With season 5 of The Walking Dead underway, it might be a good time to take a look back at just how far young Carl Grimes has come. From an innocent little kid, to a murderous man-child, Carl has had quite the character arc. There’s no telling just how demented Carl will become before the show is over, but in the post-apocalyptic landscape, who’s to say what’s crazy? Here’s a walk down memory lane through the violent progression of Carl Grimes.
Season 1 – The “Good Carl” Days
For much of season 1, Carl (*Rick Grimes voice* “Koral”) is very much the victim. His demeanor can best be summed up when, in “Tell it to the Frogs,” he acts like a b*tch when Lori is giving him a haircut, which is a ridiculous thing to complain about considering corpses are walking the earth hunting for human delicacies.
Perhaps it’s naiveté, or a foreshadowing of the hardened Carl we’re treated to in the proceeding seasons, but when Rick tells his family that he has to go back for the bionic hillbilly, Merle, Carl responds by actually comforting his mother, Lori.
Think about it, Mom. Everything that’s happened to him so far — nothing’s killed him yet.
That bravery melts away, though, in the season 1 finale when the group is facing imminent death at the hands of a selfish pr*ck who is solely running the CDC into oblivion. With the survivors trapped inside the building as it’s set to implode, Carl professes his love for life and how he wishes for it to continue.
You see, Carl is just southern boy who just wants to catch fish and frogs, while dodging gross, belly-distended cannibalistic creatures. That sweet boy, though, begins quite the transformation in season 2.
Season 2 – We Need To Talk About Carl
See Carl help survivors hunt. See Carl stop to stare at the natural beauty of an innocent deer. See Ca — Oh Jeezus! Carl got shot! The friggin’ crazy drunkard with the shifty eyes from Constantine shot Koral!
The season 2 premiere of The Walking Dead marks a shift in the Carl Grimes character. For several episodes, he’s unconscious and recovering from a gunshot, which bodes well for those who couldn’t stand his incessant whining every episode. When Carl wakes, though, he’s all “Let’s find Sophia, and stuff.”
Feeling like he doesn’t want to be a burden, or even helpless, Carl decides that it’s a good idea to learn how to wield a gun. With his resolve and courage beginning to harden, Carl Poppa’s progression into a gun-toting teenager surges when zombie Sophia emerges from Hershel’s barn and Rick has to take her out with his hand-cannon.
It’s a sobering experience for the young Grimes, and it soon becomes clear that his soul is beginning to deaden when he mentions to Lori that he would have extinguished zombie Sophia just the same.
Sophia continues to be the impetus for Carl’s transition into a soulless vessel when he casually mentions to Carol that she’s stupid for thinking her daughter is in a better place. Not merely content with insulting the mother of a dead child, Carl decides to taunt a zombie (who later kills Dale), implore Rick to let him watch the execution of Randall (because what pre-teen doesn’t like a healthy dose of headshots), then proceeds to crawl back to his cubby hole of crying (Lori) when he sees Dale’s mutilated stomach parts.
Perhaps Carl’s biggest driving factor in growing cold and dead inside — in season 2 at least — comes when he has to “put down” zombie Shane, the man who played surrogate father to him while Rick was in a coma. Sure, it’s not as cold as having to kill human Shane, but as TWD has shown us, even killing zombified versions of loved ones can prove a difficult task (see: Daryl and Merle). It wouldn’t be the only time, though, that Carl would have to commit to such a grisly task.
Season 3 – Walkers, Humans…It’s All The Same To Carl
Carl is becoming a man, dammit. He has responsibilities now, like clearing walkers out of dangerous areas, wearing an ill-fitting cowboy hat, and keeping his sexual tension secret when around Hershel’s daughter, Beth. The lil’ guy shows his progression and apparent lack of fear, when he seeks out medical supplies in the prison for Hershel, following Rick’s impromptu surgery on the old man.
But, just as it seems Carl is finally starting to adjust properly to the carnage around him, Lori has to go and die during child birth. Uninterested in seeing his mother turn into a walker, Carl does what Carl has to do: he blows his dead mother’s head off before she can reanimate as a flesh-eating monster.
It’s a heartbreaking scene, and really, from here on out, you can’t blame Carl for becoming a desensitized man-child.
The progression of maturity and steely violence from Koral continues, and in the episode “Clear,” we get an increased sense that he’s more interested in his own brand of survival while appeasing his instincts for ferocity. On a run for supplies, Rick, Michonne and Carl come across a bat-sh*t crazy Morgan Jones, who opens fire on the trio. At a disadvantage, Rick is almost gunned down by a body-armor clad Morgan, but out of nowhere, Carl pops out and blasts him unconscious.
In the season 3 finale, “Welcome to the Tombs”, Carl finally breaks the seal on his bottle of “I give no f*cks.” As a firefight ensues between Rick’s group and The Governor’s group, Carl is hiding in the woods with a few other survivors. The Governor’s group begins to retreat, and one of their members — a young man — comes across Carl’s camp. With little regard for the fact that the boy was handing over his weapon and surrendering, Carl — using a pistol and makeshift suppressor — guns down the kid without hesitation.
It’s a final stamp of approval on Carl’s crazy card…but, honestly, can anyone blame Carl for being askew at this point?
Season 4 – Carl Is Not Fond Of Sleepy Rick
Carl continues to hold his own, killing walkers whenever he has to, throughout season 4. But, Rick, sensing his son is growing far too cold, tries to reel in his boy with gardening lessons, which seems to work for a while until episode 4, “Internment.”
The fences around the prison collapse, and Rick and Carl are outnumbered by a hoard of walkers. To even things up, Rick teaches Carl how to use an assault rifle. Showing a prodigious skill beyond his age, Carl mows down the pack of walkers with relative ease, even helping Rick to dispatch of some of the hungry flesh-chompers he was struggling with.
After The Governor’s second attack on the prison, Carl and Rick get separated from the rest of the group. They come across an abandoned home, and Rick either takes a really log nap, or falls into a mini-coma, and in the interim, Carl has an “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, moment. He manages to kill a few walkers, eat some pudding, while still managing to find some time to scream at an unconscious Rick for not believing in his skills in bad-assery.
If Carl — with everything that’s he’s been through — wasn’t damaged enough, in the season 4 episode, “A,” he, Rick and Michonne get captured by a rogue group of jerks who intend to kill them, but not without raping Carl first (he does kind of have luscious hair). Rick — being Rick — goes into Terminator mode, chewing through one of the men’s necks before massacring the would-be rapist. All Carl can do is watch… and learn.
So, let’s recap. Carl used to be sweet and innocent, but after killing his zombie, surrogate father, watching his young zombified friend crawl out of a barn, seeing Dale’s guts squirming out of his stomach, blowing his dead mother’s head off, murdering an unarmed kid, killing dozens of walkers (along with a few bad guys), and watching his dad use someone’s neck like a tender piece of turkey jerky, I think it’s safe to say he’s damaged goods.
Just how far Koral will travel down that dark road of violence and depravity remains to be seen.