One of the many idiosyncrasies of The Walking Dead is that the time between a zombie bite and death varies depending on the storyline. It’s convenient that way. Carl — who was bitten way back in episode 7 of the eighth season (or nearly three months ago, in real time) — managed to survive his bite long enough to bring Siddiq back to Alexandria and bond with him like a brother; write letters to his loved ones; enjoy a final hang with Judith; plant a tree; set up his own deathbed; and save Michonne and the rest of the Alexandrians from the Saviors. Carl does a lot for a guy about to die. In fact, up until Negan arrives, he has a sweet, serene final day set to Bright Eyes’ upbeat “At the Bottom of Everything.”
The nearly 24 hours it takes for Carl to die isn’t that unusual for The Walking Dead. It took Jim — bitten similarly in the mid-section — a day to die, as well as Bob (bitten in the leg), who was also allowed to offer his final goodbyes before expiring. In Carl’s case, his final hours coincide with Negan’s siege on Alexandria, so Daryl and company bid adieu to Carl while their homes are being destroyed, culminating with Judith’s almost comically bad farewell complete with dubbed-in crying effects that in no way sync to her body language (child actors are never easy, particularly those as young as Judith).
When everyone else escapes to The Hilltop, it’s Michonne and Rick who stay behind to see Carl off to his grave after they transport him to an empty house in Alexandria. Andrew Lincoln is a fine actor, but his range is limited, and that range apparently does not extend to grieving father. Meanwhile, Chandler Riggs has never been particularly great in this role (though, he has gotten much better in recent seasons), so it’s mostly left to Danai Gurira to do all the emoting while Lincoln grunts and Riggs rasps. I’m not sure the death scenes achieve their desired effect, but The Walking Dead often struggles with big, emotional moments that don’t involve Glenn (it’s in episodes like these where his absence is felt the most).
It is all very heavy-handed, as Carl belabors the point he is trying to make about uniting Alexandria with the Saviors post-All Out War.:
“It wasn’t the Saviors. It just happened. I got bit,” Carl tells Rick, who is aching to exact revenge on Negan.
“It’s gotta stop. It’s not supposed to be like this. I know it can be better,” Carl tells Michonne.
“Sometimes kids gotta show their parents the way,” Carl tells Judith, handing her Rick’s sheriff’s hat.
“Don’t carry this. Not this part,” he tells Siddiq.
“These people. You saved them all. That’s all you, man,” Daryl tells Carl.
“You’re my best friend, Michonne.”
And then, seconds from death, Carl reiterates the message one last final, unnecessary time. “You did it. You brought in those people from Woodbury,” he tells Rick. “You put away your gun so you could change, so that I could be who I am now. It was right. It still is. It can be like that again. You can still be like that again. You can’t kill all of them, Dad. There’s gotta be something after. For you. For them.”