian hellscape overrun with the undead, sometimes they get ya. Anyway, I wrote you guys some goodbye notes, but y’all should probably read them later.”

Rick and Michonne move Carl over to a cot, where Siddiq offers them some anti-inflammatories, explaining that they helped with his parents’ fevers. Somehow this makes Rick realize that Siddiq is a doctor? Because he said “anti-inflammatories?” Turns out that in fact, he was a resident when everything changed, not that that’s why Carl helped him. He helped him because he needed help. RICK.

Meanwhile, above their heads the Saviors continue their assault on Alexandria, prompting Michonne to demand that Dwight MAKE IT STOP. Dwight’s like, “I mean, I know you’re going through some shit right now, but I kinda can’t? We need to just stay put until they wear themselves out, which they will.” Rosita then suggests that as soon as the Saviors exhaust themselves and go home that they all move to Hilltop. Dwight is skeptical of everyone being in the same place, but Daryl is all, “IT’LL BE THEIR WORST DAMN NIGHTMARE.”

After a while, the explosions stop, and Daryl and that Dude confirm that the Saviors have left. The plan is to get everyone to Hilltop — everyone but Carl, who is in no condition to travel.

Daryl offers to take Baby, but before they leave, Carl needs to deliver a gut-wrenching soliloquy to his little sister about how she needs to be good for their dad, to honor him, but she doesn’t always have to listen to him because sometimes kids have to show the parents the way. He then gives her Rick’s hat, obviously, before telling her that their mother told him that he was going to beat this world, AND LOOK HOW GREAT THAT TURNED OUT. The point is, he didn’t but he thinks Baby will. He knows she will.

Daryl then takes the crying Baby and tells Carl that he saved all these people, before leading everyone out of the sewers and to the much drier Hilltop. Siddiq stays behind long enough to thank Carl for giving him a chance. He knows he can never repay him, but he can honor him by showing his family that what he did mattered. That it meant something.

So Siddiq’s DEFINITELY going to deliver Maggie’s baby/save someone important/probably both.

Once everyone has left, Carl tells Michonne that he doesn’t want her to be sad or angry after this, she needs to stay strong for Rick and Baby — and herself. He doesn’t want her to carry this because she’s his best friend. She assures Carl that she will stay strong, and tells him that he’s her best friend, too.

And then a symbol candle goes out, and Rick decides they need to take Carl above ground to die.

They find Alexandria in flames and carry Carl to the destroyed church. There, Carl thanks his father for getting him there. Well, not THERE there, more there in the figurative sense, making him the person he became. Carl then reminisces about that time he just cold murdered a kid, how easy it was to kill another person, and notes that Rick’s decision to make peace with The Governor’s people is what saved him.

Carl then begins hectoring Rick to make nice time with the Saviors, he could see how it could be if Rick would just BE COOL. And that’s when we learn that those flash forwards of Old Rick aren’t actually flash forwards at all, but a fantasy that either Rick or Carl or both of them are having in which Team Rick and Team Negan are all living in Hilltop together, growing tomatoes.

Blah blah blah, everything Rick did was for Carl, blah blah, he promises he’s going to change, he’ll make Carl’s fantasy real, blah. Carl then shows Rick and Michonne that he has a gun and explains that he’s going to do it himself, thanks. And then after everyone tells everyone that they love them, Rick and Michonne politely wait out on the porch for Carl to off himself, which he does, the end.

Over in the B storyline, Morgan escapes from his sniper nest at the Sanctuary in a sequence too boring to go into detail about here. (One note: to escape the Sanctuary, the Saviors begin randomly shooting at the herd, which is as good a method as any, I suppose, but wouldn’t the kill shots have to be to the head? Because most of the shots don’t appear to be particularly targeted to the head in this scene, but what do I know, I’m just a dumb girl who hates guns.)

In the Kingdom, King Ezekiel has created a diversion that allowed the members of his community to escape with Carol, but in the process was caught by that one kinda nice Savior guy. Carol leads them back to her cottage and is like, “I’m going to go save Zeke, YOU STAY PUT.” But that Kid is all, “I want to come with you and shoot the guns!” and Carol is all, “OH HELLS NO.”

Back at the Kingdom, Nice Savior is lamenting that King Zeke had to go and be a dumb dummy and rebel against Negan who is going to have to kill him now, thems the rules. And King Z is like, “I mean, it doesn’t have to be that way…”

Meanwhile, Carol and Morgan both sneak into the Kingdom at, fortuitously enough, the same time, and begin methodically killing all of the Saviors. Killing all the Saviors, killing all the Saviors, killing all the Saviors.

At some point, Nice Savior is like, “OH SHIT, ALL MY DUDES ARE DEAD,” and he and the remaining Saviors move King Ezekiel into the theatre/throne room. Carol and Morgan set off an explosion at the front doors of the theater, but then sneak in backstage and kill all the Saviors — including one unfortunate gentleman whose intestines Morgan feels the need to rip out of his belly with his bare hands. The only Savor to survive is Nice Savior who is shot in the leg, but manages to escape.

Morgan calmly heads outside to find Nice Savior –which he does, immediately — and, when Carol and King Zeke plead with him to spare Nice Savior’s life, Morgan is like, “NAH.”

However, before he can pop Nice Savior in the throat with his Jedi stick, someone else beats him to it — that Kid and Morgan suddenly is like, “OH SHIT, WHAT HAVE I DONE, I GUESS I HAVE TO GO JOIN FEAR THE WALKING DEAD NOW.”

So this whole episode is about that moment, that transformative moment when you realize you’ve gone too far and something has to change, a realization that both Rick and Morgan experience thanks to the actions of children. When Kid murders Nice Savior, Morgan is forced to face the ugly and ruinous brutality of his murderous rage; and Rick realizes that his own lack of mercy towards Siddiq has cost him his son. Had he only been kind to the stranger at the gas station, they wouldn’t be burying Carl now.

It’s fairly obvious where both paths will lead: Morgan will once again remove himself from Team Rick to find a different way, which (spoiler alert?) will end with him joining the cast of Fear; and Rick will have a moment where he has to choose between killing Negan or being merciful, and, to honor Carl, he’ll choose the latter. Which, you know, is fine, I guess. The big twist has always been that Rick will spare Negan’s life — but the show needed a reason why he would make such an unlikely choice. Having Carl’s final wishes be that Rick cut it out with all the killing and war crap is a powerful enough reason.

I would also point out that there was some very powerful underworld imagery employed in this episode with the tunnel. What is interesting is that the tunnel, while clearly an underworld/afterlife/tomb symbol, also represents a passage, a journey. Here, it symbolized both Carl’s passage from life to death¬†and Rick’s own journey from warrior to –eventually– peacemaker. It’s fitting that Rick brings Carl above ground for his final moments, allowing him to pass in a holy and sanctified space, but also to serve as a metaphor for Rick’s own transition to a higher plane. There, in the church, both father and son “see the light.”

One last thought on this episode: Obviously the episode was written long before the horrible school shooting that happened in Parkland, Florida this past Valentine’s Day and was certainly not inspired by it. However, it is kind of impossible to not notice a parallel between this story of children showing the adults the way — and trying to lead them away from violence, and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students leading the charge against gun violence in our own times. Again, it sometimes takes the innocence of childhood, the child’s refusal to accept that “it just has to be that way because it always has been that way,” to make adults see that their particular position is wrong, dangerous and unhealthy.

There’s a dark irony to this, however, in that there is probably no one pop culture artifact or phenomena in the last ten years that has glorified the AR-15 and its military grade weaponry cousins more than The Walking Dead. Because these weapons are designed for one purpose: to kill as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time, they are obviously the weapon of choice for the survivors in a zombie apocalypse. Now, I’m not saying that AR-15s and their ilk have become the most popular weapon in America in recent years because people are afraid of zombies (although I wouldn’t put it past some buyers). Instead, I’m saying that one of the show’s more insidious messages, that the guy with the most guns wins, certainly hasn’t hurt sales.

ALRIGHT! Programming note: I am definitely going to be late with this again this week thanks to The Oscars, five hours of The Bachelor — FIVE! — and the other items that were neglected during the Olympics. Whaddya gonna do (besides not air overly long episodes that are essentially a 90-minute exercise in masturbatory grieving)?

The Walking Dead airs on AMC on Sundays at 8/9 p.m.

One thought on “‘The Walking Dead’: Mercy mercy me

  1. I think your feelings about this episode were 100% tied to how much or little you care about Carl. This show drives me nuts because like a ton of other characters, they waited until the end of the character’s run to make them any sort of relatable or likable. This is Sister all over again. I just started to like Carl and Gimple had to Gimple.

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