SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of tonight’s season 8 fall finale of The Walking Dead.

Echoing its mid-season ender tradition of killing off characters, The Walking Dead tonight went for a renewed body count with its Season 8 winter finale — kind of.

Revealing a festering walker bite, Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) was the delayed sacrifice on Sunday in the extended 90-minute and much-hyped “How It’s Gonna Be” episode. “It will play out as bites play out on the show,” EP and showrunner Scott M. Gimple said afterward on follow up show Talking Dead. “Carl right now is alive and he has some business to attend to,” he bluntly added. “That is a one-way ticket but I’d like to think that the things that we see in the next episode are so important to his life and the other character’s lives.” Long story short, this is no dream sequence.

To be finally killed off in one way or another in the February 25, 2018 mid-season premiere, Riggs offered a sense of where this was all going earlier tonight:

A regular on the now lawsuit enveloped TWD since the very beginning, the mane-trimmed Riggs followed up with this after the episode ended:

As the now Saviors-affiliated, double-dealing Eugene (Josh McDermitt) released the ailing Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) and didn’t unmask the duplicity of Dwight (Austin Amelio), who had other problems of his own tonight, against Negan. Simultaneously, Maggie (Lauren Cohan) showed a renewed ruthlessness and long view of her own as the bathed in darkness episode unsurprisingly waited until almost the last minute to divulge Carl’s seemingly upcoming death when the show is back in a couple of months. A revelation that came after arch enemies Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and villain Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) faced off raw knuckle to bloody knuckle and a certain baseball bat and Michonne (Danai Gurira) went on a stabbing spree of her own.

Juicing up the drama, this cliffhanger demise of sort comes just a few weeks after it was revealed that Lennie James’ Morgan character would be exiting TWD this season to join spinoff Fear The Walking Dead. Of course, this also isn’t the first major death on TWD this year. Clearly beloved by fans since her introduction last year and the hero of the Season 7 finale, Shiva, the pet tiger of King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) met her end in the November 12 “Some Guy” episode.

In a convoluted storyline that ultimately radically deviated from the long-running Robert Kirkman comic series that TWD is based on, the threat of knocking off Rick Grimes or one of the Survivors or their allies was literally on the lips of a number of characters in a monologue-heavy and sometimes clearly time-filling episode. “Kill me,” a thankfully brevity-delivering and already-bitten told Negan and his regrouped Saviors in the midnight hour ambush of the walled Alexandria safe-zone. A true survivor in the comics, Carl was to be the deadman walking for this mid-season finale.

While the specifics of who would die on AMC’s zombie apocalypse series was virtually a state secret as usual, the promise of a “shocking moment” guaranteed TWD was taking out one of its own. The fact that winter finale depicted the “eating s***” collapse of most of Grimes’ bullet strewn strategy to take Negan down for the murder of Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) and Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz) in the series high-hitting Season 7 opener was a pivot in an ever-shifting season that had a hard time getting traction for some.

In a move almost unthinkable just a couple of ratings-busting seasons ago, traditionally tight-lipped Gimple virtually broadcast as much on social media this morning that TWD knew a big death was expected and even required by fans:

Midway through an action-packed season that promised an “All Out War” between Rick Grimes, the Survivors and their allies and villain Negan’s Saviors and unveiled a possible idyllic future for a grey-haired Lincoln’s Old Man Rick, tonight’s often tense, though not terse, mid-pointer presented a pivotal challenge for the waning, but still demo-topping blockbuster series.

Simply put, after dangling a long-anticipated crossover with Fear TWD even before Season 8 started and then hitting some harsh ratings lows after the narratively strong 100th episode premiere on October 22, TWD tonight needed to offer more than simple shock value to put all its explosive expectations back together. With a looming sense of a greater doom than many fans could have seen, it certainly succeeded.

The Walking Dead will be back for the rest of its eighth season on February 25, soon to be one less core character than before.