The deuteragonist of The Walking Dead, Carl Grimes, was one of the most central figures to the book, but it seems that the young man missed out on a key development. During the series’ final issue, a now-grown Carl is shown killing a loose walker, followed by him killing an entire swath of them. A moment of reflection for the adult Carl shows that he never stopped living in the world that tormented his father so.
When Carl was first introduced in The Walking Dead, the first line he has is “Dad!” upon seeing his father is alive. The relationship between Rick and his son was one of the comic’s foundations and a driving force for many of the book’s plots. So much so, that the last issue would come full circle and sum up Carl’s idolization of Rick in the saddest way.
nd Cliff Rathburn, the series flashes forward several decades to a world mostly returned to normalcy. On Carl’s homestead, a walker passes through and Carl kills it with no hesitation. The walker actually belonged to Maggie and Glen’s son, Herschel, who is enraged that Carl killed a valuable piece of property. Despite the troubles that come with destruction of property, Carl takes it upon himself to kill Herschel’s entire collection. Thankfully, he does evade legal ramifications thanks to the judge being old family friend, Michonne. The Walking Dead comes to a close with Carl reading his daughter a story of The Trials, telling her “He did all those things, my father, your grandfather. Rick Grimes. This book is about him.“.
The juxtaposition of Carl’s first and last lines shows that he hasn’t grown as much as one would think. Despite how The Walking Dead’s ending seems happy, Carl is actually corrupted in a way and these two lines prove it. Both lines are centered around Carl’s feelings for his father, the first being relief and the last being reverence. With as much as Rick did to bring civilization back from a literal apocalypse, it’s understandable that Carl views his father so highly. But his actions in the last book undercut the seminal message by showing how Carl still sees the world from his younger perspective. In the future established in The Walking Dead #193, the world is safer and walkers aren’t the threat they used to be. But Carl keeps his family far out on the edge, with a secure perimeter and a number of safety measures. He lives exactly the way his father did during a period of complete chaos. Carl’s worship of his father is an understandable thing, but it’s stymied his development into his own person. In a way, Carl’s first and last lines mirror one another. The young Carl’s cry of “Dad!” comes from seeing his father is alive, but Carl’s contemplation at the end is symbolic for how Carl keeps Rick’s spirit alive at the cost of being his own person. Carl even names his daughter Andrea after his stepmother, showing that he can’t let go of his past.
Carl could do a lot worse than idolizing the man who helped rebuild humanity. But being unable to move on from the past may be one of the bigger tragedies of The Walking Dead.