by Thom McKee
You may have already heard two things about this week’s mid-season finale of season 8 of the Walking Dead. First you have probably heard that the show had the lowest ratings for a mid season finale since season two. This season alone, the show has lost millions of viewers. But second, you may have heard (major spoiler alert!) what happened to Rick’s son Carl this week. Actually, it probably happened a couple of weeks ago when he fought off some walkers with his new pal Siddiq, but Carl has been bitten by a walker. Yes, he was bitten on his torso which means no amputations (a la Hershel) and even Scott Gimple has confirmed that there will be no coming back from this bite. Carl Grimes is going to die very soon… possibly in the first episode of the second half of the season.
As for the ratings, I have all kinds of opinions as to what is going wrong with the show (Jadis and the scavengers? Daryl in a cell for half a season? Carol and Ezekiel? Are they out of bullets or not?). No one knows for sure why fans are abandoning the show in large numbers, but one can guess that we are getting tired of the dark place that the show has been in for a very long time. Even at the beginning of season six my wife said that she wanted me to tell her when the show lightens up a little so she could start watching again. A season and a half later I still have not been able to watch the show with my wife.
In addition, it seems like not a lot is happening on the show. This week we all knew that a major event was going to occur (they announced it last week on TTD), and most of us kept waiting… and waiting. I knew that someone was going to die this episode and I almost had a heart attack several times. Was it going to be Michonne? Maybe it was going to be Jerry? It couldn’t be Carol could it? They certainly would dare do it to Daryl? And then at the end we found out that it was going to be Carl…but not yet. We even have to wait until after the break to see that.
And this is when I realized what was going on. This show is having a hard time moving the plot forward. Just compare what happened in this season to all that happened in the first 6 episodes of the show. You will be genuinely surprised if you go back and watch season one.
But also, the biting (and eventual) death of Carl was not all that big a surprise to me. Some people like to say that this was a big surprise because the character does not die in the comics at this point at all. As a matter of fact, Carl has some important scenes in the comics that I guess will never happen on the show (the whisperers?). But, this show has ignored the comics many times, and most importantly the character Carl (in the comics) hasn’t had to age that much because he is a comic character. This is the same reason we still have an elementary aged Bart Simpson after almost 30 years.
Chandler Riggs has been growing much faster than the pace of the show since season one. He was nine when the show started, but now he is eighteen. And every season, the producers have had to be very quiet about how much time has passed on the show… simply because Chandler looks about 3 to 5 years older than he is supposed to be. Have you ever noticed how most other kids have also had to die on the show? The two exceptions have been Carl and Judith, but with Judith you can just hire different actresses each season. With Carl you can’t.
The other big news this week, has been Chandler Riggs’ father’s comments all over the internet. He is claiming that his son was fired unfairly and that Chandler was given too little notice. I might say the same thing too if my son got fired, but then people would remind me to pay attention to what happens to actors on this show. I was wondering, does this man even watch the show? Main characters die all the time on this show, regardless of when they died in the comics. Actors show up on the Talking Dead (the TWD after show hosted by Chris Hardwick) three or four times per season saying that they didn’t know that their character was going to die until almost the day that they filmed the scene. Even a CGI tiger can be removed from the show with very little warning (a decision which also helped eliminate an expensive line item on the show’s budget during a time of decreased ratings).
But what has been really interesting to me about this development has been all of the clues on the show about this. I even noticed while Carl and Siddiq were fighting some walkers in the woods several episodes ago, Carl was clearly upset about something that he didn’t want to share. This is most likely when he was bitten by a walker. We have also noticed that Carl has been acting a little differently since then. The most obvious thing was his willingness to be killed by Negan. Or even, if he hadn’t have offered to be killed, you still clearly noticed his different tone with Negan… as if he was no longer afraid of him. I believe that he is the only character so far to seem to get to Negan’s conscience when Carl asked him “is this who you wanted to be?” Negan of course has no answer and he seems quite bothered about it.
Carl just seems much more urgent about things. He also seems to be asking “why” questions more, which makes a lot more sense when we find out he is dying. But probably the most obvious clue happens during the flashback where he is walking down the road with Rick and he points out that his dad “is going to live” right before he starts asking deep existential questions. I actually didn’t even notice it until I went back and re-watched the scene.
Carl: You’re gonna live, Dad. (pause) Why are we doing this? Why are we fighting them? So it isn’t like how they want it, with everyone working for them, everyone living for them? We’re fighting so it’s all of us working together for something more than just killing other people.
Rick: Well, you think we’re gonna be out there, picking strawberries with Negan?
Carl: If that’s what it takes. It’s more than just hope. What, are we just gonna kill all of them? Finding some way forward, that’s harder.
This scene is actually one of the scenes that worked the most for me. When you realize that Carl is also a dead man walking (pun intended), you start to understand his big questions. He is able to actually step back and look at the big picture in a way that only someone who has very little time on this earth can do it. He is asking the deepest questions about just war, diplomacy and forgiveness. And hopefully, his dad is eventually going to listen to him.
When Rick asked Carl if he imagined picking strawberries with Negan I immediately started thinking about one of the most important stories in the New Testament. In the book of Acts we learn at the very beginning that there was a Rabbi by the name of Saul who was torturing and killing Christians. He was even there at the questioning and murder of a very important early Christian teacher named Stephen. But then the unthinkable happened… Saul met Jesus and became a Christian. Can you imagine what other Christians thought? It probably wasn’t that different from what Maggie, Rick or Daryl would think if Negan were to all of a sudden try to join their side. But then after a 15 year period, Saul (now called Paul) became a leader in the church. But as you can imagine many people didn’t exactly trust him. But this didn’t stop him from ministering all over the known world and eventually writing most of the books in the New Testament.
Paul wrote about many topics and he would serve a critical role in solving the deep rooted tensions between Jewish and Gentile Christians. But I think some of his most significant writing was about forgiveness and how to deal with persecution (especially given his personal story). Take a look at what he said in a letter that he wrote to a church in Rome.
14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!
17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.
20 Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.”
21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. (Romans 12:14-21, NLT)
When you know Paul’s personal story, this is a remarkable teaching. Typically, when it comes to persecution, there are only two responses: you can do something or you can do nothing. Doing something is usually called revenge and doing nothing is called pacifism. But what Paul is arguing here doesn’t fall into either camp really. What Paul is saying here is that there is a third response to persecution. He is saying that you should not only take it, but you should actively serve those who are delivering the persecution.
Now this idea is absolutely insane in most cultures. It certainly isn’t popular on most television shows, including The Walking Dead. It certainly isn’t a popular idea in our culture here in the United States either. And unfortunately, I don’t think that this idea is very popular among Christians, in Paul’s day and now. But this passage isn’t an anomaly. Paul says this in many other places and Jesus teaches us this in all four gospels. And the reason “why” this is important is clearly spelled out at the end of this passage – “don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. (vs 21)”
What Paul is saying here is that God will take care of our enemies for us (vs 19). But this may not always happen the way that we want it to. Imagine how the friends and family of Stephen felt about the way that God took care of Saul. God took care of Saul by saving him (We should all hope that God will take care of our enemies in this same way). That is why we are supposed to serve them and not turn into Charles Bronson on our enemies.
But this goes against our very nature in many ways. This is why Rick looks at Carl like he is from outer space when he suggests that there might be a non-violent solution to their problems with Negan. This is why early Christians didn’t trust Paul, even fifteen years after he became a believer. And this is why we, as believers today, need to take seriously this idea that we are to love our enemies, and not take revenge on them.
SEASON 8, EPISODE 8 DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
1) Daryl seems really preoccupied with the question as to whether his actions were what caused Negan’s escape. Why do you think this is?
2) Do you think that Daryl might think that he made a moral mistake, or just a practical one? Why or why not?
3) Eugene clearly helped the Saviors escape (if you listen closely, you can see that it had to do with the “fat lady singing”, a plan demonstrated for us in previous episodes). But Eugene also helps Gabriel and the doctor escape to Hilltop. Do you think that Eugene is playing both sides?
4) Is it possible that Eugene doesn’t know what is right or wrong in this situation? Why or why not?
5) Do you think that Carl’s bite is making him act differently? If so, how?
6) Do you think that knowing you will die soon, would affect how treat others? Why or why not?
7) Do you think that knowing you will die soon would affect how you look at issues like forgiveness and revenge? How?
8) In Romans 12, Paul says that we are to try to live at peace with “everyone” (vs 18). Do you think that Paul actually means “everyone”? Why or why not?
9) Paul says that we should not “let evil conquer” us (vs 21). What do you think he means by that?
10) Are there people in your life that you mean to change the way that you interact with based on this passage? If so, what do you need to do?
Thom McKee Jr. is a husband, father, pastor… and film geek (and brother of Jonathan McKee). Thom lives in Northern California with his wife and two kids.