It has been less than a week since The Walking Dead revealed its most shocking death in years -- and already fans are looking for a loophole.
This is to be expected, of course: not only is Carl Grimes a beloved member of the cast, but the nature of his doom begs for discussion: he was bitten by a walker but has not yet turned or perished, with a midseason break separating the revelation from Carl's final moments on Earth.
While Chandler Riggs, the actor who plays Carl, has already done some exit interviews with the press and his father was even spotted taking aim at producers in a social media post, that has not changed some fans' minds: AMC must be messing with them.
It is not an entirely unjustified position; after Glenn (Steven Yeun) was overrun by a crowd of zombies and seemingly killed, the show played it cool for a couple of weeks and even removed his name from the opening credits. Eventually, it turned out the character had used a corpse to protect himself from being bitten until he could hide.
Later, his actual death would be the subject of another elaborate trick: with Glenn's comic book death one of the best-known and most widely-discussed elements of the series, the show decided that playing it straight would be boring. When Negan arrived and played "eeny, meeny, miney, moe" with his baseball bat, it was not Glenn but rather Abraham who met his end at the start of season 7. Glenn would meet his iconic fate just minutes later -- a move that allowed the series to yank -- hard -- on fans' heartstrings twice in a row.
Given the placement of his bite, the time Carl says has elapsed since it happened, and the firmly-established rules of The Walking Dead, it it difficult to imagine what scenario could protect Rick's oldest child from joining his mother in the great beyond at this point.
The 18-year-old actor expressed his gratitude for his time with the show on Twitter after the episode's airing on December 10, and told reporters that he was glad Carl's death would mean something, since he would die while imparting an important lesson about civilization and mercy to his father. Other actors have commented on his passing and it was the subject of the day on Talking Dead following the midseason finale. Showrunner Scott Gimple has referred to the bite as a "one-way ticket."
Still, fans will hold out hope -- and at least in theory, as long as Carl is not actually dead or undead yet there is still some (admittedly remote) chance that the network is messing with its audience yet again.
The Walking Dead returns to AMC with its mid-season premiere in February.