We’re accustomed to death on The Walking Dead, and doubly-so when the comics provide a road map. That’s what made the climactic bite in Sunday’s midseason finale such a shocker, and – before you ask – both producers and the actor in question confirm the character’s exit, noting “[That bite] is a one-way ticket.”

Before we go any further – we must warn you of the most spoilery Walking Dead death in the series’ history: Carl Grimes. The character was largely seen as untouchable, given his pivotal role in the future Rick fights for and continued survival in the comics. That all changed when Sunday’s midseason finale “How It’s Gotta Be” reached a conclusion the internet had been buzzing around for weeks; Carl had been bitten, and death was near. Showrunner Scott Gimple confirmed on Talking Dead that “It will play out as bites play out on the show,” as well that Chandler Riggs will be back for at least one more episode.

Riggs’ exit had been theorized for some time, especially as the actor began looking at college options after seven years with the series. That said, Riggs tells The Hollywood Reporter the decision to leave the series behind was not actually his, but rather Scott Gimple came up with the idea to explain a different comic moment (beware additional spoilers):

In the comics, Scott was trying to figure out why there was a hole between Rick slitting Negan’s throat at the end of the “All-Out War” arc and then there’s the time jump and Negan is alive and in prison and Rick didn’t kill Negan. Scott was trying to figure out how to bridge the gap between Rick not wanting to kill Negan and Rick also really wanting to kill Negan, which he does right now [in the show's story]. Scott’s way to get around that was to make Carl this really humanitarian figure and person who could see the good in people and see that people can change and not everyone out there is bad. That’s what Carl’s talk to Rick was in this episode: there’s no way that they can kill every one of the Saviors and not everyone is a bad person and there has to be some way forward than just killing people.

Carl’s death also notably throws the series out of whack, debunking the premiere vision of an older Rick and Carl (as was adapted from the comic). It’s still plausible that The Walking Dead introduces post-Negan big bads “The Whisperers” without Carl, but The Hollywood Reporter also theorizes that Andrew Lincoln may be leaving the series as well. His contract expires after Season 8 (the series also has no formal Season 9 renewal), and Lincoln said of the possibility:

Yeah, I think [I see an end in sight]. I’ve said to you before and I really feel that the fans — and also for my own satisfaction — that there deserves to be an end point. There needs to be an end game and that is something that is definitely being talked about. (Laughs.) I can’t get into all of that. But all of that will be answered. As I’ve said to you before — and I will continue to say — my relationship with Rick Grimes is far from over.

In the meantime, The Walking Dead Season 8 will resume in February.

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