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How Carl Could Have Become The Main Character Of The Walking Dead

Everyone and their mother knows that Rick Grimes is the main character of the comic book series The Walking Dead, even if they only know it because of Andrew Lincoln's portrayal on the show. The character's backstory is almost as well known as those of much older comic book characters like Superman or Spider-Man, at this point: A cop shot in the line of duty, Rick falls into a coma, only to wake up in a world infested with masses of roaming, flesh-eating undead. Contending with the reality of the situation as best he can, Rick and the people he finds — some he knows, others he doesn't — learn what it means to survive in the zombie-covered landscape. The blurb on the back of all the six-issue softcover graphic collections puts it best: "In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living."

Among the survivors Rick comes across is his son, Carl, who's still just a boy. The post-apocalyptic world ages Carl quickly, and he misses out on having a "normal" childhood in any capacity. He's an excellent character, but in the "Cutting Room Floor" section of The Walking Dead Deluxe – a reprinting of the series rendered in stunning color by Dave McCaig (the original is in black and white) – Walking Dead comic writer Robert Kirkman revealed that Carl could've been the character instead of Rick.

Before delving into Kirkman's botched plans for Carl, though, let's first take a look at what actually happens in the original comics, to better frame everything.

Spoilers for The Walking Dead comics ahead!

What actually happens in the comics?

As winter extends its icy fingers over Georgia in Kirkman and Moore's The Walking Dead #6, Rick and pre-apocalypse police partner Shane Walsh decide to go hunting, hoping to keep their freezing group of post-apocalyptic survivors well fed. They've recently been training everyone how to wield firearms to defend themselves from walkers, but as former cops, they're still the two best shots, so it makes sense that they're the ones who go.

Ever since Rick awoke from his coma and found his family, though, Shane's been more than a bit off his rocker — as fellow survivor Dale aptly puts it, "That boy's got problems." So, naturally, Rick wants to use the hunting trip not just to hunt, but to talk. It ends up being more of a chase than it does a trip, however, with Shane punching Rick in anger and running off into the woods. Rick finds his friend eventually, of course, and they finally have a discussion — though not a very civil one.

Shane breaks down, cursing the new world and his place in it. In the midst of his fury, he lets slip that "she" — obviously Rick's wife Lori — "would have come around eventually." Before Rick can process the comment, Shane points a gun at him and ... is shot dead by Carl, who'd been trailing them the whole time. Not even 10 years old yet, all the boy wanted to do was protect his father. And so he did.

A different beginning, a different Carl

"I was PRETTY SURE by the time I was plotting this issue that the series would continue at least to issue no. 12," Kirkman wrote in The Walking Dead Deluxe, citing increasingly promising sales numbers. But "PRETTY SURE" isn't the same thing as "ENTIRELY SURE." 

Enter Kirkman's backup plan: the alternative plotline in which Carl becomes the main character.

According to the comic book scribe, this hypothetical storyline would've had Carl arriving at the confrontation between Shane and his father just a tad too late, watching helplessly as Rick is gunned down by his former friend. Shane wouldn't have been aware of Carl's presence, and the boy would live afraid that "Shane would kill Lori, too," rendering his lips sealed about his father's murder. So, from Carl's perspective, Shane would've become an untenable villain, but none of the other survivors would know exactly what had transpired for quite some time. 

Just imagining the resulting tension is enough to send chills down any reader's spine. Carl already has an intense childhood in canon, but this script-flip could've warped him into someone unrecognizable.

For those hoping Kirkman treads this untrodden path someday, however, he has something to say: "I doubt it would have been as successful as keeping the focus on Rick, but it's a fun 'what if' scenario. [...] [It] would be fun, but I have no intention of ever doing this. Who has the time?" Indeed, with the adaptation of his seminal superhero comic Invincible on its way to Prime Video, Kirkman is surely busier than ever. That's not to mention he wrapped The Walking Dead comics in 2019 with issue #193, and is constantly chugging along at his writer's desk, so going back wouldn't make much sense for him. It makes you wonder how other stories — comics or otherwise — could've been different, too, no matter how enjoyable the final product may be.