Call him Coral all you want, but The Walking Dead‘s Carl Grimes has had the roughest childhood of just about any comic kid. Not only did he have to deal with the death of his mother (and his sister and his best friend, if you read the comic), but he’s also had to kill or be killed in an apocalyptic zombie world. Whether on the run from walkers or evil humans, Carl has been fighting to survive for most of his young life.
Most fans believe that Robert Kirkman and company are developing Carl’s character to eventually take the place of his father. Carl even literally took over his dad’s deputy hat early on in the series. Although every action Rick has taken up to this point has largely been in order to keep his son alive, his judgement has lapsed more often than not lately, opening the door for Carl to step up to the plate. With many more sure to come, here are 15 Times Carl Had To Man Up More Than His Dad.
15. Sneaking Off For Medical Supplies
When Lori Grimes was having a baby, someone needed to help a woman out. Carl took the initiative to do just that, earning him a scolding from his mother but possibly saving his baby sister’s life in the process. Where was Rick, the baby daddy? No doubt doing what a leader needs to do, but also neglecting his pregnant wife and squandering their final days together before she dies rather than being the husband she needed.
Comic fans know that not only was Lori still in a loving relationship with her husband and in her son’s good graces (admitting that her brief affair with his best friend Shane was a one-time mistake instead of the whole wishy-washy thing with him on the show), but that Judith, the baby, died with her during the escape from the prison as they were both shot. Not so in the television series, where the baby continues to live, likely due to Carl’s gumption.
14. Almost Shooting His Dad
In the television show, there is a moment when Carl thinks Rick has turned. Audiences wait with bated breath as he prepares to kill his own father. Yes, it is unlikely, but as much as the show has veered away from its comic book predecessor, fans know that they can expect some major changes, and for a moment, Rick Grimes may have been a goner, changing the entire story forever.
No, Rick would not have shot himself had he turned. That isn’t why Carl is the bigger man in this case. Aside from the terrible instance of poor Sophia (which, as comic fans know, did not happen at all, leaving Sophia alive and well in present day Zombieland), Rick does not tend to take out members of his own group once they have been bitten in the show. He is completely willing to take put an outsider down (whether zombiefied or not, depending on the circumstance), but Carl is actually more willing to take care of business when it comes to putting their own group members out of their misery (and thereby saving the rest of the group) than his dad, which, while chilling for a child, does give him leader potential.
13. Seeing What Rick Couldn’t See
Rick Grimes is a great leader, but his leadership is not without its issues. One of the many issues he has is not seeing past his own nose. Luckily he has Carl to do that for him. Carl could see his dad crumbling under the pressure of always being the group’s leader and told his dad that he needed to take a break– not just his own sake but for the safety of the group itself.
Rick may not have appreciated his son’s advice, and ultimately he remains the leader of his group, but a good leader not only listens to his followers, but also knows when to take a break. While there’s not a lot of room for vacation time when the world is overrun by zombies, tagging in another leader for relief is a good strategy that Carl could see. If Carl carries this same practice into the future of The Walking Dead universe when (or if) he takes over for his father, he’s already a step ahead in the game.
12. Making Rick Help Gabriel
One of Carl’s greatest strengths is his compassion. Whereas Rick has grown jaded after years of fighting both walkers and humans who would do him harm, Carl still carries the hope of youth, making him a much more understanding leader. Sure, Carl has had his eternal optimism tested several times but he has proven time and time again that his unwavering faith in humanity helps rather than hinders the community.
When Rick, disgusted with the cowardice of priest Gabriel Stokes, wanted nothing to do with the priest, Carl argued in favor of the man’s life. Although the priest proved his unworthiness when he locked out his congregation, condemning them all to death, Carl recognizes that an eye for an eye isn’t always the right answer. Even though Gabriel isn’t the most helpful member of their community, at one point even advocating for the banishment of Rick’s group, he is still a human being.
11. Trusting Aaron
Aaron, a recruiter for the Alexandria community, is a favorite character of many fans of The Walking Dead. A kind and warm character, Aaron is openly gay and has a partner named Eric. Of course, if Rick had followed his own advice, they wouldn’t know much about the man at all, since he opted to not trust him. Rick’s instincts might save the group on multiple occasions, but this time it is Carl that the group needs to follow in order to maintain their success.
When Aaron invites Rick and his group to Alexandria, Rick is initially distrustful, refusing to give him a chance. It is Carl, once again, who steps in and sees that the good of their people is at stake, and that a real community like Alexandria would be best for them all in the long run. Even after Rick’s distrust of Aaron, the recruiter continues to defend him and his people once they become members of the Alexandria community.
10. Stoically Facing His Own Dismemberment
When Negan is playing his sadistic version of eenie-meenie-miney-mo with Rick’s group, he does lasting damage that makes every fan call for his blood. Even so, Carl didn’t hesitate when he insisted that his father follow Negan’s orders lest someone else in their group lose their life to Lucille, Negan’s barb wire-covered bat.
Anyone who knows Rick Grimes also knows that he could never do anything to hurt his son. In fact, he dismembers his own lover when she doesn’t let go of Carl in order to save his life when Alexandria is overrun with walkers. While Jessica Anderson may not have been the love of Rick’s life, she was no stranger to him, and he made the quick decision to save Carl without any qualms over cutting off her hand. Sure, he said he was sorry, but he would do anything to avoid harming Carl. So when Negan demands that Rick chop off his arm and Rick cannot bring himself to do it, Carl insists for the good of the group. Luckily Negan changes his mind.
9. Standing Up To The Saviors
When the Saviors come to collect the provisions from Rick and his people, Rick refuses to engage with Negan and his murderous crew, opting to remain quiet in order to prevent more people from dying. He also holds Lucille for Negan while the psychopath rubs Glenn’s death in his face, and remains respectful while Negan provokes members of his community.
This outrages Carl, who demands that Rick and Michonne (Andrea in the comic) stand up to the Saviors rather than allow them to ravage their supplies. When the Saviors attempt to take all of the town’s medicine, Carl threatens one of them with a gun, prompting Negan to scold him and confiscate all of their weapons. Carl’s temper cost the town all of their weapons, leaving them almost defenseless against the Saviors, but it also echoed what the rest of the members of the community thought: that Rick’s leadership was failing. Some people agreed with Carl, believing that a fight was necessary, while others decided to accept Negan as their new leader, but ultimately it was Carl, again, who took action by…
8. Attempting To Kill Negan
No, it didn’t work, but it sure as hell wasn’t for lack of trying. Carl made the decision to go after Negan himself and murder him when Rick’s inaction proved to be frustrating, a theme that would reoccur in the series. Carl may not have made the best decision in the process, but he proved his mettle yet again when he stowed away to journey back to The Sanctuary with The Saviors.
Luckily for Carl, his doomed mission did not result in his death. Negan found his plan, complete with an assault rifle, amusing. Carl ends up killing six Saviors in the process, and he may have even taken out Negan had he not lost control of his weapon. Instead of killing him on the spot, Negan gives him a tour, says that he’d like to get to know the child and even goes as far as giving Carl the courage to take off his bandage to reveal his missing eye. While Rick’s people call for action, Carl attempts to deliver, even if it proves to be unsuccessful.
7. Standing Up For Lydia (Comic)
TV fans, you may want to turn away from the spoilers from here on in. One of the most recent incidents where Carl demonstrated a more humane style of leadership occurred when Lydia, a teen girl who traveled with The Whisperers, did not wish to return to her mother, Alpha, and the group that Alpha allowed to rape her. Anyone has to admit that this is understandable, but Maggie, fearing retaliation from Alpha’s group, allows her mother to take her back into custody. Rick also expresses a reluctance to care for the girl at a later point in the comic, but Carl never stops standing up for her.
Lydia points out what readers already notice: Carl is a kinder ruler than his father. She explicitly tells Carl that he’s a better leader when he confesses that he hopes to be like his dad when he is an adult, echoing the thoughts that many readers are already thinking. To be fair, Carl and Lydia fall in love, but it is fair to guess that Carl would stand up for any teen in this situation.
6. Going After Lydia After She’s “Traded”
In the comics, once Maggie sends Lydia back to The Whisperers, a furious Carl attempts to save the teen girl, following the dangerous group and risking his life in the process. Carl’s heroism prompts Rick to go after his son (again) and bargain for his life. He is reluctant to take Lydia with them, but at Carl’s insistence he also retrieves the girl.
Despite Alpha’s secret agreement with Carl that Lydia deserves a better community and her show of banning the girl in front of The Whisperers before whispering to Rick to take her daughter to safety, Alpha still resorts to murdering several members of Rick’s community in retaliation, ultimately beginning the war with her group that will follow. Lydia also breaks Carl’s heart when she informs him that she is not in love with him, but most readers agree that despite both actions, Carl would have still made the same decisions in order to save the life of his first lover.
5. Feeding His Family
Shooting walkers to defend himself and his father is one thing, but Carl makes sure that he and his poor father both survive following the prison attack by feeding the two of them. Foraging for food may not sound as impressive as offing walkers, but in a post-apocalyptic setting, finding food is a valuable skill that can never be taken for granted. Sure, he keeps himself and his father alive by finding nourishment for the two of them, but it also symbolizes how the tables have turned in the comic. Rick Grimes had always been the provider and safe keeper of his son, but now the roles are completely reversed.
When Carl brings back food and supplies, nearly killing Rick when his father appears to be a walker, Carl finally abandons his stoic exterior and becomes emotional, admitting that he is scared. Rick acknowledges that his child has grown into a man and apologizes for his behavior.
4. Shooting His Mom
In the comics, the death of Lori Grimes was traumatic enough, as she and Carl’s baby sister were shot during the prison attack, and given that she and Rick were still in love when it happened as opposed to the Cold War they had going on in the show, it was harder on readers than TV show viewers. But in the show it was much harder on Carl as he took it upon himself to shoot his mother to prevent her reanimation after her death.
After witnessing his mother’s C-section, which is traumatic enough for any child to bear, Carl also witnesses her death from the operation right before his eyes. Lori Grimes asked her son for a final, terrible favor before her death that no child should have to do, and as emotional as he was while facing the task, he courageously shot his mother to prevent her reanimation from occurring, as she requested. Whether due to shock or his own precocious stoic demeanor, Carl does what Rick would not have been able to do and later handles his mother’s death much better than his father.
3. Killing Walkers Alone
After Rick lost his mind following the death of his wife (and child, in the comic), Carl had to really be the man of the house. Aside from letting his dad have a real piece of his mind while Rick is unconscious, Carl proves that his need for his father is at an all-time low. Not only is he disappointed in his father’s leadership, but he also can now fend for himself without any assistance. In fact, in one scene Rick is too weak to kill walkers, prompting Carl to do so instead with his gun.
Carl kills walkers who threaten him and his dad, but he take one further step that demonstrates his true skills: he lures the walkers away from the house to kill them so they won’t attract more attention to where his father sleeps. This is incredible insight for a child who has seen much more at his age than any child should, and proves that Carl may be right when he says he doesn’t need Rick’s protection anymore. The only thing he wasn’t careful about, discarding a pudding container without much thought, led Michonne to find him and Rick. Luckily an enemy did not find the package instead.
2. Killing Shane
Love him or hate him, fans can’t deny that Shane was a compelling character to read or watch. Even so, his temper and mental instability made him a threat to everyone in the group. His death was pretty much inevitable, whether he was Rick’s BFF or not. Everyone knows how Carl killed Shane after he reanimated following death by Rick in the show, which was a pretty adult act all on its own. But in the comic book a very young Carl kills Shane much earlier, stunning readers in one of the first truly brutal moments of the series.
As soon as Carl sees that his mom’s crazed ex-lover is about to off his dad, Carl refuses to let it happen. At six, Carl not only takes his first life but he also proves that he can make the tough calls that have to be made in order to survive in this harsh new world.
1. Killing Ben
In the comics, when Ben’s disturbed mind came up with the idea of killing his own twin brother (because of course he’ll come back!), all of the adults in Rick’s group knew something had to be done. Ben was too old for the incident to be written off as an accident, yet too young to really understand why it was wrong. He would need therapy in order to learn from his actions while the group would need a constant, round-the-clock person to watch him in order to ensure he didn’t try to kill anyone in their sleep. No solution seemed possible, save killing the child, which none of the adults could bring themselves to do.
In steps Carl. In a fierce moment of determination, he enters the van where Ben is kept. Ben asks if Carl is afraid of him like everyone else is. Carl simply replies, “No,” before entering the van and taking care of the problem. Whether it was the right or wrong call to make is up to each reader of the comic, but when it is all said and done, Carl put the needs of the group first once again and took the action that no one else was willing to take.
Bonus: Chandler Riggs has had to work without an eye, adhering to the comic book, while Andrew Lincoln does not have to play Rick without a hand per the series. Not only is Riggs much younger than Lincoln to have this extra mile to walk on the show, but acting without an eye has to be harder (not to mention more dangerous) than without a hand!
Do you think Carl will make a better leader than Rick? Let us know in the comments!
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