For the past eight seasons, fans have looked to Carl Grimes for glimpses of The Walking Dead's future.
Carl (Chandler Riggs) was the adorable little boy who added another layer of sympathy to the post-apocalyptic drama starting in Season 1 of the AMC series. He was the son of the show's hero and the sole reason for living and fighting against undead monsters for his parents Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies).
Through eight seasons, hundreds of walker kills and countless escapes from death, Carl's life came crashing to a halt from an inadvertent walker bite revealed at the end of Season 8's midseason finale in December.
Even for the most dedicated fans, the events of Season 8 so far can be a bit hazy. The Reader's Digest version of events is that Rick and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) have waged All Out War against one another over the past eight episodes.
Walkers were used as weapons and bait, dozens of people died horrible deaths and so far nothing has truly been resolved.
Producer and now ex-showrunner Scott Gimple chose to have the first half of Season 8 play out just over a few days in The Walking Dead world. Rick and his allies in Alexandria and the Hilltop finally enacted their long-in-the-making plan attack on Negan and his Saviors.
It was a slow burn start to a season all about war. Most of the action came from incremental movements on both sides and shifting loyalties that still haven't worked themselves out.
And then the show went and killed off a beloved main character who's been there since the beginning. He's not dead yet, but show producers have signaled that the upcoming episode will be the last for both the character and the actor.
A screener of "Honor" was provided to critics, and while we aren't allowed to report the details of Carl's fate, we can say that the episode is a tear-jerking tribute to Rigg's character and an exploration of why Rick and his people are fighting so hard for peace and a future.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Lincoln said Carl's final actions will have a profound effect on the rest of the season. Carl's legacy will clearly carry so much weight when it comes to Rick figuring out where he and his people go from here.
And The Walking Dead desperately needs some hope for the future.
The show is still feeling the ratings backlash of the Season 7 premiere, when Negan brutally murdered Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) with a barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat. It was arguably the most gruesome episode of cable television and turned off many longtime fans.
Season 8's midseason finale ratings also hit the show's lowest since Season 2. Maybe killing off the sheriffs hat-wearing Carl wasn't the best move.
The Walking Dead needs a fresh start. It definitely needs less Negan and his bloviating, testosterone-filled speeches. It needs to get around to that time jump vision of Old Man Rick with a graying beard and his people rebuilding a peaceful community.
It needs to explore wild story arcs from the comics like the zombie-face-wearing Whisperers, but not play out at the same pace. It needs a little less gloom and doom, even for a world overrun by the undead.
Here's hoping for a little more sunshine in The Walking Dead's future.
Contact Chelsea Tatham at [email protected] Follow @chelseatatham.
The Walking Dead
Season 8 returns at 9 p.m. Sunday on AMC.