If "The Walking Dead" gets to basically reset itself every half-season, so do we! We're throwing out the rulebook and our dead list from the first half of Season 8 and starting over, because no one died during the first half, but boy did someone die to kick off this second half!
Of course, we all knew it was coming with the genuinely shocking revelation that Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) had taken a bite to the stomach in that mid-season finale last year. All that was left was the slow decline toward death and the looming question of what happens next for Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Michonne (Danai Gurira) and the rest of the Alexandria survivors.
That last question was left largely unanswered in the mid-season premiere, as the show tightened its focus primarily on Carl and his family, coming together for his final moments. Their story was paralleled with a rescue mission heading toward The Kingdom with Morgan (Lennie James) and Carol (Melissa McBride) proving why they are the most dangerous people in this world. It was nothing for the pair of them to systematically take down the Saviors guarding Ezekiel (Khary Payton) -- though we can't say the carnage isn't taking a toll on Morgan.
Carl's dying message to his father that there is a better and less brutal way forward was perfectly framed alongside Henry's (Macsen Lintz) dark turn in that mission. Like Carl, Henry is a child of the apocalypse. It's a hard way to live and perhaps way too easy to lose your own humanity in the process. Carl's was a journey from a kid hardened too early into becoming a killer because he couldn't quite process the value of human life in a disposable world, but he'd learned a better way.
Today, Henry stands on that same precipice, as proven by his cold-blooded murder of Gavin (Jayson Warner Smith). Granted, Gavin was a Savior and ultimately a bad dude, but he was also unarmed and defenseless when Henry jammed a stick through is throat. Henry is what this world can create. Carl's compassion is proof that it's never too late. It's up to Rick now to stop that casual disregard from life from becoming their way of life, or humanity is doomed.
It was a powerful message that resonated both with Rick and hopefully the creative team behind the show. The attention to death and destruction was a little dominant in the first half of this season, which had the least character development of any chunk of episodes yet. This mid-season premiere, on the other hand, gave us character in spades, and that's what's going to save this show. Hopefully, it wasn't a fluke.
Now that a couple of major players have actually died, we can get back to the business of anticipating who's next on the chopping block. For us, that's looking at the end of "All Out War" and how to start taking down Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). There's always been a sense that there may be a more humane side to Negan that he's pushed down because he's felt he had no choice.
Carl's vision of the future included Negan, so redemption is clearly an option. But that can't happen with Simon (Steven Ogg) at his right-hand. Negan's second-in-command relishes the power the Saviors give him, and loves to abuse that simply for the joy of it. Negan has justified to himself the necessity of his violence. Simon relishes every awful moment. So long as he's around, there's no way the Saviors will ever stop.
Gavin had his doubts about what they do, and we've seen some of that in all of Negan's lieutenants, save for Simon. Everyone else in the Saviors organization might be open to another path forward should they lose this war -- and they have to because they're not the stars of the show -- but Simon would die before giving up this power. And so he should.
Eugene (Josh McDermitt) represents that conflict within the Savior organization perfectly. While remaining technically loyal to Negan now, he nevertheless helped facilitate the escapes of Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) and Dr. Carson (R. Keith Harris) from the Sanctuary. The quest to save Dr. Carson has been an underlying motivator for Rick's group for a while now, as he was needed to help Maggie (Lauren Cohan) through her never-ending pregnancy.
But then Carl went and saved Siddiq (Avi Nash), who is already a better developed and more compelling character. And did we mention he was a medical resident before the world went to hell? His speech to Carl where he told the teen he was going to honor his memory and prove "that what you did wasn't for nothing, that it mattered, that it meant something," proved Siddiq is going to step up in a big way.
Suddenly, Dr. Carson's not as necessary for Maggie's future and he just became expendable. Siddiq is being set up as a key component for the future of the show both with his symbolic significance as Carl's final sacrificial act of kindness, and by the skills he brings to the table. Dr. Carson has been around for awhile now and has had virtually no lines nor impact on anything. He's just been a tool and a prop for other character's motivations. It's not hard to see which one will survive this.
The war is coming to a close on “The Walking Dead,” Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on AMC. Who will still be alive to see it?