The Walking Dead creator defends that big season 8 death

Contains spoilers for The Walking Dead season 8

It's never easy when a beloved character is killed off on The Walking Dead, but creator Robert Kirkman said that's the whole point.

Many fans are in an uproar over the pending death of Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs), who we learned in the midseason finale had been bitten by a walker and isn't long long for the world. It's a huge development for the show since Carl is one of only five original season 1 characters still around, and it's also a massive deviation from Kirkman's comics in which Carl is still a central figure. 

Kirkman himself, who is also an executive producer on the show, told Entertainment Weekly that he initially had reservations about the move when showrunner Scott M. Gimple tossed around the idea. "I think Scott first brought it up to me as a possibility probably about a year ago at this point," Kirkman said. "At first, I was kind of like, 'Well, that's a big one, you know?' I might have had a little bit of trepidation. But once he laid out to me exactly what his long-term plans were, and the things that come out of it, and the things that it leads to, it was something I got on board with."

As for the fan reaction, Kirkman said it's just an indication that The Walking Dead is doing what it's supposed to do.  "I know that some fans online have been very upset, but that's by design," he said. "We're not supposed to be happy when these characters die. We are supposed to be worried about what comes next, and anticipating what comes next, and stressing about what comes next. That just shows that you're engaged and you're interested. Our job is to now pay that off and fulfill that interest, and prove that this was a decision worth making. That's what we've got to do."

Executive producer Greg Nicotero, who directed the midseason premiere that will be Carl's swan song, said the episode should offer fans at least a little closure. "The people that clearly are upset about losing Carl and questioning where the show goes without Carl—I really do believe that a lot of people will put those feelings aside when they watch this episode because they're really going to get an opportunity to make some peace with it."

Kirkman agreed with that statement and added that Riggs gives an incredible performance in his final episode. "It's a great tribute to Carl the character, and Chandler the actor," Kirkman said. "It's definitely Chandler's best work. His work in this episode is absolutely amazing. It's something he should really be proud of. I think it's something people will be talking about for a good long while. We're just really excited to share with the audience."

So what happens after Carl is gone? 

"There are big, huge stories coming up that you might think will be massively altered because of the absence of Carl," says Kirkman. "But we have known these story lines have been coming for years. There are plans in place to make it all work. The loss of Carl doesn't necessarily mean that we're going to be losing big swaths of the comic book story. It means that there will be some differences to them. The goal is that those differences will be as exciting to the audience as they are to me."

The Walking Dead returns to AMC on Feb. 25.