Do you find Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) annoying? Too bad! He’s going to outlive the cockroaches, just watch.
When you think about it, it was a pretty gutsy move to launch the highly anticipated return of The Walking Dead Season 4 with a mostly quiet episode focused largely on cocky Carl and his love for chocolate pudding. Yeah, it closely follows the comics (except for the pudding), but not every viewer knows or cares about that. The Powers That Be love writing about Carl, but what about viewers who find him irritating?
Showrunner Scott Gimple defended the choice to give so much of the February 9 midseason premiere to the other little ass-kicking Grimes child. "There have been times that almost every character on this show has been sort of polarizing. People go, ‘Oh, I’m annoyed with them,’ and then they’re psyched about them,” Scott told Vulture. “I’m not going to mention any of those characters, but I will say whenever I’ve been on set and whenever I’ve talked to Chandler Riggs, who plays Carl, I see him growing up. I think he does an amazing job, and he’s got amazing poise for his age. I knew this story was coming down the line for him, and I knew that he was ready for it. This was his graduation into being a young man on the show and not being a kid."
Which characters have we all been annoyed with, then psyched about? Maybe Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker)? Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride)? Anyway, there are plenty of Carl fans out there, even beyond the cast and crew on set who love Chandler. The character of Carl has had a huge transformation from Season 1, maybe more than any other character, and it feels like he's just getting started.
On that note, Scott delved deeper into where we're headed, and why Carl was a good place to start this second half. "I had a very good idea of the structure of this whole season from the outset, and I knew I wanted to do this as the episode coming back from the hiatus,” he said. “The Carl story is pulled directly from issue 50 of the comic, which is one of my favorites. It just fit really well with where we’ve been headed. The first part of this season was about Carl and Rick’s relationship: Rick pulling back from brutality, pulling back from going out in the world, pulling back from leadership, principally for Carl and Judith. Now he’s lost Judith and the prison. All this stuff he did to bring Carl back from being such a brutal child soldier eventuated in this."
That's why we're cool with some of the quieter episodes — because they allow the show to expand on character relationships. That angry, hurtful rant Carl threw at his (sleeping) dad Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) was several seasons in the making. Carl tends to internalize his feelings much more than Rick (Carl was stone cold after putting down Lori, Rick is the one who fell apart) and he really needed to unload. Better to get it out of his system now … especially when there were no humans around for him to shoot.
Carl is a fascinating character, but how did you feel about seeing so much of him after two months where we didn’t get to see anybody? He did mature a bit by the end of “After,” ironically through crying and realizing he doesn't want to be an independent badass. Michonne (Danai Gurira) went through a similar realization, without so much cockiness along the way. She should be a good influence on him in the second half. Say what you want about Rick's decisions in the past, but Michonne is almost always on point.
The Walking Dead Season 4 airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.