Inducted With Love from H. Elle
TV’s one and only Carl Grimes. Two Saturn Awards (2014, 2016) and a Young Artist award (2014). Eight seasons, 113 episodes of the #1 rated show on television. A hit TV show around the world. From season one to season eight, he started at the age of 10; he leaves at 18. The entire world has watched this Georgia boy grow into a man. And he did it in the midst of a post-apocalyptic zombie-infested dystopian nightmare, while never giving up his dream for a brighter future. Literally no one else could have had a childhood like Chandler’s. Literally, no one.
Why induct Chandler Riggs and not Carl Grimes? Because they are, in fact, different. One is, in every way, three-dimensional, while the other is… not so much. Three-dimensional Carl Grimes is attributable to Chandler Riggs, almost entirely. He did not write his own story or dialogue, but he acted the HELL out of it!
The kid is talented. The kid is smart! So damned clever, at the age of 11, he famously answered, without hesitation, “Flamethrower with a bayonet,” when asked what would be his zombie apocalypse weapon of choice. If you think you have a better answer, you’re wrong, and he was 11.
If he never did another horror show or movie, he has nevertheless earned his place here in the Hell of Fame. He’s definitely famous now, and he’s lived through Hell. Have you lived through a Georgia summer? Or eight? Or ten? Or eighteen? I have. It’s Hell. And Chandler worked long hours, often—if not mostly—outdoors, through nearly his entire childhood, in hellish Georgia elements… and sometimes he had to fight hordes of zombies, too.
Carl-centric summaries by season
Season one, baby-faced 10-year-old Chandler… That scene, ohmygod, that scene… Gets me every time. I should have known then that he wasn’t done bringing me to tears.
Season two, Carl has been accidentally shot; with help from Hershel Greene, he recovers. Shane teaches everyone to shoot a gun; Carl can’t bring himself to shoot a walker stuck in mud, and that walker eats Dale. Carl blames himself, but hey! Aren’t you glad you taught him to shoot, Shane? Maybe don’t try to kill his dad, huh? Rick kills Shane. Carl kills zombie Shane. He couldn’t kill that walker stuck in mud, which got unstuck somehow and killed Dale, but he could kill his own one-time pseudo father figure to save his actual father.
Season three, still a boy but almost a man… almost. Lori goes into labor with hordes of the undead swarming the prison after some asshole pulls an alarm to draw them out; she and Carl and Maggie find a safe place to hide, and Maggie delivers the baby via impromptu C-section with a dirty knife. Carl mans up to do what needs to be done; he kills his own mother because she’s going to otherwise bleed out, die, and turn. That can’t happen. Lori and Carl share a tearful goodbye… before he puts a bullet in her brain. Fast forward to warring with Woodbury, and Carl is positioned out in the woods with Hershel, presumably far from battle. A teenage boy from Woodbury is running away from the prison and through the woods; he runs into Hershel and Carl and begins to surrender, but Carl shoots anyway. The kid has seen some shit, and he is jaded.
Season four, after Rick brings the survivors from Woodbury into the prison to coexist peacefully, Carl takes a leadership role among the kids; he is mature beyond his years, and most of those kids only knew the safety they enjoyed in Woodbury, not knowing the horrific actions taken by The Governor to ensure that safety, let alone the horrors they could have endured outside Woodbury’s guarded walls. We see the stark contrast between naive children and jaded Carl. And we see Carl ultimately challenge his father’s authority. He goes scavenging and zombie hunting on his own, almost gets himself killed, but walks away with a missing shoe and a tummy full of pudding. Carl is so often so seemingly close to manhood, all the while still truly a kid. And when his kid is threatened, Rick Grimes will tear a man’s freaking throat out!
Season five starts with a bang. That is after the part that had many viewers saying the show went “too far” by treating fictional humans on a fictional TV show like real cattle are treated in the real world. This vegan remained unfazed. But it was intense and stressful to see “my people” so close to becoming Sunday dinner at Terminus. Carol saves the day. And it’s amazing. And the group finds a church in the woods. Father Gabriel is sketchy as hell, but we won’t know for a while why. Rick and Daryl leave the baby with Michonne and Carl and Father Gabriel to go save Carol and Beth downtown at Grady Hospital with help from Beth’s new friend Noah, whom she had helped escape Grady before being recaptured herself. Michonne and Carl and Gabriel are seemingly safe inside the church, but Gabriel has a habit of failing his flock and letting people die… to save himself. When walkers get in, who saves Gabriel AND a BABY? Carl and Michonne, of course. Gabriel is kind of a punk-ass bitch, and for a little while he gets fans of the show to stop wanting to see Carl die (these fans are all assholes, in my opinion) and start wanting to see Gabriel gone. Bless you, Father! Only for taking that heat off my boy… The rest? I see you.
Season six… By now the group has survived, arrived, and thrived in Alexandria. They lost some more family and friends along the way, naturally. The Wolves drove a truck through the walls of Alexandria; our group fought the Wolves AND the zombie herd that came in through the gaping hole in their fortified community. Carl lost an eye. Because that dickhead Ron is a bad shot. And also a dickhead. So Carl has been shot twice. He lost his eye but not his life because dickhead Ron is a bad shot, so bone fragments shatter into Carl’s orbital, but otherwise the bullet only effectively grazes his head. While Dr. Denise tends to Carl’s injury, Rick channels his rage into slaughtering walkers left and right with an ax! Like Michonne with her sword. And then the whole community rallies into the street to do the same. The survivors have finally earned this place. Enter Jesus. And Richonne. And enter Jesus interrupting Richonne. (Unlike a slasher film, sex in the zombie apocalypse is totes cool and totes hot… probably because they are all adults, and we see no gratuitous T&A. I digress. I waited two seasons too long for Richonne nookie, okay?!) Where was I? Jesus introduces our group to the much larger UN-undead world they have yet to discover. Enter Negan.
Season seven costs longtime viewers and “our people” dearly. Negan breaks Rick in episode one. Carl has been shot twice and lost an eye; he almost loses a hand too; but he keeps his shit together better than his dad. And he tries to single-handedly (no pun intended) kill Negan. Negan, in turn, respects the hell out of Carl.
So in season eight, when Carl offers himself as a sacrifice, Negan gets misty while Carl’s people in Alexandria get away to safety. Carl is a goddamned hero. In his father’s absence, he took action when the enemy arrived again at their gates. But Carl knew he had nothing to lose; he was already dying; he’d been bit, saving a stranger.
Carl’s final moments on television play out so beautifully, I ugly-cried for almost an hour solid. The tearful goodbyes to Carl were thankfully broken up with great action scenes with Carol and Morgan in a subplot storyline that intertwines rather poetically with Carl’s (Enter Henry). In the end, it had to go this way. Carl does not go out with a bang nor a whimper; Carl goes out peacefully as a man and a hero, and he can say goodbye with the dignity he deserves. Carl dreams of a future in which even Negan is still alive. Why? He has matured; he has seen some shit, and he is worse for wear, but he is not broken.
It is at times difficult to separate Chandler Riggs from Carl Grimes, but that’s why I actually applaud this decision to kill Carl on TV. I don’t want to see a bright young man like Chandler Riggs become another stereotypical former child star. At 18, his resumé is already impressive. He enters adulthood, naturally smart and talented, now with education and experience and his whole life still ahead of him; now is Chandler’s time to become Chandler. (Or Eclipse. Whatever, you do you, my man.) He has seen some shit, and he is better for it, and he is far from broken.
Besides, Andrew Lincoln is short. We can’t have Carl tower over his dad. And Chandler deserves a haircut.
Welcome to Hell, baby! “You’re gonna be fine. You’re gonna beat this world; I know you will.”