Lori Grimes‘ perception of Carl Grimes is one of innocence on the cusp of corruption. This is a sad, but true assertion. It’s evident in Chandler Riggs’ portrayal of the character, especially in episodes like Secrets and Pretty Much Dead Already.
In the opening of Secrets, we find a completely recovered Carl helping his mother feed chicks on the Greene farm. After some light banter, Carl comments about the location of the mother hens. Lori, in an attempt to reassure her young son, replies that maybe they are off somewhere, implying a necessary and inevitable return.
What Carl says in response surely caught his already ailing mother off guard: “Maybe they got eaten.” Immediately Lori reveals a sense of mingling shock and surprise at her son’s words; no doubt this walker filled world is beginning to rob her son of his innocence and happiness. What is most surprising is not the accuracy of that thought, but the answer Carl provides to his mother’s worried countenance. “Everything is food for something else.”
That singular statement reveals Carl’s awareness of not just his current surrounding, but of life in general. Whether he lives in zombie land or reality, he is not wrong in his assertion. He is maturing at a rate not yet understood by his parents; now whether or not that is in correspondence with the current crisis in which the world finds itself is debatable.
But what we can be sure of is his desire to prove himself, and to not remain a helpless victim. We see that again in Secrets, after he promises Lori that he understands the gravity of possessing a firearm. Carl is growing up, steadily coming into his own and asking for the opportunity to do what he feels is right for his family.
We can’t forget however, that he is still just a boy, and one far removed from his comic counterpart at this point. It’s this innocence that people like Shane look to manipulate in their favor, a tactic seen in Pretty Much Dead Already.
Shane knows that Carl looks up to him. It was a bond he attempted to break early in the second season, though that failed miserably when Otis shot Carl. So when Carl confronted Shane about his reluctance to search for Sophia, calling it “bullshit,” Shane saw an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, (metaphorically of course). If Shane could turn Carl over to the dark side, so to speak, he could potentially win Lori as well. Shane used his charm and power over Carl’s remaining innocence and convinced him that saving Sophia meant securing their place on the farm, at all costs. How could Carl disagree?
He couldn’t because he sees the hardship his father has to endure as leader of their group. So Carl wants to prove himself capable of protecting what is his. He is maturing in a world that is all but corrupted by pain, sorrow and death; a world his mother views as being without joy. She struggles daily with the very idea of letting him live in this world because of the havoc that corruption may wreck on his impressionable psyche. We see it already at work on those of considerable experience: Shane, Andrea, even Rick.
Especially Rick, the man that Carl adores and worships like a god among men. When Rick killed Sophia, Carl immediately backed his father’s decision, saying he would have done the same thing himself. What a thing to say to your mother; that you would readily kill your best friend’s walking corpse without a second thought.
It must be difficult for Lori to watch her son lose his innocence this way. How painful it must be for both Rick and Lori, the knowledge that they are unable to protect their child from the horrors of the “real world,” and let him resume his childhood care-free. Sadly, it is a pain they must embrace in order to move on and truly protect him from harm. In zombie land, he could just as easily become a casualty like Sophia.
Now from a parental perspective, especially a Western parental perspective, Lori does not want Carl to grow up this way. She does not want her baby boy to brandish a weapon, let alone a loaded firearm. She does not want him to live in fear of an uncertain death or of debilitating loss.
The problem is that neither Rick or herself can protect him the way they could in the old days. Hell, even in the old days it would prove difficult to preserve his innocence. The main difference between then and now, is that those that are corrupting her son are the same people that wish to protect him.
Children are very observant; it’s a trait we all pick up early because we are a social animal. We want to understand what is happening around us, to take part in it and have a hand in our destiny. We listen and we learn. Sometimes we pick up bad habits or overhear negative conversations. Since children lack the mental capacity to truly understand “adult” situations, they are left to perceive any given situation as best they can.
Carl sees the nervousness of a group unable to carry weapons; he sees the slow degradation of his father’s indomitable spirit; he sees the anger the grips Shane’s heart. He sees his family dynamic slowly dissolving, and he wants to help fix it. Would you deny him?
Admittedly, he has a long way to go before he actually proves himself useful for killing walkers and not group members.