The Walking Dead is killing Carl Grimes.
There had been chatter about Chandler Riggs leaving the show for awhile, but this season’s midseason finale finally turned rumor into reality. Back in December, it was revealed that Carl had been bitten by a walker, and given the location of the bite, there doesn’t seem to be any alternative to the inevitable. When the show returns in February we will see the resolution of this reveal, but what’s the point of continuing without Carl as part of the show?
It can be easy to dismiss The Walking Dead as simply another zombie apocalypse story. Even if you caught the hook that “We are the walking dead,” as Rick Grimes famously put it, there is still so much more to it when it comes to Rick and Carl.
At its core The Walking Dead is predominantly a story about living, and about legacy. It’s not just enough for Rick to lock his family away in a house and scrounge out an existence, because that’s no way to live. Instead, he is constantly looking for an eden, a paradise where his family can live and thrive, and not just survive. It’s why Maggie and Glenn get married and choose to have a baby. It’s what guides Rick through every confrontation with each oppressive villain his group comes across.
Cormac McCarthy’s The Road shares a lot in common with The Walking Dead, as it also centers around a father ensuring his son’s survival in the wake of the apocalypse. In McCarthy’s story, the man and boy find a bunker filled with food and supplies, but they continue on toward some unknown destination where they think they will be safe. It’s not just about surviving, it’s also about living, and a bunker is no place to live.
It is the same for Rick and Carl. They could have locked themselves away in some small corner of the world long ago, but that’s not how you secure a genuine legacy. Instead, Rick and his group try to eke out a living at Hershel’s farm, and then the prison, and then Woodbury, and then Alexandria, until fighting for that eden costs them everything.
In the beginning, shortly after the zombie apocalypse arrived, Rick had an entire family. He found Lori, strived to keep Carl safe, and even attempted to bring life into the world with the birth of Judith. However, the harshness of this new world took Lori and Judith away from him, leaving him a broken man. In a way, Carl is his only link to his former sense of humanity. While Carl is very much his own character, growing and changing with each new experience, he also represents the idea that there is something still worth fighting for in this world.
If Carl is destined to die now, what becomes of Rick? Where does his motivation to rise up against Negan come from? How does he summon the will to go on? What is there left to live for? Without Carl to represent some kind of hope in such a dark world, why are we even tuning in anymore? And why are they still making more episodes?
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