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Comics, TV/Film

Could [BLANK] ACTUALLY Survive a Gunshot to the Head?

First, let me state that I am not a doctor. I wasn’t even very good at biology in high school. I DID watch every episode of ER, so, you know, there’s that. But I spent HOURS* reading up on bullet wounds to the head to determine whether Carl could survive the gunshot to the eye that he suffers in both the comic and now the show. Here’s what I found:

• Bullets that pass through BOTH hemispheres of the brain cause much greater damage than bullets that pass through just one side of the brain. This is due to replication of duties in the brain. If certain functions are lost in one hemisphere, the other can sometimes compensate. Carl’s wound is most definitely just one side of his brain.

• Certain parts of the brain are more valuable than others. If a bullet hits either the brain stem or the thalamus, it is bad news. Luckily for both versions of Carl, the damage seems to be away from the central part of the brain. Of course, the bullet also needs to miss major blood vessels.


• Bullets traveling at a lower speed do less damage to the brain. Carl was shot with a handgun, which, as far as these things go, is better than being shot with an assault rifle.

• Ideally, the bullet will pass through the brain and exit the skull instead of staying in place. Definitely the case in the comic, but in the show it looks like Carl isn’t quite so lucky…

• And lastly, speed of care. Keeping oxygen supplied to the brain is crucial (keeping blood pressure up and keeping the patient breathing), so immediate medical care is vital. Luckily, Carl is a few doors down from the town doc.



So based on the above, it seems like Carl’s wound actually DOES tick all the boxes for best-case-scenario, more or less. Although, looking at the comic, that wound is GIGANTIC. A MASSIVE chunk of that kid’s head is missing. Maybe we’re seeing it through Rick’s eyes though? But I digress, what do YOU guys think?

[yop_poll id=”157″]

*Ok, minutes. This is all from an article titled, “What Does It Take to Survive a Bullet to the Brain?” by Karen Rowan. It was the best, most concise article on the subject. Huge shoutout to Dr. Keith Black for his medical expertise.

MORE: ,,

  1. clonetrooper3354 February 18, 2016 at 6:47 pm - Reply

    From what I’ve perceived, it doesn’t look like it hit much of the brain if at all. Say in the case it did, the very worst case scenario is the right frontal lobe sustained an injury. Which is a very survivable injury, take in the case of Phineas Gage, who suffered a MUCH worse frontal lobe injury than Carl. He survived, but not without side effects: Mostly a loss of certain emotions, in Gage’s injuries he lost inhibitions. From a well-mannered, polite person to a vulgar and very direct person over a tamping rod through the cheek. Which could explain some of Carl’s attitude in the comics.
    I’d suggest for both TV and comic, Carl was more in danger of an infection or shock than not surviving the actual injury.

    P.S. Quick shoutout to psychology courses, they’re pretty nifty and people should try them. That’s how I learned of Phineas Gage’s injury

  2. Neutral-Grey February 19, 2016 at 12:57 am - Reply

    It definitely hit at a slant in both cases which is why it exited the way it did. Would it be improbable to survive the scenario? Absolutely. But possible? Yes, I think so.
    The body is a machine. All brain and heart function needs to cease to be “fully” dead. Even upon blacking out, if the brain wasn’t directly put in harm (maybe shaken up), he’d have a few minutes of life… with each passing moment drastically reducing the chance to be saved. But he’d still be alive for a little bit until loss of blood and blood pressure would cause his untimely death. Thankfully in both scenarios the town doc was nearby. And in the comics she was full fledged surgeon before the apocalypse, not a family doctor or a med student or anything.

    As for the size of the wound in the comics, it’s as the article says. Luckily you can see that even though the wound is large, the bullet has clearly been discharged out the back and no longer a problem. And, on a note away from the actual events, Kirkman said somewhere (IIRC) that he DID think about asking Adlard to tone down the wound some because he thought it was rather large. But thought the drawing the way it was drawn was simply too cool to pass up.

  3. BASTET. February 19, 2016 at 2:48 am - Reply
  4. flagg_is_god February 19, 2016 at 9:00 am - Reply

    In both cases they were not direct shots into the head. While the comic wound is far worse than on the show (almost certainly due to AMC’s ‘Standards And Practices’, AKA ‘Stupid-Ass Prudes’, or for those who really don’t know, network censors who answer to the bean counters who freak out over advertisers concerns), just from the panel image first showing the wound, damage to Carl’s brain would have been from the bullet causing a skull fracture or worst case some skull fragments in the brain. The fact that it was at an angle AND luckily hit the eye first, which seems counter-intuitive, but would actually significantly slow the bullet so that it blew away skin, muscle, and bone. I wouldn’t be shocked if some brain was exposed, but even thousands of years ago people could repair those wounds with surprisingly high survival rates.

    On the show it seemed to hit at more of an angle just pulverizing the eyeball and possibly not even doing much socket damage, where in the comic the outer side of his right socket was blown completely away and a certain slugger commented on seeing exposed bone during a tense yet weirdly kind conversation considering the circumstances.

    • Kordas February 20, 2016 at 10:42 am - Reply

      I don’t think it’s necesarrily censors’ fault (at least they are not the only reason). If they did damage as big as the one in the comics, Chandler would have to spend tons of time in the make-up room every day of filming. That would be very tiring for both Chandler and producers. Additionally, child actors have limits on how many hours they can work, so having Chandler sit in the make-up room would just limit the time he can actually play his part.

  5. flagg_is_god February 19, 2016 at 9:07 am - Reply

    Also, you would be pretty surprised at the survival rate of people who have sustained point-blank head shots from handguns of surprisingly high calibers. The death rate from head, chest, and abdominal shots from .22’s is higher because they tend to bounce off of the inner-skull and internal organs causing tons of trauma.

  6. CORAL February 19, 2016 at 12:21 pm - Reply

    Also something to note is that it barely hit the brain, judging by the angle it hit. A brain is just like a plane, if one engine stops working, the other one can handle it. And by what I could analyze, both the comics and the show don’t seem to take the entire right part of the brain, just a chunk of it. There even is a surgery that takes HALF of the brain and disables it because of seizures and other problems and the person can still live an almost normal life. All of this not counting that he is a child, which really improves his chances of survival. My final conclusion is: Carl could survive both on the show and comics, although the last one is more improbable. Btw, these theories/pool are really good, you should do some more 🙂

  7. Peaceful February 20, 2016 at 9:06 pm - Reply

    Right hemisphere, creative. Left hemisphere, analytical. Left side good. One day he’s still good to lead.

  8. RememberJSS February 21, 2016 at 12:43 pm - Reply

    I can’t lose carol! We already lost Sophia and Megan! I can’t lose another kid. I just can’t take it! But, it will still kinda bug me that if carol lives he will look like the governor.

  9. blackjack13 February 24, 2016 at 11:51 am - Reply

    It seems unlikely to me that he would have survived in the show, at least not without a ton of complications. TV’s Denise is not a skilled surgeon and lacks a certain amount of confidence and coolness under pressure, (adding even more pressure is that this is a child). Couple that with the fact that this is the ZA and medical supplies would be very limited. I’d guess his chances of survival would be slim to say the least. Not impossible, I’m sure, but highly unlikely.

    The wound is much larger in the comics, but the bullet clearly passed through. Denise is a legitimate surgeon who handles pressure quite well. There’s still the problem with limited supplies, but I would think a trained, professional, experienced surgeon would still have the advantage of likely being able to think better on her feet and improvise as needed. I would say, comic book Carl, yes. TV Carl, no.

    I actually had a friend who survived a shot to the head. The only things it affected were mobility and how quickly his mind could process information.

  10. Keishadow November 8, 2016 at 10:08 am - Reply

    I actually knew someone 20 years ago when i was in civil service who actually tried to commit suicide by gunshot. it was an retired ex cop. he survived but he lost both eyes. so yes its totally possible.

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