WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for The Walking Dead #192, by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Stefano Gaudiano and Cliff Rathburn, on sale now.
When the spoiled brat at the Commonwealth, Sebastian Milton, shot Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead #191, most readers undoubtedly thought it was merely a cliffhanger intended to hook them for the next issue. However, with the follow-up now out, it's been confirmed that Rick is indeed dead. Carl finds him transformed into a walker the following morning, and shoots his father in the head, leading to an exodus from Governor Milton's town.
But the gutsy death of the primary protagonist, it leaves everyone wondering what the future holds for the long-running comic that spawned a television franchise.
CARL TAKES THE REINS ... FINALLY
Creator Robert Kirkman has framed The Walking Dead as a generational story, suggesting someday the baton would be passed to Carl; Rick's death always intended to be different from his fate on the television adaptation. As the last of the Grimes, officially, it could be that the Old Man Carl theory is on its way to becoming true, and we may be witnessing the start of the son replacing the father, and then telling this entire story decades later.
As Carl takes Rick's body for burial next to Andrea's, he breaks down, but luckily, Michonne is there to help him. The dynamic is different from the show now because, while the AMC series killed off Carl, and Michonne is set to leave, there's a strong sense of legacy here, with both poised to assume Rick's mantle. Michonne has been a leader through and through, but Carl may want the promotion more, moving him away from his former job as a blacksmith, because no one knows how to follow Rick's footsteps better than him.
The comic foreshadowed that a couple of issues ago, with Rick telling his son how proud he was of the man he was becoming. The entire alliance, the Kingdom included, adores Rick's wisdom and, in Carl, there would be no dispute about his ability to lead. His maturity shows here when he visits Sebastian in his cell and promises revenge only if he escapes. He's learned from the mercy his father showed Negan, and it's all too apparent that Carl is cut from the same cloth.
THE RETURN OF NEGAN
Negan has been on the fringes since the Whisperer War, outcast from society so he can find some measure of peace after all of the blood he spilled. In this issue's letters section, Kirkman reveals Negan will return from his farmhouse, ending his seclusion, possibly to lend Carl a helping hand. He's always viewed Carl as a pseudo-son, so this might bring Negan's redemption full circle.
Carl will need a father-figure to lean on, and no one knows about pain and isolation more than Negan. The alliance has been wary of him, but now he has the chance to honor Rick's beliefs by helping Carl through the dark days ahead. What Carl lacks in experience, Negan and Michonne can provide.
That's what Rick wished for when he stopped the coup at the Commonwealth, so Negan's first act could be to teach the insurgents, like Mercer, how to be better versions of his war dogs, the Saviors. Let's face it, Carl will need all the help he can get, as Rick's military expertise was invaluable. With Negan, he'll have a general under his thumb to help spread a vision of peace.
A CYNICAL ALLIANCE
While we're certain Carl won't allow the alliance to turn vengeful, we're sure it will be much more skeptical and untrusting of brokering peace with strangers, of and visiting foreign territories. There's a mirror effect to the television series, when Michonne and Daryl nearly died when trying to make connections to outsiders, which led to their towns becoming more reclusive.
In the comics, Michonne's daughter Elodie is in the Commonwealth, so she might still be hopeful of unity. However, we don't know how everyone else is going to react. It's going to be a difficult pill to swallow, as Rick protected them, and helped to usher in the new generation. Hilltop and Alexandria relied heavily on his wisdom, so Maggie & Co. will naturally respond accordingly. Even if Carl and Michonne vouch for continuing Rick's welcoming philosophy, leaders will undoubtedly try to further safeguard their communities.
It's a learning experience, one paid fully in blood, and brings the curtain down on one of comic's biggest heroes. Rick has been the bedrock of this post-apocalyptic world; it will be difficult to replace him. Carl is the best bet, but you can't blame other societies for now wanting to evolve and adapt their own way now, because, like it or not, Rick's death is not only the end of an era, but also, quite possibly, of a way of life.
The Walking Dead #193 goes on sale July 3.