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Warning: SPOILERS for The Walking Dead season 8, episode 9 ahead
Tonight, The Walking Dead said goodbye to Carl. It was a sad and reflective farewell, but one that wasn’t entirely unexpected since the mid-season finale had already revealed Carl was bitten and at death’s door. Still, there were plenty of tearful goodbyes for Carl to have with his fellow survivors before he goes – especially with his father, Rick, and step-mother/best friend Michonne. It’s during one of these goodbyes that Carl shares with Rick and Michonne an interesting dream he’s been having.
As he lays dying, Carl explains that his dream is of a peaceful future where they are no longer at war with the Saviors, but rather all living and working together. There are no more walkers to fight, Judith is older, and Eugene is back. The only real difference is that in this dream Rick has a long, white beard, confirming that – yes, Carl’s dream is the very same as the flash forward scenes being teased all throughout season 8
The “it was all a dream” twist is a tough trope for even the best storytellers to pull off effectively, and in this episode, The Walking Dead hardly tries to use it in an original or unique way. With all the speculation that grew up around what the flash forward scenes could mean – from Old Man Rick and his walking with a cane to the stuffed bunny Judith is seen carrying – having it be revealed as merely being Carl’s dream falls flat. Not only that, but the ridiculous nature of the reveal hurts what is an otherwise touching and sweet goodbye to one of the series’ few remaining original characters and cast members.
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That being said, though the flash-forward scenes have been revealed as a dream and not really a premonition of what’s to come, a hint of the future may still lie within them. Carl’s last words to Judith include, “Sometimes kids got to show their parents the way,” and with this dream, Carl might just be showing his dad the kind of future he needs to work towards. Though it’s impossible for the future that Carl dreamed of to ever come true exactly as he imagined – mostly because Carl won’t be alive to see it – it is possible for Rick to create a peaceful future like the one seen in Carl’s dream.
In this episode, there are new details in Carl’s perfect dream-future which are clear signs of things that need to happen before peace can be achieved. For example, Jerry appears in the dream, meaning he’s no longer the Savior’s prisoner but living a happy and healthy life. As already mentioned, Eugene is there, too, suggesting that in order for there to be peace there must also be forgiveness between him and those he betrayed. And lastly, if Rick hopes to truly have peace after ending this war with the Saviors, he will need to learn to work with them – including Negan, who in Carl’s dream is shown living peacefully alongside everyone else.
Explaining away the flash-forwards as nothing but a dying boy’s dream is arguably a bit of a let-down, but Carl’s dream remains a future worth fighting for. Whether or not Rick will make good on his promise to Carl and create the peaceful future he dreamed of remains to be seen, but there’s no reason Rick shouldn’t at least try.