The Walking Dead is one of the most popular shows on the air. Entering its 4th season, both its rating and complexity of character seem to be ever rising. The amount of fascinating characters and storylines, all amidst a zombie apocalypse destroying the world, is far reaching.
One of the most intriguing characters is Carl Grimes, the son of the protagonist, Rick Grimes. He is a tough kid. At the beginning of the series he is told that his father is dead and his mother has taken up with Shane, one of Rick’s former partners in law enforcement. Carl adapts well, slowly taking into account not only the devastation that the zombies have wreaked but the fact that his father is gone and that he has been replaced by another man.
But then his father returns and the odd situation between Shane and his mother Lori seem too complicated for the young boy to understand. But Carl is smart and begins to grow up very fast as the series progresses. After he is shot in season 2, he becomes more jaded, far too jaded for a boy his age, and begins to take more after his father; Carl takes on more responsibility within the group and follows his father’s footsteps, knowing Rick is the leader and perhaps someday Carl will be too.
Lori is worried about how heartless the boy is becoming but is not sure what to do about it. This is one of the great things about the show; there are no easy answers, there is depth to the proceedings far beyond the action and gnarly zombie attacks. I think it is about as close to what real life would be, should we ever find ourselves in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.
In a way, Carl represents the everyman, or at least the everyman for children. He is a normal kid at the start of the show but as time passes and he must make harder and harder decisions, he shuts down emotionally. When his mother gives birth to his sister and dies, Rick is not around and Carl must make the decision to shoot his mom and but her out of her misery, least she become one of the undead.
This act would change the hardiest person alive, let alone a teenage child. Carl is no different from what anyone else would be. Later on in the same season, he shoots another boy when he refuses to quickly drop his firearm. It is implied that Carl acted rashly but you can understand his actions; in the world they inhabit, it is kill or be killed and his conditioning has changed him into being a soldier, one who acts on instinct alone at times.
Kill or be killed. Carl has learned this lesson time and again and learned it well. It is better to live and fight another day then die or become a zombie. It is not his fault and his father, as well meaning as Rick is, can’t do everything. Rick is a part of the world as well and has made similar decisions. Carl has seen him make these tough choices and in a way, is only mimicking what he is seeing his father do.
Only time will tell if Carl becomes even more hardened in his heart and loses more of his humanity. He is less forgiving towards others at the end of season three, being very upset when his father decides to take in more survivors from Woodbury into their tight knit group. One can only believe Carl and Rick will come to greater conflict as the show goes on, perhaps one day becoming rivals.
Rick used to think of his son as a child but now that he has seen the kind of horrors he has, he has grown up quickly, far faster than any child should.