The Walking Dead – Killer Within: Carl’s Castration Anxiety

The Walking Dead - Killer Within
The Walking Dead – Killer Within

With a gun in his small hand, he looked down at his mother. She had just passed out from loss of blood during an impromptu C-section. Immediately after his sister was pulled from his mother’s belly, he pointed his gun at his mom’s head and pulled the trigger. Permanently ending his castration anxiety and establishing himself as a real man to his father. In the context of the storyline of The Walking Dead episode Killer Within, it was not an act of murder. On the surface was an act of mercy and necessity to prevent him and his father from experiencing further suffering and horror. A deeper look reveals that Carl suffered from castration anxiety and he had an Oedipus complex. For him to become a man in his own and his father’s eyes, both had to be killed off.

The Walking Dead television series uses many unique situations and places that appear entertaining. When we look deeper, they address many of the common fears and anxieties people deal with. The episode called Killer Within from season three encapsulates many of the series themes of fear and anxiety into one intense and provoking episode.

Summery of The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead television series starts with Rick, a police officer, frantically walking around town with dead bodies strewn all over the place. He quickly learns that the world as he knew it had been overtaken by zombies. As the series progresses he finds his wife and son, makes new friends and encounters enemies. He also and kills lots of zombies and some people.

The small group of people he forms experience numerous tragedies. They all wander around the Atlanta area and the small towns near it. One of Rick’s major driving forces is his desire to protect his family, especially his pregnant wife and 11-year-old son, Carl. Rick biggest struggle is to lead a small group of people during an extremely freighting situation while trying to build a relationship with his son. As the series progresses his desire to connect deeply with his wife takes priority over his desire to bond with his son.

Hiding In A Prison

The Walking Dead - Killer Within: Carl's Castration Anxiety
The Walking Dead – Killer Within: Running From The Zombies

Season three starts out with the party of wonderers finding a prison full of zombies. They quickly created a plan and decided to use the prison as a safe place from the outside world of zombies. By the time they make it to the prison Rick’s wife is full term and ready for her baby to be born. After killing the zombies that were in their way and sealing off an area of the prison, the group felt safe and were able to finally relax. Interestingly, a prison, which is thought of as a place of misery, has become a place of comfort. Throughout the entire series, they live in fear of the zombies. The fear and anxiety they daily face have become their personal mental prisons while they physically hide within an actual prison that is surrounded by man-eating zombies.

Their entrapment from fear has naturally led them to further imprisoning themselves. Rick, having an egotistical personality and a strong sense of right and wrong, continues to make extreme decisions putting his life in danger to keep the others safe. As everyone struggles to be free from harm, Rick further leads them into imprisonment. This continuous fleeing from the world in constant search of a safe place can be a symbolic reason why this series resonates with so many people. There is an aspect of what Rick is doing that people identify with. Americans appear to have had an increase of anxiety from economic uncertainty coupled with the fear of another terrorist attack by an almost invisible enemy (Showalter).

Anxiety Reaches An Apex

In the last quarter of the show, anxiety and fear reach an apex. During a verbal disagreement with a couple of surviving prisoners, the prison alarm suddenly goes off letting out an extremely loud siren noise. The noise immediately attracts tons of zombies to the prison. Rick goes into a state of panic trying to figure out how to turn the alarm off. Rick, along with several other people, rush through the halls of the prison to find where the alarm shut off. Zombies begin to flood into the prison. Rick had to leave his pregnant wife Laurie and his son Carl alone to find a way to cut off the alarm.

Carl’s Castration Anxiety

The Walking Dead - Killer Within: Carl's Castration Anxiety
The Walking Dead – Killer Within: Carl’s Castration Anxiety

Throughout the show, Rick’s son Carl continuously tries to impress his father; he wants to be like him. He walks around with a gun in his hand and wears his father’s hat. As the zombies were invading the prison he ran with his pregnant mother and another woman to find a safe room to hide. Suddenly, Carl’s mother went into labor. She took off her pants right in front of her son and started pushing the baby out. Carl looked on with curiosity and helplessness. When the baby would not come out, Laurie decided they had to do a C-section. Laurie reached over to Carl and embraced him and told him that she loved him very much. The other woman asked Carl for his knife and used it to slice his mother’s belly open. Laurie passed out from the pain and Carl’s baby sister was pulled from his mother’s womb.

In the show, everyone turns into a zombie unless their brain is destroyed, no matter how they die. There was no chance of being able to sew Laurie back up, she also had already lost too much blood, it was as if she was already dead. Carl knew he did not want to see his mother as a flesh-eating zombie.

Carl Is Now A Man

A young boy of 11 years old, Carl was filled with anxiety when his father came back into his life. Carl characterized as dealing with castration anxiety. A Freudian theory which symbolically refers to the fear of being degraded, dominated, or made insignificant by one’s father because of his attraction to his mother. In the show, Carl spent so much time with his mother while growing up. But in this time of chaos and danger, he wanted to bond with his father. A the end of the episode he had an opportunity to prove to his father that he was a ma. When he had the chance to permanently end his Oedipus complex, the desire for this mother, he seized it (Berger 80).

Immediately after shooting his mother in the head, young Carl walked towards the camera. He walked with a stone look on his face while wearing his father’s hat. He had finally become like his father, he was able to make a hard decision and follow through with it. Rick and the other guys figured out how to stop the alarm. Everything calmed down for a moment and everyone regrouped outside.

Outside during the regroup, Rick looked passed his son in search of his wife. When the woman who conducted the crude cesarean walked out with the baby in her arms and shaking her head side to side, Rick knew. He stared right into his son’s eyes began crying as Carl stood there emotionless, the roles had reversed, now Carl was the strong one, no longer the boy attached to his mommy.

The Walking Dead - Killer Within: Carl's Castration Anxiety
The Walking Dead – Killer Within: Rick Staring At His Son

Imprisoned By Fear

The extreme fearful and anxious situations riddled all throughout The Walking Dead symbolized the fear of the unknown. A common fear that many people deal with. The constant running and hiding people do during the series is very symbolic of how people run and hide from their fears. When people run from fear it further imprisons them, very similar to how the show’s characters ended up in an actual prison. Carl’s actions in the Killer Within episode also demonstrate some of the extreme actions people are willing to take to overcome fears like castration anxiety.


Showalter, Elaine. “Our Age of Anxiety.” The Chronicle Review. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 08 Apr. 2013. Web. 12 Oct. 2013.

Berger, Arthur Asa. Media Analysis Techniques. Thousand Oaks, Calif. [u.a.: Sage, 2005. Print.]

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