SPOILER ALERT: This article speculates about Season 7 of AMC’s The Walking Dead as well as discusses the comic books the TV series is based on. There are spoilers for both the show and the comic book in this article, especially the latter. Please proceed with caution if you wish to avoid spoilers.
Once upon a time, in the early days of The Walking Dead where the writers actually had to put effort in to make sure people turned on AMC at 9 P.M. on Sunday night instead of their local FOX or NBC affiliate, there was a heavy focus on young Carl Grimes, the only child of Rick and Lori at the start of the show — and arguably the only one that truly belongs to the former. In fact, much screentime was devoted to Carl as he walked around a farm, stole guns from the adults, and generally avoided being in the house; and in a show with grim moments and bloody deaths, Carl was often presented as a ray of hope, a character whose antics felt real and provided comedy in times when viewers needed to mourn.
While The Walking Dead was officially his father’s story, the development of Carl Grimes from sheltered young child at the show’s start to scarred young man over the years has become one of the show’s more compelling and realistic storylines. The loss of innocence in a zombie apocalypse gradually began to harden him as he was forced to, among other things, put down his surrogate father after Shane re-animated and preventing his mother from turning into a walker following her death via childbirth. At an age where he was supposed to be figuring out girls and reading Catcher in the Rye, Carl was becoming a stone-faced killer that watched his father nearly go off the deep end multiple times in a defense of the prison they’d begun to call home.
And, thankfully, we got to usually hear ‘CORAL’ once an episode.
Of course, this was to be expected as the graphic novel, which began in 2003, largely has had the same premise of this really being Carl’s story. Creator Robert Kirkman has gone on record in AMAs on Reddit and said that not only is Carl his favorite character, but that Rick could die in the comic because Carl is at a point where he ‘could carry the book now.’
Now, roughly two years after the apocalypse began, Carl Grimes has become a protector of the Alexandria Safe-Zone and a young man, one who is doing his best to manage the struggle of the luxury of enjoying that lifestyle within the gates to act like a kid and earning his keep by making sure his home does not fall to walkers — or worse. Despite showing small signs of anxiety and PTSD early on around those close to his age, losing both his mother and plenty of group members he called family (notably Dale, Shane, Hershel, and Beth), nearly being raped at one point in season four, and losing one of his eyes thanks to a stray bullet, Carl has preserved and turned into the perfect son for one Rick Grimes.
That’s great and all, but as we enter Season 7, it’s important to realize that Carl has really fallen off the grid in the past two seasons — especially since the group hit Alexandria in the second half of Season 5. Though we still get plenty of scenes featuring the teenager, and he is in the Lucille lineup, that character development arc where he once told Michonne “I’m not what he thinks I am. I’m just another monster too” has seemingly come to a screeching halt without a true resolution, leaving open the question of what’s next for Carl.
While character arcs come and go, many of the major ones in The Walking Dead— Rick and Lori’s marital issues, as well as his grief when she died; Daryl and Michonne both becoming less distant and more a member of the group; and Glenn’s inability to kill another human — have at least ended with some sort of resolution, there’s been nothing of the sort when it comes to Carl Grimes. Essentially, everything that kept viewers coming back for Carl — and most of the arcs/plot points from the comics adapted to the show for his development — have either been thrown to the wayside or given to other characters.
So, as we’re just under three months away from Season 7 kicking off, it only seems fair to ask just how relevant Carl Grimes is at this point in the show. For comparison’s sake, let’s take a look at what both comic and TV Carl had to go through by the time Negan lined them up and took Lucille to a group member’s face.
Comic: Lost Rick for a couple of weeks due to the former being shot in the line of duty; shot Shane before the former cop could shoot his father; was shot by Otis near Hershel’s farm; is troubled by Rick constantly leaving him and Lori; is shocked to see Rick arrive back at the prison with a missing hand; loses both Lori and Judith in the prison attack; has to care for Rick after said prison attack due to the latter’s injuries; is nearly raped on a trip back to Cynthiana by a group of bandits; is forced to kill Ben, another child survivor and a friend, after Ben killed his brother, Billy; struggles to adapt to the Alexandria Safe-Zone and being around other kids; is shot in the eye by community leader Douglas Monroe during an attack by a herd; suffers amnesia from the trauma and believes Lori is still alive; was called Duane by Morgan, who confused Rick’s son for his own; watched as Negan bashed Glenn’s skull in; pulled a gun on Maggie for attacking Rick following Glenn’s death.
Show: Lost Rick for a couple of months (about 60 or so days) due to the former being shot in the line of duty; was shot by Otis near Hershel’s farm; watched as a walker version of Sophia stumbled out of Hershel’s farm; encouraged Rick to execute Randall; shot a re-animated Shane following the latter turning into a walker; was forced to put down Lori following her death by childbirth; was forced to watch Rick’s mind deteriorate after the loss of Lori; fought in the war against Woodbury and shot a young soldier who was surrendering; shot Morgan; lost Hershel and believed to have lost Judith as well in the prison attack; has to care for Rick after said prison attack due to the latter’s injuries; is nearly raped on the trip to Terminus by a group of bandits known as the Claimers; struggles to adapt to the Alexandria Safe-Zone; is pushed away by his father when the latter is fighting Pete Anderson; constantly gets into fights with Ron Anderson over Enid and survival; is shot by Ron Anderson following the deaths of both Sam and Jessie Anderson; watched as Negan bashed in the skull of a character whose identity remains unknown.
Without a doubt, Carl goes through a lot in both adaptions, but a key difference is that in this point in the comic, Carl is still a dark, consumed murderer — in the same way that Carol is right now in the TV show — which allows for more depth and storylines surrounding his character. In the show right now, much of Carl’s comic characterization that includes a full-on struggle with adapting to Alexandria that doesn’t just last one episode, the murder of a young child who failed to realize how dangerous walkers were, and even the loss of a sibling has either been given to Carol or Daryl.
Is that to say that everything Carl went through in the comic should have to be included as part of his development in the show? No, of course not, but it’s after Negan is introduced in the comic — right where we are in the show — that we really begin to see the darkness that has begun to slowly take over Carl’s life as he sneaks into Negan’s compound, murders several saviors, and even begins an odd friendship with the man who killed Glenn. After all we’ve seen from Carl in the first one hundred issues, this darkness — as well as his tears when Negan mocks his eye — make sense because of the way his story has been handled.
The same goes for the loss of Carl’s eye, in which it’s meant to symbolize the hole in his lie from all the losses he’s suffered and how he’s never going to become the fun-loving kid that Rick wants him to be because he’s too far gone at this point. In a way, the loss of the eye was supposed to show where Carl stands in the morality line because though he’s like his father in many ways (who sustained a permanent injury when his hand was cut off in issue #28), he’s also becoming more like The Governor (who also wore an eyepatch and had long hair) than he knows.
But in the show, where Carl has really become a mini Rick in the past few seasons, the meaning of the eye scene gets lost and just feels forced. Carl was never supposed to lose an eye just for the sake of it, but he was supposed to lose it for what it symbolizes in terms of the plot and his development. Unfortunately, there’s been no development with Carl’s eye — other than a lone crack in “Knots Untie” where he explains his decision to stay in Alexandria and not travel to the Hilltop because “the kid with the messed up face probably wouldn’t make the best first impression anyway.”
Other than that one moment, we’ve seen zero of the struggles Carl has with eye that we have in the comic…which pretty much removes the point of Carl losing his eye. When Hershel lost his leg in season three, we the viewers saw his struggles, his hopes, and the way he managed to make due with it. Because of that, the loss of Hershel’s leg actually resonated with viewers and caused them to feel emotions, especially rooting for Hershel when he fought off walkers with a crutch.
Obviously because of Carl’s significance to the story and the fact that he’s a main character, you can’t kill him off just yet if you’re AMC; but at the same time, you’re caught in a bind because the way you’ve written his character and the events that have happened to him and the group rob him of a realistic experience similar to what happened to his comic counterpart. If AMC wants to bring up that Carl/Negan friendship plot, that’s fine, but Carl lacks the darkness and emptiness that made Negan so impressed with him.
Though, Negan did have some kind words for Carl in the season finale.
“Hey! Do not make me kill the little future serial killer. Don’t make it easy on me. I gotta pick somebody. Everybody’s at the table waiting for me to order.”
Could AMC make a plotline like that work or at the very least return Carl to relevance? Of course, but for the time being, we’re left to wonder what’s next for the “future serial killer” who once had a problem just staying in the house. Then again, at least he’s doing more than Jessie ever did.
[Image via AMC]