In the midseason finale of The Walking Dead, we discover that Carl has been bitten by a zombie. Fans fully expect that he will die in the midseason premiere. I don’t buy for a second the fan theory currently in circulation suggesting that Carl will survive the zombie bite owing to scar tissue on the place of infection, stemming from being shot back in season two.
Carl will die. Chandler Riggs already lamented that his death isn’t as epic as he’d have liked; Norman Reedus has expressed displeasure with the character’s death; and his father has ripped AMC for killing off Riggs.
If Carl dies, then that means the flash-forward of Old Man Rick in the season premiere cannot happen. Carl is in that happy future scene following the events of the All Out War, and if Carl is dead, then that future scene must be a dream, or a hallucination, or possibly a scene that Carl conjured in his notebook, as seen in an image from the midseason premiere.
My guess is that in the scene from that image, Carl has been bitten, he has returned to Alexandria after retrieving Siddiq, and he’s writing a final farewell note to his father (at the time, Carl didn’t know that he’d be seeing his father again — he had planned to leave Alexandria that night and die alone). Somewhere in that note, you can bet that Carl writes to his father a line he picked up from Siddiq, “My mercy prevails over my wrath.” That, as Andrew Lincoln explained to EW, will be the takeaway from Carl’s death.
[Carl] is the linchpin. It goes back to the flash-forward where my mercy prevails over my wrath. There is a balancing of the scales in Rick’s life that happens in the back eight episodes. A lot of it is because of what is said in episode 9, by his son.
That brings us to the second flash forward, which sees Rick — with bloodshot eyes — reminding himself of Carl’s line, “My mercy prevails over my wrath.”
He emphasizes that in his mind in an effort to stop himself from killing Negan in a fit of rage. As Chandler Riggs explained after the midseason finale, Carl’s death is how showrunner Scott Gimple provided a justification for Rick to spare Negan’s life after all of the heinous acts that Negan has committed:
“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,” Riggs said. “Scott’s way to get around that was to make Carl this really humanitarian figure and a person who could see the good in people and see that people can change and not everyone out there is bad.”
Ultimately, there’s no other way to look at this. From a narrative standpoint, Carl had to die so that Negan could survive. Whether fans of The Walking Dead will be able to come to terms with that decision in upcoming seasons is another question entirely. What it also means, for better or worse, is that thanks to Carl’s death, Rick and Co. will never be able to fully avenge the deaths of Abraham and Glenn. That may be even harder to swallow for fans than the death of Carl itself.