‘The Walking Dead’: One Fan Theory Bites the Dust in the Mid-Season Finale

Kim Taylor-Foster
TV The Walking Dead
TV The Walking Dead

SPOILER ALERT: This post contains spoilers from Season 8, Episode 8 of The Walking Dead, entitled “How It’s Gotta Be.” Proceed with caution.

The mid-season finale of The Walking Dead Season 8 ended with a shocking twist. We all anticipated a major death to leave us all feeling mightily downbeat ahead of the holiday season — and while we wait for Season 8 to start up again in February. But what actually transpired knocked us for six.

If you’re still reading, we’re assuming you’ve either seen the episode or you don’t care about spoilers. So we’ll go ahead now and say it – Carl revealed he’d been bitten. The internet is generally pretty upset about this turn of events, and many have already said adios, even though he’s not gone just yet. But what some are mourning even more than his loss is the sad demise of a popular fan theory. Namely, the ‘Old Man Carl’ theory, which, in one fell swoop, has just been debunked. Or so it may seem.

The theory revolves around the notion that the events of The Walking Dead are actually Carl’s recollections of what happened through the zombie apocalypse, and that the end of the show will reveal Carl as an old man recounting his tales retrospectively. If Carl has been bitten by a walker, his life is about to end – which puts the ‘Old Man Carl’ theory well and truly to bed. RIP ‘Old Man Carl’ theory.

But will events play out like we expect? Let’s look at the evidence.

The Case For

When people get bitten by walkers in The Walking Dead, they transform into the undead themselves. No exceptions. Unless, like Hershel, they get bitten on a limb that’s amputated immediately. Or they get shot or stabbed in the head before they turn. Carl’s bite is on his torso and can’t be amputated. Plus, he’s surely been concealing the bite for too long for any attempt to cut it out to save him.

And as showrunner Scott M. Gimple told The Walking Dead aftershow, Talking Dead: “It will play out as bites play out on the show.”

He followed up with: “It’s very important to Carl’s story and the entire story — what happens in the next episode – so I’m just focused on the fact that right now Carl’s alive and he has some business to attend to. That is a one-way ticket, but I’d like to think that the things we see in the next episode are so important to his life and the other characters’ lives.”

Let’s also draw attention to a deleted Facebook post Chandler Riggs’s father reportedly wrote which stated that Riggs had been fired from the role of Carl in the show… and also an interview Chandler Riggs gave to the Hollywood Reporter in which he says Carl is “going to die.”

The Case Against

Is this or isn't this the moment that Carl got bitten?

It seems remiss to pay heed to an emotional Facebook post by a third party, that’s since been deleted. And there’s always the possibility that it’s part of a fake-out. And let’s also imagine that Riggs’s interview is part of that fake-out. A tall order, maybe. A lot of fans would be very angry.

But let’s look again at Gimple’s quote. He’s been pretty non-committal about what exactly happens. He doesn’t refer to a “walker” bite specifically, just “bites”. And when he says “one-way ticket” that doesn’t necessarily mean death as a direct result of a walker bite.

When Gimple talks about what happens in the next episode being very important to the entire story, could he actually be referring to the introduction of the Whisperers?

The Whisperers is a group from the comics about whom there’s been incessant chatter with regard to their arrival in the show. They wear the skins of the dead and also adopt their behaviour. This allows them to move among the walkers, undetected.

It’s possible that Carl was bitten by a Whisperer, and not a walker which would mean his destiny – at this juncture anyway – isn’t necessarily undead. If you look at the wound, this would seem to support this. It’s a perfect imprint of teeth clamped down on flesh – there’s no attempt to tear flesh away, which is the instinct of zombies in the show. They’re compelled to eat flesh; it’s their sole driving force. We’ve seen the results of a zombie attack enough times to know that they’re usually more savage than this. That doesn’t mean to say he won’t die, of course, but maybe it plays out in some other way.

But what do you think? Is the ‘Old Man Carl’ theory truly dead and buried? Is there a chance we’ve just seen the start of the Whisperers storyline? Let us know via our social channels @getfandom

Kim Taylor-Foster
Kim Taylor-Foster is Entertainment Editor for Fandom in the UK. She was raised on an unsteady diet of video nasties and violent action flicks.