I understand the decision to kill Carl. As I watched the stories of so many fans being upset about Carl’s impending death, some so much so that they wonder what the point of the show is without Carl (see cbr.com), I tried to imagine the point of view of the producers. So here are three factors that might have led to this decision.
1. Chandler Riggs would not be convincing as a tough, hardened leader
Chandler Riggs has done great work, there is no doubt. From the joy on his face when he runs into his father’s arms at the camp outside of Atlanta in 103, to the terrific Carl-centered episode in 409 with his father in which he goes from “I’d be fine if you died” to “I’m scared, I’m scared, I’m scared.”, to his wonderful growing relationship with Michonne, he has brought us terrific moments.
However, I don’t see Chandler embodying the tough leader that Carl apparently becomes in the comics. (I don’t read the comics, mostly because I don’t want spoilers.) This isn’t about acting skill. Every actor has a certain “energy” that they bring to their roles, and very, very few actors can work beyond this.
Chandler is totally believable as Carl in the role of a kinder, gentler foil to Rick. But in scenes in which Daryl or Rick-type toughness would be called for, he instead seems supremely annoyed. Such as in the scene where he hops a truck to the Savior compound and comes out with the rifle in 707, or the slap and push fest with Ron in 605, or even when Negan tells him to “lighten up a little” as they are all on their knees in 616.
Again, not a criticism of Chandler. But his best scenes are when Carl can be caring. Chandler’s strengths and basic energy just don’t match the route of the comics.
2. It opens up the writing possibilities
The storyline of the tough father handing over the leadership reigns to his son is pretty predictable. (That is what would have led to the “old man Rick” scene.) We can see where this is going, we are familiar with that theme. So from a writing standpoint, that road is not the best.
The writers turned Carl away from the road towards dark, tough leader, and started making him one of the points of light in the show. But how far can that go? In the 809 trailer, Carl says, “You stopped fighting. It was right. It still is.” But in the ZA, facing Negan, this is foolish. Yes, Rick did put down his gun and started farming–when they all thought they had defeated the Governor and that the fight was over. Hardly the case now. This approach with Carl runs the risk of him just becoming another Morgacompletelytman. Again, been there, done that. So keeping Carl alive and all, “give peace a chance” doesn’t work, either.
With Carl dying, there is a complete blank page for the writers to play on. The question marks are numerous—what does Rick have to fight for? What is his point in life? How does the community go on if Rick can’t? This may be a jarring reality for Rick and company, but it is a tremendous opportunity for the writers. And therefore, for us.
3. It opens up possibilities for all the characters…and the actors
With Carl dying, Michonne will have her hands full keeping Rick from going off the rails and doing harm to himself or others. And with Michonne busy trying to keep disaster averted, who is taking care of Judith? (This question has already been posed by one fan on Twitter.)
How will Carl’s death affect the others in the group? Daryl and Carol watched him grow up—will his death make them lose hope? Maggie’s father saved Carl’s life, does having him die make efforts to save people pointless? Will the newer members of the group, such as the Alexandrians, lose their strong leaders? And how will they react to that? Will some get stronger, such as Tara or Aaron? Will Eugene find out about Carl’s death? Is that the thing that could turn him around?
Rick himself is going to have to call on every bit of strength he has just to stay sane. All of this, for Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Danai Gurerra, Lauren Cohan, Melissa McBride, and all the others, is a big, juicy piece of emotional meat to chew on as an actor.
The death of Carl, while sad, is an opportunity for the show itself. I look forward to seeing where the TWD team takes us. I’m tremendously happy, as always, to go on this ride with them.
Finally, I wish Chandler all the very best in his career. He has been an integral part of the TWD experience for us, he has given us laughter and tears, and he has every reason to be extremely proud of his work in this show.