Notably, the episode included an exchange between Carl and Negan in which the boy said that he was willing to die, which wound up foreshadowing what transpired. Rick and Negan also faced off, in what turned out to be an indecisive slugfest.
The series has obviously earned a reputation for killing off key characters — death is a fact of life in this post-apocalyptic world — but there have been few major departures this season. The pacing, moreover, has actually been somewhat sluggish, as the cat-and-mouse game has unfolded and tested alliances with relatively few earthshaking developments.
Killing off Carl, whenever that officially happens, will be a big moment, especially given the abundant personal losses that Rick has already suffered. More than anything, though, the finale underscored that “The Walking Dead” has been too leisurely in teasing out this season’s story arc, which made the revelation of Carl’s dire fate deliver the sort of emotional wallop that the eighth season for the most part has sorely lacked.