Old Man Carl: The Walking Dead Theory That Changes Everything

After all these years, The Walking Dead still doesn't seem to have an ending in sight. Writer Robert Kirkman has kept readers in the dark about the definitive conclusion he has planned for his Image Comics series, and the AMC's The Walking Dead series has cleverly played coy as well, leaving fans guessing the outcome of the zombie apocalypse.

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However, one theory, the Old Man Carl theory, has simmered online for a couple years that may shed light into what the future holds. If it's right, it could redefine who the franchise's main character is and bring a somewhat hopeful future to a franchise that has often been bleak. Now, CBR is going to break down how that theory, or a version of it, could apply to The Walking Dead in both comics and TV.


The theory began around 2017 after artist M.J. Hiblen posted an illustration of a weathered and worn Carl surviving the end-of-days. Fans began speculating that the 150-plus stories we've seen in the Image Comics series are actually Carl retelling the adventures of his father, Rick, and what the alliance of Alexandria, Hilltop and the Kingdom went through.

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These fans believe that Carl, who endured threats with his people such as the Governor, Negan and the Whisperers, documented everything, whether in his mind or on paper, and is now narrating the entire journey to either his family or a unified coalition after the virus has ended. While we're hoping the zombie plague finally came to a grinding halt, it makes sense since Carl's seemingly untouchable in the books and has played a big part in all these events.

Since he's become a blacksmith at Hilltop after losing his eye and not a soldier on the frontlines, his chances of living longer are higher. As for how he gets all these plot details from places where he isn't present, like Rick's current beef with the Commonwealth, it's not hard to imagine Carl collecting stories from friends and family, stitching together a big narrative like Bilbo Baggins writing There and Back Again in The Lord of the Rings. And so, after outliving everyone else and surviving into a time of peace, this theory suggests that Carl is recounting the struggles of all the heroes who kept hope alive.


Since Carl is dead on The Walking Dead, the Old Man Carl theory desn't really work for the TV show. While many thought he would go on to grow old into this role, especially since theorists felt that Rick was always painted as the hero since Carl made could've made his dad a legend in his retelling of the story. But that said, Carl's death doesn't mean this theory can't be applied to another character who's unique to the TV series, Daryl.

Some fans believe that Old Man Daryl might be the TV equivalent of this theory for a couple reasons. Daryl also seems impervious to death, and he's been in the trenches where he's been able to witness brutal battles first-hand. Daryl's been present at all of the show's key moments -- Rick's exit, Maggie's swansong and of course, the Negan murders -- so an old Daryl giving firsthand accounts fits the show's narrative perfectly. It also adds a more intimate and personal touch from someone who was there for all the ups and downs of the series in-person.

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It fits his character too, since many fans view him as a lone wolf who'll someday pass this knowledge on when the dust clears, and humanity has been saved once a cure for the zombie virus is somehow found. Since he's now a leader in Rick's absence, and along with Carol, has been there since Season 1, it would make sense for him to revisit the story and paint a vividly detailed picture of the world of the Walking Dead that begins when the show starts.

In their respective mediums, Daryl and Carl are both dogged and selfless individuals too,and these theories provide both of those warriors a way to pay homage to Rick, a man who they both have immense respect for, as a father, a friend and a key leader in one of humanity's darkest hours.

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