I want to talk about the events of last night’s The Walking Dead episode, ‘The Grove.’ But first I have to say: SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS. So read only if you, y’know, want to be spoiled.
I have refrained from writing about The Walking Dead until now because I love the show so much that I feel like I can’t articulate it well. Whereas scathing criticism comes naturally to me, when I try and talk about things I love, it always just comes out as a string of, “OMG FDIFJDLF THAT WAS AMAZEBALLS, I CAN’T EVEN. OMG.” Which, y’know, nobody wants to read (except Tumblr, with accompanying gifs). So I’ll do my best here but just know that I don’t have anything but sheer praise and worship to bestow upon this show, and therefore have difficulty forming coherent sentences.
Every week I am astounded that The Walking Dead manages to outdo what it did the previous week. The back episodes of season 4, following its winter hiatus, have been the strongest and most compelling episodes of the series so far. With the characters separated into various groups (and most convinced that everyone else is dead) following the tragic events at the prison, each episode either focuses on one group, or a handful of groups. Rather than being disjointed, these episodes unite each arc under a common theme. Particularly strong were the kinda-bottle episodes that focused on only: Rick/Carl, Beth/Daryl, and now this episode which centered on Tyreese, Carol, Lizzie, and Mika. Removed from the action and the larger cast as a whole, these character-centric episodes allowed the deepest and most intimate examination of humanity in this new post-apocalyptic reality that we have seen on this show yet.
‘The Grove’ contained revelations that the fans have been waiting for all season, with paramount suspense. We (and by “we” I mean “I”) thought we knew what those revelations would be but The Walking Dead never fails to surprise. I’m referring specifically to who killed Karen and David. Because I thought (and I think a lot of the internet thought as well) that it was always Lizzie, and that Carol covered it up and took the fall for it. But we learned in this episode that it was, in fact, always Carol. I hate being wrong. But what I like is that with it always being Carol who committed that crime, it seems that Carol really didn’t have any idea how sick Lizzie truly was.
Which I find strange because Lizzie has consistently said odd things throughout the season, with an eerie detachment from emotions. Why did no one find her behavior disconcerting? She always struck me as manipulative and sociopathic, if not schizophrenic, and it seems her younger sister was always aware that there were some mental health issues present. No one picked up on this? Is it because this new world of zombies has forced everyone to develop a detachment from their emotions? But Lizzie’s just a kid.
Particularly concerning in last night’s episode was Carol’s non-reaction to Lizzie’s dramatic and borderline psychotic reaction to Carol killing a walker that Lizzie was “playing tag” with. Lizzie screaming, “YOU KILLED HER! SHE WAS MY FRIEND! WHAT IF I KILLED YOU? YOU KILLED HER! YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND.” Carol walked away from that encounter seeming to think that Lizzie was still just confused about what walkers really were, and perhaps had thrown a temper tantrum. (But Lizzie is like, what, nine, ten? Do ten year olds still throw temper tantrums?)
Equally chilling was the scene where Lizzie fed a walker a mouse, and told her sister that she could hear them, that they wanted her to be one of them, and that maybe she should join them so that she could prove to everyone that she’s right. She stretched her hand out for the walker to bite her, but then a bunch of walkers showed up (as they always do, to literally push the plot forward by chasing the characters). Lizzie ended up having to kill some of them herself, though she wasn’t happy about it. Carol asked her later did she now understand what they were and Lizzie responded, “I understand what I have to do now.” That is not what Carol asked, Lizzie! Carol, open your eyes!
I admit, while I did think Lizzie was going to attempt to kill someone else, I thought it more likely she was going to kill herself–to come back as a walker and prove to everyone that they’re still people. Or at least they’re something else altogether. What actually happened was…horrifying. Lizzie, killing her sister. Carol and Tyreese returning from hunting to find a knife in Lizzie’s hands, her hands dripping blood, her sister on the ground beside her, stabbed to death, and baby Judith perched on a picnic blanket, unaware of the horror unfolding at the world’s worst picnic.
As Carol and Tyreese rushed forward, terrified yet calm, Lizzie says, “Don’t worry. She’ll come back. I didn’t hurt her brain.” Then she mentions how she was just about to do this to Judith too. Carol steps forward but Lizzie pulls out a gun and points it at Carol and insists that they have to wait for Mika to come back. Meanwhile, I’m sitting on my couch clutching my cat and screaming, “SOMEONE PICK UP THE BABY. GET THE BABY.” Carol manages to coax Lizzie away with the false promise that she just wants to tie Mika up for when she comes back. She sends Lizzie off with Tyreese and Judith (um, sending Judith anywhere with Lizzie would not have been my first instinct, but OKAY) and then Carol breaks down and cries, before stabbing Mika in the head to ensure that she doesn’t turn.
The episode concludes with Carol doing what needed to be done. She takes Lizzie out into the grove (y’know the grove of ‘The Grove’). Lizzie begins to cry and begs Carol to not be mad at her for pointing her gun at her. (Not for, y’know, murdering her sweet younger sister with the intention of murdering an INFANT next. Just don’t be mad she pointed a gun.) Carol tells Lizzie to look at the flowers, to just keep looking at the flowers, and then Carol kills Lizzie, executes her really, but it had to be done. How very Of Mice and Men.
And I sat there and thought that while I can sit on my couch in my heated apartment as someone not in the midst of an apocalypse and say assuredly that killing Lizzie was the right thing to do and absolutely had to happen, I can also recognize how complicated that actually is. Carol had to murder a child. Granted, one that was dangerous, sick, and could not be trusted. But a child nonetheless. It added another layer to this world of The Walking Dead. The choices that these characters have to make. Where are the lines of right and wrong as they are newly defined in this world? And how does anyone live with themselves after making decisions like this? These questions aren’t new–The Walking Dead has been asking them from the beginning. But every season, the circumstances surrounding them get more chilling, complicated, and difficult. Who will Carol be after this? She lost her daughter. She killed Karen and David to protect the rest of the prison from the flu outbreak and it didn’t work. She swore to protect these two little girls–these surrogate daughters–and failed. She had to kill one of them. What impact does that have on her going forward?
And can I love this show more?
But I actually didn’t write this to talk about the scene where Lizzie kills her sister. Or the scene where Carol kills Lizzie. I wanted to talk about the scene where Tyreese tells Carol about his nightmares (which is the scene right before they stumble on the nightmarish image of Lizzie brandishing a bloody knife over two children, one of which is dead). This scene absolutely blew my mind. Carol in the foreground, Tyreese in the background, clutching a gun. With Carol’s back turned to him, Tyreese explains that he thinks they should stay at this house they’ve found instead of heading towards this alleged sanctuary called “Terminus” because they’re “not ready to be around people yet.” He then proceeds to tell Carol that he has nightmares every night about Karen, and “some stranger” who kills her. The whole time clutching his gun and the whole time Carol refusing to turn and look at him.
The brilliance of this scene lies in the suspense. We, the audience, know that Carol knows who killed Karen and David (though we didn’t yet have confirmation that it was Carol who did it), and Carol knows who killed Karen and David as well. But at the same time, the audience suspects that Tyreese also knows–the way he’s talking, clutching his gun. And Carol suspects it too. She standing there waiting for Tyreese to take his vengeance, and the audience is sitting there watching and waiting for it to happen as well. But the scene ends with Tyreese still unawares who killed them, still trusting of Carol completely.
It was mind-blowing! That level of suspense for a secret that only the audience and Carol share in this scene. The way The Walking Dead tricked us into believing one thing and doing another. And this is what I love about this show. The zombies are scary, and it’s true that you never know when they’ll show up and when someone will die (though it’s pretty obvious when they’ll show up at this point–which is at every opportune moment). But the scariest parts, the most suspenseful parts, are when the audience asks itself, “What will these characters do to each other?”
Which is so much more compelling. These characters aren’t afraid of zombies anymore. They basically take them down as though swatting particularly large and pesky flies. They’ve become desensitized to them. But they fear each other. And themselves–the people they’ve become. And the parts of the show that are scariest to watch are the interactions between the humans as they struggle to hold on to humanity within themselves.
So, y’know: OMG FDIFJDLF THAT WAS AMAZEBALLS, I CAN’T EVEN. OMG.