“If they won’t end it, you have to,” says the dearly departed pudding enthusiast, as voiced by Chandler Riggs, in the penultimate episode of the AMC drama’s eighth season.
[This story contains spoilers through season eight, episode 15 of AMC’s The Walking Dead, “Worth,” as well as the comics on which the show is based.]
Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) is dead. Long live Carl Grimes.
The most important character to die on The Walking Dead since the show lost Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) in the season seven premiere returned from beyond the grave in Sunday’s episode of the AMC drama, albeit not as a zombie. Instead, it’s his words that reverberated throughout the penultimate hour of season eight, perfectly timed with the climax of the current “All-Out War” arc.
The episode, called “Worth,” begins and ends with Carl’s words to the two leaders on opposite sides of the conflict: his father, Rick (Andrew Lincoln), reading his letter at the Hilltop; and enemy Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) receiving the message over a radio call with Michonne (Danai Gurira). In the first case, Riggs himself the voiceover for Carl’s letter to Rick, reminding his father about fonder times from before the apocalypse, and pleading for a return to their more civilized nature.
Read Carl’s letter to Rick below, transcribed from Riggs’ reading in the episode:
I remember my eighth birthday at the KCC, with that giant cake and Aunt Evie showing up on leave, surprising all of us. I remember mom. I remember Codger. I remember school and going to the movies and Friday night pizza and cartoons and grandma and grandpa and church, the summer barbecues, and the kiddie pool you got me. I could’ve used that at the prison.
You told me about the walks we would take when I was 3. You holding my hand around the neighborhood, all the way to Ross’ farm. I didn’t know that I remembered them, but I do, because I see the sun and the corn and that cow that walked up to the fence and looked me in the eye. You told me about all that stuff, but it isn’t just that stuff. It’s how I felt. Holding your hand, I felt happy and special. I felt safe.
I thought growing up was about getting a job and maybe a family — being an adult. But growing up is about making yourself and the people you love safe. As safe as you can, because things happen. They happened before. You were shot before things went bad. It kind of felt like things went bad because you were shot. I want to make you feel safe, dad. I want you to feel like I felt when you held my hand. Just to feel that way for five minutes … I’d give anything to make you feel that way now.
I wanted to kill Negan. I wish I did. Maybe it would have been done. I don’t think it’s done now. You went out there again, but I don’t think they surrendered. I don’t think they will surrender. There are workers in there, dad. They’re just regular people: old people, young people, families. You don’t want them to die, dad. We’re so close to starting everything over, and we have friends now. It’s that bigger world you used to talk about: the Kingdom, the Hilltop. There’s got to be more places, more people out there — a chance for everything to change and keep changing. Everyone giving everyone the opportunity to have a life. A real life.
If they won’t end it, you have to. You have to give them a way out. You have to find peace with Negan. You have to find a way forward somehow. We don’t have to forget what happened, but you can make it so it doesn’t happen again, and nobody has to live this way. That every life is worth something. Start everything over. Show everyone they can be safe again without killing, that it can feel safe again, that it can go back to being birthdays, schools, jobs and even Friday night pizza somehow — and walks with a dad and a 3-year-old, holding hands. Make that come back, dad. And go on those walks with Judith. She’ll remember them.
I love you.
Carl’s letter to Negan, on the other hand, is considerably shorter and to the point, but no less impactful. In essence, he reiterates the same points he made when confronting Negan in December’s midseason finale, urging the Saviors’ big bad to transcend his violent ways. Given how Negan responds to the letter’s content (namely, by needlessly stomping on his own radio), it doesn’t sound like the man who just killed his own lieutenant (Steven Ogg’s Simon, gone but not forgotten) is going to heed Carl’s advice so easily.
Read Carl’s letter to Negan below, transcribed from Michonne’s recitation:
This is Carl. I was helping someone. I got bit. Didn’t even have to be doing what we were doing. I was just helping someone, and now I’m gone. You might be gone. Maybe my dad made your people give you up and he killed you, but I don’t think so. I think you’re still around. I think you’re working on a way out. Maybe you got out. Maybe you think we’re a lost cause and you just want to kill all of us. I think you think you have to be who you are. I just wonder if this is what you wanted. I wanted to ask you. I wish I could have. Maybe you’ll beat us. If you do, there will just be someone else to fight. The way out is working together. It’s forgiveness. It’s believing that it doesn’t have to be a fight anymore — because it doesn’t. I hope my dad offers you peace. I hope you take it. I hope everything can change. It did for me. Start over. You still can.
How will Carl’s letters to Rick and Negan impact next week’s season finale? The comic books provide a fairly big clue, though it’s worth pointing out just how far the show has deviated from its source material; look no further than Carl’s death for proof. With that said, if the season eight finale follows the script laid forth by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard in the Walking Dead comics, then Rick and Negan are about to see some common ground — right before one last violent showdown that wins the war for Alexandria.
What’s your reaction to Carl’s letters? Sound off in the comments below, and keep following our coverage at THR.com/WalkingDead.