The Walking Dead is an incredible addition to the canon of zombie fiction, with writer and creator Robert Kirkman taking the basic premise of a zombie apocalypse and focusing on the human consequences – the communities that are formed in the midst of an ongoing doomsday and the norms that fall by the wayside in the name of survival.
While the TV adaptations of the series rumble on to mixed acclaim, the original comics series came to an unexpected close in 2019, with issue #193 jumping twenty-five years into the future and revealing a new society which views the zombie outbreak – now known as the Trials – as a historical event rather than an ongoing problem. In this unusual status quo, a grown-up Carl Grimes faces jail for the last crime fans would expect: killing zombies.
Carl’s first kill happens at the very start of the issue, when he discovers one of the walking dead stumbling across his property. He kills it with Michonne’s old sword, frantic with worry that a roaming zombie could get past the many walls and guards who maintain the Safe Zone in which he lives. Realizing this would be genuinely impossible in the world his father helped create, he goes in search of Hershel Greene – the son of Maggie Greene, who it’s revealed has become president during the time jump. Hershel runs a traveling show in which he displays five zombies in a cage, earning big money from a general populace who generally haven’t had any direct experience of the walking dead.
After confronting Hershel, Carl is visited by the sheriff, who informs him that in destroying Hershel’s private property, he’s broken the law. Carl is looking at jail time or a huge fine, and it’s only thanks to Maggie’s intervention that he avoids having to pay the vast going rate for Hershel’s lost property. Instead, Carl is ordered to replace the zombie by bringing Hershel a new one the next time he leaves the Safe Zone for his job as a messenger.
Instead, Carl breaks into Hershel’s wagon and kills his remaining zombies, unable to countenance the idea of supplying the irresponsible showman with more potentially dangerous creatures. Though Carl takes a final trip to see old friends, he returns home knowing he’ll likely face a jail sentence, and his case is rushed to High Court, where Judge Hawthorne (formerly known as Michonne) surprisingly rules that the owning and displaying of zombies for profit is now illegal, setting Carl free.
Especially given the fact that Kirkman didn’t announce the series’ ending ahead of time, it’s a shocking issue that answers many fan questions about what society could possibly follow the undead outbreak. In an issue full of fascinating details, Hershel’s traveling show is the most surprising, since it showcases how quickly society has forgotten the huge upheaval and death of the Trials. Carl grew up in a world where danger lurked around every corner, increasing his disgust at the idea of zombies being deliberately brought into human settlements, but with safety comes complacency, and Kirkman ends The Walking Dead by making it clear that the zombie outbreak was incredibly important, but that doesn’t mean it stopped the world from turning.