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‘The Walking Dead’ Review: The Show Finally Finds Its Conscience In Mid-Season Premiere

In Season 8, Episode 9, "Honor," we learn an important lesson: "You can't kill all of them, Dad. There's got to be something after."

Chandler Riggs as Carl Grimes - The Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 9 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Gene Page/AMC

[Editor’s Note: Spoilers for “The Walking Dead” Season 8, Episode 9, “Honor” follow.]

Whose Episode Is It?

Well, Carl’s the one dying, so he understandably dominates “Honor.” The good news is that “Honor” is one of the better “Walking Dead” episodes this season, with solid thematic cohesion and actual emotional stakes. Yes, Carl’s death is dragged out over the entirety of the episode, but his death has actual meaning beyond the show’s usual slaughter, giving Rick a new direction and “The Walking Dead” a long-overdue moral compass.

A Shred of Humanity

So it turns out Carl was bitten when he found Siddiq in the forest way back in “The King, The Widow, and Rick.” That means that his actions during the mid-season finale were done knowing his life would soon be over, and while that retroactively improves “How It’s Gotta Be,” it’s a shame that episode’s power was diminished in the service of building to the shocking reveal of Carl’s fate. But there’s plenty of good stuff this episode, as Carl returns to Alexandria, realizes his dad and Michonne are off doing God knows what, and decides to write goodbye letters to everyone he loves, because he’s not certain they’ll return before he’s gone. He also spends some quality time with his baby sister, and darned if those scenes didn’t get me a little choked up.

“Honor” is successful because Carl’s death means something, not just because Chandler Riggs has been with the show from the beginning, but because the show chooses to use his death as a moral course correction for Rick. As the zombie fever takes him, Carl pleads with Rick that killing is not his only recourse, and that wiping the Saviors out is not the only solution. It turns out that the “old man Rick” flashes we’ve been seeing this season are Carl’s hopes for the future, and this episode caps off with its most surprising and affecting image: Negan, happily tending a garden, an Alexandrian in good standing. It’s a future that Rick swears to make a reality.

Chandler Riggs as Carl Grimes - The Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 9 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

The show has sometimes toyed with ideas like this before, such as when people like Morgan or Denise argued for non-violence. But those arguments were generally rendered moot by the cartoonish villainy the show usually presented, or ignored entirely in favor of more violent action. Here, the argument is being made by Carl as a dying wish to his father: It’s not something the show can easily set aside, and it happens at a key moment in the longest conflict the show has ever attempted (at the end of this season, Rick vs. the Saviors will have eaten up two and a half seasons of screen-time). There’s no ignoring morality this time, and the inevitable conflict between Rick and hardliners like Daryl and Maggie should provide more dramatic juice than the show has seen in some time. Of course, they could still blow it, but hope is alive for now.

Of course, this is “The Walking Dead,” so there are still nits to pick. As I’ve mentioned before, Carl’s role as moral arbiter came out of the blue this season; just last year he was going on a suicide run to assassinate Negan (and while the show it always cagey with the passage of time, there couldn’t have been more than a few weeks between then and now in the timeline of the show). If anything, the wisdom Carl distributes at his end is a little too saintly. I know I’m the one who’s always arguing that characters on this show should have more empathy, but this episode lays it on awfully thick. Still, Carl’s goodbyes to Rick and Michonne are suitably emotional, and Chandler Riggs does some of his best work on the show.

Man Is The True Monster

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, Lennie James as Morgan Jones - The Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 9 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

At the other end of the spectrum we have Carol and Morgan, who murder their way through Gavin’s men in order to rescue King Ezekiel. Which is all par for the course until they’ve got Gavin cornered, and Morgan prepares to execute the unarmed man. Ezekiel pleads with him not to do it, but before Morgan can act, young Henry appears like a ninja and dispatches Gavin himself. Apparently Carol’s message of “do as I say, not as I murder” didn’t rub off on the kid.

This plotline is much less successful than Carl’s death, and not just because the stakes are so much lower. Until the conclusion, it’s the usual “Walking Dead” run-shoot-run-shoot action, and there’s never much doubt on who will prevail, since it involves the Ricketeer’s two most adept murderers. Henry’s decision to follow in their footsteps will probably make Carol and Morgan second guess their take-no-prisoners approach, but now that the two super-killers have teamed up, it’s hard to see why the show needs both of them. This episode implies that Morgan’s gone around the bend, but the character’s always been unstable and no one’s really minded before. Neither Carol or Morgan have been particularly interesting since they both decided to go back to their killing ways, so hopefully the show has some better material for them down the line.

The Remains

  • Turns out Eugene’s great escape plan really was just “shoot our way out.” It took an entire half-season for that plan to gestate.
  • RIP Gavin, the Saviors’ exemplification of the banality of evil.
  • During a struggle, Morgan rips a Savior’s guts out, and everyone reacts as if Morgan has truly gone off the deep end. I guess Rick never told them about that time he tore a guy’s throat out with his teeth.

Grade: B+

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