‘The Walking Dead’ Keeps Lurching Toward All-Out War. But First, These Messages About Carl.

If you’re among the Walking Dead fans who have been waiting several months to find out whether things are as grim as they looked for Carl, you’re about to get your answer.

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The Walking Dead returns Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on AMC for the second half of season eight. What doesn’t immediately happen is the All-Out War toward which the show has also been building for the last year and a half, ever since Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) stepped up as the Big Bad.

Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Darryl (Norman Reedus) and the rest of their ragged band of good people still accept that AOW is moving closer, but as we’ve seen before, TWD advances at its own pace. No war before its time.

Instead, Sunday’s show stays with a couple of its recent trademarks. One is flashbacks and flashforwards, some of which almost seem like non sequiturs and many of which seem to portend or refer to things for which we are going to need explanations.

Presumably if we stay tuned long enough, we will get them. No explanation before its time.

Sunday’s episode also continues the show’s recent habit of isolating characters, or small groups of characters. Rather than giving us the whole ensemble in one place, like when most of them were gathered in a semicircle wondering whose head would get bashed in, it’s been serving up vignettes and minidramas designed to show us the journey of individuals.

Sunday’s main caucus, logically enough, revolves around Carl (Chandler Riggs), Rick’s son and over the years an increasingly prominent presence on his own.

In November’s midseason finale, fans were stunned when Carl lifted his shirt to reveal he’d been bitten by a walker while helping the besieged group duck into a hiding place where it could be at least temporarily safe from annihilation by Negan’s goons.

So while we’re learning how that dodge worked out, we also spend a lot of time with Carl, who knows that getting bitten by a walker rarely has a good outcome.

Rick is there, of course, and so is Michonne (Danai Gurira). A few others like Darryl pop in and out, though they also need to keep an eye on the broader situation.

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The episode’s other focal drama involves Morgan (Lennie James) and Carol (Melissa McBride), who were last seen on a mission to rescue Ezekiel (Khary Payton).

Ezekiel’s dream of leading a bold charge against Negan’s men ended badly, fans will recall, when his people were ambushed and pretty much wiped out. He even lost his tiger, Shiva, and for a time seemed to be a broken man.

He starts this episode in captivity, with Carol and Morgan his only long-shot hope for a reprieve. We do get some sense where that story goes, at the time time we meet an unexpected wild card Carol and Lennie encounter along the way.

It’s hard to say more without getting into spoilers. As always with The Walking Dead, fans will be regularly reminded that on this show, no one has a Get Out of Jail Free card, or for that matter a license to stay alive.

The whole Negan storyline has not been the show’s most successful, judging from the fact viewership has dropped over its course. The show remains a ratings giant, though, and it will be interesting to see if the current audience is intrigued enough to stay around through the next eight weeks and see when the drums of all-out war will lead to actual combat.

David Hinckley wrote for the New York Daily News for 35 years. Now he drives his wife crazy by randomly quoting Bob Dylan and “Casablanca.”

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