“One day you just change; we all change.”
It was entirely fitting that the most important line of this season’s (and arguably the entire series’) most introspective episode would go to a character who has grown and changed immeasurably since we met her several years ago. The Carol of Season 1 was a frightened, battered housewife, living with her abusive husband; the Carol we saw leave last night (not for the last time, but more on that later) was sharpened like the edge of the knife she carries, reckless and drowning in her own version of moral equivalency. It was a transition that, in many ways, mirrors the show’s narrative as a whole.
There is a lot to unpack in the opener when Carol says goodbye to Lizzie, but quite a lot that happened in the rest of the episode. Daryl, Michonne, Tyrese and Bob, having survived the zombie mega-horde, make their way to a run-down garage where they find a working automobile. When Daryl and Bob clear the garage to find spare parts, Bob puts down a trapped walker, then looks up at the wall and sees who that person used to be. The walkers in and around the garage were part of a hunting club, and the happy photographs of days long past are a reminder that each walker was once a person with a life and a story.
It was a sad reminder of the fragile mortality and the collective tragedy in which our characters live. For some lucky survivors, the zombie apocalypse brought new dreams. The nice young couple Rick and Carol meet in the house — she with the bum leg that never healed right and he with the dislocated shoulder — didn’t know each other before the world went to garbage. But by finding each other, and falling in love, they’ve proven that there is more than death and despair in the world.
And yet it was no surprise — like most of you, I’m sure, I wasn’t exactly shocked — that the nice young couple didn’t make it. When Rick and Carol followed the blood trail through the fence gate to see that severed leg with the girl’s tattoo, it brought us back to a harsh reality. Romances don’t flourish in the wake of the apocalypse, not many of them, anyway. Even when they have the best of intentions, like gathering a little more food for the group, people die.
In the midst of that tragic day, Carol barely flinched. She’s seen too many people die, including her daughter, to care much anymore. And her rapid transformation from last season to this one seemed pretty complete. We knew that after killing Karen and David, Carol couldn’t return to the prison like nothing happened. As Rick pointed out, Tyrese would kill her if he found out, and Rick, utterly disapproving of Carol taking matters into her own hands, wasn’t about to lie for her. But what happens when Tyrese finds out it was Carol all along — and that Rick let her go with a carload of supplies?
The Carol that drove away last night was a far more complex character than I imagined she’d become in Season 1. She has a fierce devotion to Lizzie and Mika that, in many ways, conflicts with what she’s done. She was willing to kill two people who got sick so that she could, she argues, save other lives. That’s why I think we’ll see more of Carol before this season ends. It would be one thing if a character who’s gotten that much development from the writers were to die off in a dramatic death. Andrea got a worthy death scene; Shane got two. Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of Carol. Perhaps she gets picked up by what’s left of The Governor’s crew; perhaps she comes back for the two girls. Either way, it will be something interesting to look forward to in a season that’s already been full of surprises.
Zombie-Kill Report: We had lots of the usual slices and dices: Michonne with her katana and Daryl with the crossbow. During the frantic escape from the veterinary college, a few dozen walkers went down, boosting the numbers to bring up the average of what was an otherwise slow episode. One question persists though: When the group was trying to escape from the college, Bob warned against shooting the zombies, lest they get infected blood on themselves and get the virus. Two problems here. (1) How in the world could Bob tell the difference between ordinary zombies and infected zombies whose blood will make them sick? Tyrese killed dozens on the road and walked away covered with blood and guts. Were those zombies somehow different? And, (2) Weren’t they all exposed to the virus during the fight for cell block D? This attempt at drama didn’t make any sense.
Speaking of Things That Make Little Sense: On the way to the veterinary college, Daryl and crew ran into a huge zombie horde. Then they ran through the woods for a while, found a new car, and miraculously made it to the college in no time. As they left to head back to the prison they consulted a map, but I thought they made it a little too easily.
Another Misfire: Bob’s hysterically awkward jump out of the window that all but ensured his bag would go over the edge and get grabbed by the walkers. TWD has some great stunt coordinators; please teach the actors better moves in the future.
And a Few Things That Went Well: I liked the story behind Bob’s alcohol dependency. Even the goofy booze-bottle reveal didn’t take away from his heartbreaking situation. His explanation — “It was just for when it gets quiet” — fits in well with the tragic nature of the rest of the episode. So did the short discussion of Rick’s and Carol’s past. Rick’s memory of Lori’s horrible pancakes was a nice detail, as was Carol’s ability to reduce a dislocated shoulder — she learned how on the internet because it was better than telling the ER nurse she fell down the stairs again. This little nugget shows us that Carol was tougher than we ever realized, and the scene invoked one of my favorite dislocated shoulders in cinema history. (By the way, bonus points for anyone who can identify the actor behind Mel Gibson egging him on. Hint: You saw a lot of him in a really great show recently. We’ll post the answer next week.)
I was even a little moved by the Sophia discussion because it was short. Losing a child has to be one of the most tragic things someone can go through (as we’re learning with Michonne), but I’m glad we didn’t dwell on Sophia too much. TWD went from about 8 million viewers in early Season 2 to about 16 million each week now, which means at least half of our current audience wasn’t watching that year. My guess is they caught up by binging on Netflix, and they have no idea how slow and laborious and horrible the “Sophia Watch” was. I’m glad they didn’t make us as viewers relive the tragedy that was that season.
Have we seen the last of Carol? Tell us in the comments below.