Thought I'd share my thoughts on how I view the character. Carl's character overall is definitely a rollercoaster, he has some lows and mediocre spells but also very high highs. When discussing gradual evolution, Carl's has been my favourite for numerous reasons but arguably the most important is because we actually see the majority of it on-screen - and that will be the core of my analysis. There was some really questionable fuck-ups from the writers regarding his writing but overall It's been superb. In more ways then one Carl is the "John Connor" of the series, the human guinea pig that we're watching be moulded by the zombie apocalypse more so then any other character. He's not just a character; he's a statement about how this world changes what it means to be human when your morals and views were not developed like the adults were before things went to shit. How does he develop under these conditions? Series creator Robert Kirkman famously started The Walking Dead with the statement that he was not trying to write a horror story about zombies but a human drama about what happens to people when they have to live in a world where everything has changed. What ultimately happens to Carl-whether he turns into a stronger, smarter version of his father or becomes something truly despicable—will be The Walking Dead's most potent statement about human nature. A Boy's Innocence Lets be honest, Carl at the very beginning of the series didn't have much ground-work. Despite being in the opening credits he was mostly in the background. He was a normal, scared young boy that was playing with toy trucks, complaining about hair cuts and trying to catch frogs. He couldn't get much more vulnerable and this was shown through the walker attack on the camp, the whole fiasco at the CDC among other things. He was a burden, pretty much useless and almost always in the way. Learning in the CDC that this is his life now, he wanted to step up after losing so many people and being nothing but a useless kid in the way. The Journey Transitioning into the next season... this was all about "setting him up" for the progressions he'll go through in the third season and even today. The best part about it? It's almost entirely on-screen. There's no time skip "asspull development" like a lot of characters have suffered from. Carl was one of the few characters earlier on whose character traits were consistent and expanded on naturally. I will tying into S3 a lot as everything that happens to him in S2 is very important for his future progression. Everything about Carl going into S3 after the timeskip that people may call a 'cop out' was set-up and/or foreshadowed in the previous season and this is what ultimately heightens his evolution for me. The only major differences between Carl at the end of S2 and the beginning of S3 is that he's physically bigger, a better shot and more reliable, there was no time skip bullshit here. I say "better" and "more" because he was already becoming increasingly reliable and he was already learning how to shoot. It was Carl who found the giant bag of weapons that the group used throughout the season and thus conserving them ammo, it was Carl who offered to help search for Sophia while her own mother did not, it was Carl who stood by Rick - saved his life and took out a hundred walkers with a match. Carl was being presented as someone that wanted to prove himself by helping out - that's a trait that was established, the time skip didn't invent it. As for his supposed sudden accuracy with a gun in S3? It was established in S2 that he actually wanted to learn how to shoot - we actually saw him being taught. I think its okay not to see episode after episode of Carl in practice as long as the will to actually learn is established. At the end of it all, he wanted to learn to use the device that severely injured him - I find that quite something really. Rick knew it, being shot didn't make him scared of guns, it made him want to learn. Carl at the end of S2 was ready to become a consistent reliable member of the group. He matured somewhat. This is a result of on-screen events in S2 such as going through a painful experience when he was shot, losing his first and only friend his age, being the indirect cause of a good man dying and putting a bullet in his surrogate father's head. These are all events that made the transformation believable, and that's something that's very important, being believable. Transformation and evolution is meaningless if it just happens because 'plot demands it' - it must have real cause and reason. The Child Soldier Going into the next season and as I talked about above... Carl comes into it a stronger person of who he was at the end of the previous season, not a completely different person. This is how progression should be done. What's cool about Carl in season three is that the 'colder turn' the character goes through is actually on-screen. Carl didn't start the season as this cold and quiet individual - at first he was smiling a lot, cracking jokes with Hershel and even had his child-like crush with Beth. It wasn't until he shot his mother that the colder turn began - this marked his official loss of innocence. He became very depressed, only speaking up when he felt he had too such as telling Rick to take a break from leadership when nobody else would or telling him that Michonne is one of them. Again, it was all on-screen. However, despite his colder turn, traits from the previous season actually do carry over such as his urge to prove-himself. This isn't some new season/blank slate thing... previous traits actually stay relevant. Instead of just helping with a search party now he's actually helping to save lives such as when he got the medial supplies for a dying Hershel. We can see that despite him being the smallest and weakest of the group he tries to help where he can such as going into the tombs to rescue Sasha's group. Carl's colder turn in the season was amplified by the severe brutality of the world and the mad-man that was after him and his family. Remember what Lori said in the previous season? If Rick doesn't take his parental duties seriously, Carl could become something else. Rick didn't take it seriously, he made Lori's death all about him and put leadership over his duties as a father... and the results were clear: Carl was becoming very "business" - having no qualms putting down a bitten woman in front of her loved ones, killing "surrendering" teenagers, being really cold in his presentation; ready to pop strangers try to hurt him or his family. Most importantly is that Carl didn't appear to care about what he was doing, there was a lack of conscious about the decisions he was making. They were made because "he had to" By the end of the season it was becoming clear just much Carl was changing which is what ultimately also results in a change in Rick. He vows to take his parental job more seriously, stepping back from leadership to give his son the guidance he needs. The Conscious Transitioning into the next season, right off the bat we see the consequences of Carl's actions. His gun has been taken away and he's being forced much to his dislike to get up every other day early in the morning to farm and put food on the plates when he'd much rather do something more active, as he implied to Rick numerous times. His arc and traits carry over once again, he still delivers truth-bombs and his urge to prove himself is strengthened further. However, most importantly and a common misconception is that he became a completely a different character in the time skip. I don't agree with this. At the end of previous season he killed someone that just tried to kill his family... and he would of done the exact same thing if it happened again. The farming with Rick and Hershel did nothing to change this. If someone tried to kill his family in season four? You better damn believe that Carl will retaliate in a fast and cold manner. This is supported in the season finale which I'll get to later. He also wanted to take out The Governor when he had a clean shot despite the enemy not opening fire yet. That doesn't mean the farming and guidance didn't do anything because it did but I'll also get to that later. Moving on. What I liked about Carl in S4 is that there was a bit of inner-struggle with his character. Although he doesn't feel like he's cut out for a more passive role, he WANTS to feel like a kid. He wants to be the person Rick wants him to be, he wants to make him happy and this is shown when he goes to story-time of his own will or interacting with other kids such as Patrick. However, we can see off the bat that despite him wanting to be a 'normal kid' he's just experienced too much for this to be anything but impossible. There's some internal conflict here. All the farming in the world can't "soften" this kid. This is shown through a lot of dialogue early in the season such as "Dad... I'm sorry. I've been trying" to "Dad, you can't keep me from, it" or "Dad, when can I get my gun back?" and "Dad, maybe we can help out on the fences" - in fact all these quotes and more is ultimately clever foreshadowing for the biggest revelation in his character in the finale. As the Season went on we see Rick laying off and letting Carl take on more responsibility again, Carl was right - he can't hide him from it. When the adults actually give him a chance and treat him as an equal he shows he be can damn fuc*ing reliable such as when he helped Rick annihilate the walker horde from overrunning the prison. From this point on he's more of an equal then ever. Probably some of the best progression his character has ever had is shown in his conversation with Michonne in the finale He tells her "He told me the other day that he was proud of me, that I was a good man, I'm not. I know more now, about what he wanted from me, and I tried, but I still have these thoughts. I'm not what he thinks I am. I'm just another monster too." - I touched upon this earlier but it's a brilliantly foreshadowed speech through several earlier bits of dialogue earlier in the season. It was clear from the get-go that Carl was trying to be the person his father wanted him to be but there was never enough for the audience to come to the conclusion on where Carl really stood and how he really felt until this scene. Carl telling his father that he's "been trying" and "you can't keep me from it. The brutality will find me" and more has been building to this moment, to the revelation. All that time with Hershel, on the farm, with Rick did help Carl but not to the extent Rick hoped for, Rick thinks he's a person Carl is not and Carl doesn't wish to tell him this, afraid of how he'd react. Basically, what I'm saying is that all that time on the farm didn't completely 180 him, because he still can be brutal, he does have these thoughts, he can still do things like killing that kid at the end of season three. However, there's a difference... ...Carl thinking he's just another monster isn't necessarily a bad thing. It may not of turned Carl into the person Rick thinks he is but it did do something and what it did is the major progression his character has in the season. It's pretty well-written progression and I'm thankful we got some flashbacks to give extra detail on this on how Rick and Hershel went about helping Carl. The thing with the monster moment is you see a kid with a conscience, a kid who is worried about his humanity, which is not who he was at the end of S3. We're seeing a great deal of development with this kid as far as Rick's success in making sure that he had a conscience. So, however tragic that might feel and however pained Carl is, there's something beautiful in the fact that he is worried about it. If he wasn't worried, that would be scary. Regardless, Carl at the end of S4 may be in a darker place then ever before. His sister is "dead" - he was just assaulted, he's been restrained by cannibals. Thing really couldn't get much worse. The Reconciliation & Crossroads [S5-S6] If there's a stretch where Carl became friendlier, more optimistic and generally more approachable - it's here. At first I called bullshit but after re-watching the seasons I don't that much of a problem with it any more. Although he has a conscious now he was ready to give in to what the world wants him to be at the end of S4. However, it's because of the events that happens in this time period that increasingly mellow out Carl from that darker path in S3-S4 and more into what his Father wants him to be. Starting off the most important, he finds out his baby sister is actually alive. He gave up all hope so seeing the person he promised his dying Mother to protect alive and well means the world to him - it definitely impacted the way he sees things. For example, he was more willing to give Gabriel a chance, telling Rick that "not everything is bad, right?" He mellows out further when he's introduced to a community by a stranger, a place he can call home. Carl above most of the other characters wanted the place to work, he liked it there. However, he also said something to Rick that rings even now: "I don't want this place to make me weak" - Carl was already mellowing out so his worry of becoming too soft was definitely a very real possibility. That's why he goes outside the walls. He isn't allowed to go on runs so he goes outside the walls to feel normal, so that he doesn't become too soft and I like that. Eventually, Carl's fear does start becoming true. The settling down, playing video-games with friends his own age really starts to take its toll. He starts given second chances to people too easily such as Gabriel and Ron, he begins to naively show sympathy towards the Wolf which almost gets himself killed. However, it all changes when he gets shot at first. It's not immediately apparent, but this event has massively impacted Carl. It's pretty subtle at first but its there. He's not as upbeat around Judith as usual, he's trying to avoid conversation with people and was rather cold to Enid in the woods. In the finale we saw some of the "cold/darkness" sneaking back in. Why then? Because it was the first time he got to interact with a real threat since getting shot. Carl has changed and its becoming increasingly clear just how much. What's Next? That darker/colder side to Carl has always been there, it's just been suppressed by the good things that have happened as I briefly talked about above. However, I think getting shot is the catalyst for it to reappear. It's going to be different this time but more on that soon. He gave someone a second chance and it was thrown in his face, he tried to give Alexandria a chance even after the prison went bad and now he's either outside the walls or chooses to stay behind to protect the place. I don't think there's any-more video games/movies, no more nice-guy, no more bullshit. He gave that life one more chance and he's done with it. Beyond that there's a plethora of new character flaws for the show to explore now. For example, I think Carl's clearly feeling self-conscious/insecure about how he looks. Carl making a joke out of the matter I thought was just a crudely put up facade. People often joke about matters they don't like discussing in a serious light, sometimes we don't even realise it. Carl is clearly feeling self-conscious about his appearance, that weak smile and stutter as he closed the discussion told it all. Rick's smile turning into a more bewildered hurt look sold it perfectly - it's definitely going to be brought up again. Carl's definitely not okay, making light of it is probably just how he deals with it. This will definitely be explored. The finale gave us an insight albeit brief of where he's at right now. Enid says: "You wanna run into them, right? You hope they show up" - and Carl doesn't answer but gives a rather cold look and that's all that Enid had to know. He was completely unshaken by the Saviors attempt to antagonise him, he zoned out a couple of times as Rick tried to get his attention but his attention was on The Saviors as he gave them the death stare, wanting to do something rather nasty to them. I think Carl's going to be a lot darker going into S7 and no amount of farming, guidance, walled in communities and love is going to mellow him out this time. However, the way I think its going to be different instead of just being another Rick/Carol is that I think the writers are going to explore a subtle line between killing because he has to and actually wanting to bring harm on those same people. There's a big difference between the two and could lead to some amazing characterisation.