As a fan of the AMC series The Walking Dead (and the original comic series published by Image Comics) I have had to learn to deal with loss like the characters in the series. Season after season, I have watched characters I love meet their demise at the hands of the undead and at times the human monsters which now inherit the Earth. With any ongoing television series there are common themes that arise episode after episode which often make the fans snicker or at times make them scream at the small screen in fury. With The Walking Dead it’s how no one can keep track of young Carl Grimes.
What follows are some of the reasons why our young, annoying (in my opinion) protagonist should be kept in the “house” rather than be allowed to tromp around after his adult counterparts. Based on many of Carl’s actions it’s actually shocking the child has managed to live to see the upcoming season 5 premiere of the series (Sunday, October 12th).
1) Search Party – During season 2 the on-going search for Sophia takes Carl from the “house” and into danger. As part of the search party, Carl follows Rick and Shane into the woods rather then being led back to the Interstate by Daryl and the others. The three encounter a buck, which Shane plans on shooting. Rick stops him, allowing Carl to slowly approach the majestic beast while they watch. During this moment of peace in a world of horrors, violence enters once again when a gunshot rings out. Both the buck and Carl drop to the ground. The bullet has passed through the buck and has hit Carl. One of the benefits of this Carl mishap is that it brings our protagonists in contact with Hershel Greene and his family of survivors. (“What Lies Ahead” – Season 2)
2) Loss of Innocence – With his best friend Sophia missing, Carl is left with the others to wonder her fate until the episode “Pretty Much Dead Already”. Though in the previous episode Carl has started down his grow-up path by taking part in target practice he still has maintained his child-like view of the world. Though many of the characters believe the search for Sophia is a dead-end (no pun intended) he feels strong enough to stand-up to Shane and argue that they can’t move on until they find her. That spark of innocence is shattered later when she steps form the barn changed into the terror that they all feared she might have become. With Rick’s gunshot and the death of Sophia, Carl sees life as a series of continuous actions -not moments. Moments are when you think, which is what Carl sees as weakness, where as actions are what keep you alive. If Carl had not been there at Sophia’s death it is possible he could have held on to that innocence for a short time longer. (Season 2)
3) “Don’t Talk! Think!” – Being a pre-teen and teen in the series, Carl thinks he knows everything. Unable to deal with his own grief in losing his friend Sophia, he insults her grieving mother Carol for her belief that her daughter is in a better place. Rick who is attempting to deal with a son who doesn’t respect him, reminds him he must pull himself together and remember that Carol has just lost the one person she had left in the world-if she is able to manage her grief by thinking that Sophia is in Heaven, it is not their place to take that comfort away from her.
This lecture leads the emotionally torn teen to steal Daryl’s gun and head off into the woods for a post-apocalyptic walk-about. Kids Carl’s age can often be found throwing rocks at abandoned buildings windows or throwing rocks at passing cars, but our Carl decides to use his skills to chuck rocks at a mud stuck zombie. His overconfidence gets the best of him as he steps into the mud with the raised gun to kill the pitiful creature. Only he can’t bring himself to do it. His hesitation allows the zombie to free one of it’s legs, allowing hims to reach Carl’s foot. Lucky for Carl he wins the struggle and manages to run back to the house, where he should been in the first place. Our mud-freed zombie takes karmic-revenge on Carl by attacking and mortally wounding Dale in “Judge, Jury, Executioner” (Season 2).
4) No Good Deed Goes Unrewarded – Season 2 presents the idea that Carl feels that by witnessing violence or being a part of it he has become a man. In “Judge, Jury, Executioner” he once again sneaks form the house (never learns does he?) to watch Randall’s execution (Randall was one of the survivors who attempted to kill Rick, Glenn and Hershel in “Triggerfinger”). Carl tells his father to kill the man while he watches. He is led away by Shane allowing Rick to make his decision about this man’s life. The episode ends with Dale’s mercy killing at the hands of Daryl which Carl can’t bring himself to watch.
Rick’s decision to spare Randall’s life sets things in motion for Shane to try to rid the group of it’s self-appointed leader. The search for the escaped Randall led Rick and Shane into a field to lay out the truth of what has happened. Once again Carl has left the safety of the house to follow his father and Shane, giving him a glimpse of that violence he so desperately seeks. He is attempting to prove himself to both men. Carl’s gunshot kills a zombified Shane to save Rick, however that gunshot also brings herds of walkers.. That is the beginning of the end for the secure farm life.
5) Don’t Fire Unless You Have To! – This is a motto that young Carl needs to be reminded of time and time again. For some reason Carl has a mental block when it comes the the fact they there is A) a limited amount of ammo and B) gunshots bring more walkers. The Carl-gun love affair started in season 2, after he was accidentally shot by Otis. In “Secrets” he asks his surrogate father Shane to teach him and is even caught with a gun on him at a point in the episode. This is where Lori and Rick disagree with Carl’s upbringing in this new zombie filled world, but in the end he is trained along side the others. Throughout the series the characters struggle with the when to shoot issue, still Carl does not seem to learn from his elders. The dilemma is not just in regards to the undead. Time and time again the characters are given the opportunity to end situations with a gunshot and in some cases they do.
In season 4 there are two such examples of Carl planning to shoot first before thinking. The first is in “Isolation” when Carl accompanies Hershel to collect the medical herbs required to help the ailing survivors. In the peace of the forest Hershel, outside the crumbling prison (both the physical structure and the society inside) realizes it is safer there. Carl disagrees when they spot a walker. While they examine it a second walker spots them. Carl being Carl, raises his gun to shoot the walker, but is reminded by Hershel that he doesn’t have to. They make their way back to the prison unharmed. Later in the season in “Too Far Gone” Carl is given the opportunity to “end this right now” in the standoff between the Governor’s group and the prison. Daryl is the one this time to stop Carl from unloading his weapon. His actions could make things worse for the situation at hand.
6) A Piece of Normal – With the birth of Judith, Carl has taken on another role, this time in the form of big brother. With the loss of Lori, Carl understands that in this zombie filed world his sister will never know her mother. To give her a piece of pre-apocalyptic life he ventures to retrieve a photograph of his family. Carl tells Rick he plans on going on a run for a crib for Judith. Rick of course says no, knowing the dangers of going out on your own, but allows Carl to go when Michonne volunteers to accompany him. She understands she needs to make a connection with Carl to gain the Rick’s trust.
Carl’s don’t think attitude is at the forefront of his plan to get the pictures from the cafe it hangs in. Michonne sees the danger of just walking in and attempts to once again to teach Carl that taking a moment to think before reacting is often a best practice when dealing with the mindless undead. They use a skateboard-trap to lure a few walkers away to gain access to the cafe. After gaining the prize it is lost once again at the hands of our incompetent teen and needs to be retrieved by his better equipped companion. The end result is a picture for Judith and the trust of the group for Michonne. (“Clear” – Season 3)
7) Don’t Get Cocky Kid! – While trying to protect an ailing Rick, Carl leaves the house to lead away two walkers in “After” (Season 3). At this point in the series he feels he as become a superior survivor to his physically and mentally beaten father. This mentality leads him to make foolish mistakes which would likely result in his demise, but oddly doesn’t. During his little game of zombie cat and mouse with the two walkers, he is almost attacked by a third. Once again Carl managed to survive a foolish mistake on his part, which gives him additional confidence. Still it is not enough to face his father with all the anger he has. Carl can only do this when Rick lays unconscious to the world.
8) Heart of Darkness – In Rick’s attempt to protect his children he often sends them “in the house”-a place of safety. In the finale of Season 3 “Welcome to the Tombs” Carl is sent to the woods with Hershel, Beth and Judith. This exile from the events taking place in the prison enrages Carl. leaving him with no outlet until an accidental run in with one of the Woodbury survivors, Jody. The Governor’s assault on the prison ended in a retreat. The young teen, probably not much older than Carl, finds himself at gun point at the hands of Hershel and Carl. Hershel tells the armed scared teen to drop his weapon. As Jody lowers his .12 gauge shotgun, Carl again sees a moment to prove himself to his father, to the group and to himself and kills the boy to the shock of Beth and Hershel.
The group as a whole has seen a darkness growing inside of Carl over the course of their ordeal. Hershel tells Rick his son killed the boy in cold blood. Carl justifies his decision to his concerned father, bringing up how his previous inability to act (not killing the mud walker which later killed Dale) has resulted in further tragic events. He sees Rick choice to let Andrew (a surviving prison inmate) and the Governor live result in the deaths of others in the group, including his mother. Though Rick in his low sees Carl’s understandable logic, he must believe in their humanity. This results in Rick returning to the prison with the surviving members of Woodbury, allowing them to integrate with the group with no precautions.
9) Litter Bug! – In the season 4 episode of “Us” Carl and Michonne have a playful little bet who can walk balanced on the railroad tracks without falling off. Carl somehow manages to beat the graceful Michonne (this is just baffling to me) to win his choice of the last two candy bars. He chooses the Big Cat bar. The episode ends with a group of survivors led by a guy named Joe, one of the major antagonists of season 3, finding the wrapper of the candy bar. This allows the group, who happens to contain a lost Daryl, to track our heroes.
If Carl realized with all the terrible things going on in the world, that they still had to worry about saving the planet he could have placed the wrapper in his pocket until they reached Terminus or found a recycling can.
10) Real Pretty Mouth – A moment that anyone who has read “The Road” or any gritty apocalyptic book has been anticipating. The world is filled with horrible things and terrible people. It then becomes about who you are or who you become during this time. That candy bar wrapper mentioned in “Litter Bug” (number 9) has led darkness to Rick, Michonne and Carl’s camp in the season 4 finale entitled “A” . Joe’s men who believe they have the upper hand descend on group. Carl is ripped from the abandoned van by one of the men, Dan. While Carl attempts to get away, he is pinned to the ground by Dan, who undoes his belt buckle in the clear plan to rape Carl before his father’s eyes.