[Spoiler Warning: This article discusses events in The Walking Dead comic that have not yet occurred on the TV show.]
After AMC’s The Walking Dead deviated from the comic storyline by allowing Rick Grimes to keep his right hand during the Governor arc, I thought for sure they’d do the same for his son Carl and his right eye, which in the comic he loses in an accident just prior to the Negan arc. Surely maiming a boy on TV would be a step too far, and the ongoing makeup and CG work required would be cost prohibitive.
Cue the Season 6 midseason premiere, and this happens:
In retrospect, of course, the showrunners would include this plot point from the comic. For one, the show has never been shy about ramping up the gore factor. But more to the point, unlike the loss of Rick’s hand, Carl’s injury in the comic serves a larger narrative purpose — one that has dramatically altered the story since it occurred in Issue 83. In fact, I’d argue that it’s the defining moment for the comic: It’s the point when Rick and the others cease to be “survivors” and begin building a new future for themselves.
In the comic, like on the show, Rick, Carl, and the others are living in Alexandria prior to Carl’s injury, but they view themselves as separate from the other, weaker Alexandrians. They will care for their own first and everyone else second, if at all. If things go sour, they’re ready to pick up and move on — with or without everyone else. Rick even explicitly states at the beginning of Issue 83 that he can’t be on the lookout for other people’s children.
But then comes the injury, an event which occurs largely in the same fashion in both media. Walkers have breached the walls of Alexandria, Carl is shot in the chaos, and Rick rushes Carl to Denise, who is able to save him as Rick and the other Alexandrians fend off the Walkers.
During Carl’s recovery, Rick sits at his bedside and delivers a heartfelt monologue on a “new world” that’s possible if they stop running and embrace the future. Here’s how he words it in the comic:
I see the mistake I made, wanting to run… Not being willing to stand and fight… But I’ve seen what I can do with numbers. I’ve seen how we can organize, plan… How if we do things right… If everyone does their part… We can survive anything.
I think about the road ahead of us, and for the first time it seems long… and bright. After everything we’ve been through, all the people we’ve lost… I suddenly find myself overcome with something I thought we’d lost… Hope.
That was at the end of Issue 84, and in the 60-odd issues since, Alexandria has remained Rick’s home. When Negan and his Saviors threaten to subjugate Alexandria and Hilltop, not once does Rick consider running or saving his friends at the expense of others. Instead, he secretly unites the surrounding communities to wage an all-out war on Negan’s stronghold.
This sense of community over individualism is hammered home by the time jump after Negan’s defeat. As a short-haired, bearded Rick takes his morning walk, we see Rick’s vision of a “new world” come to fruition: crops, livestock, new structures, and plans for a multi-community fair.
After the brutality of Negan, of the Governor, of everything that’s come before, this is truly the most hopeful The Walking Dead has allowed us to become. And it was all made possible by Rick’s revelation at Carl’s bedside.
We’ll clearly have to wait a while to find out if the TV show charts this same course. Negan won’t appear in the flesh until the final episode of this season, which means he and the Saviors will occupy most — if not all — of Season 7.
But given that TV’s Rick Grimes makes a nearly identical speech at Carl’s bedside, I’d bet that following the Season 8 premiere in fall 2017, we’ll look back at Carl’s injury as the moment The Walking Dead changed for good.