If the theme of last season was punitive action toward the totally innocent, this season seems to be all about loving people – or not – despite their flaws.
This episode was all about the slow changes that happen over time, to all our lovable inmates. Rick: who started off as the consummate lawman then turned into the cold hearted leader, then the grieving widower, and finally is reborn as peace-loving farmer father. Darryl, who’s been pin-balling back and forth between angry redneck and heart-of-gold pragmatist … and, most notably, Carol.
Carol gets the usual swan song for characters leaving the show. She offers a modicum of sage advice to her newly-inherited charges, Lizzie (or was it Mika?) before taking off with Rick on a scouting mission – one that’s sure to end badly for one of them.
The show works by rote – it’s almost infuriating to watch. You know as soon as a character is given a long monologue that their days are surely numbered. As Carol and Rick find themselves in a deserted suburban street, we hear more from Carol in 10 minutes than we’ve heard from her all season. Even as her daughter Sophia was missing, she barely spoke other than to whine and call out he name. But now, having committed a heinous act, ostensibly as a means to protect the camp, she’s allowed her long-overdue pontification.
This season, Carol has quickly catapulted to be one of the most interesting people on the show. A woman in the throes of personal conflict, she feels a truly deep fear of death – one that has led her to take unimaginable steps to protect the children of the camp, who she clearly feels a deep-seated affection for. But she’s afraid to acknowledge that affection, having lost her own daughter so horribly and violently.
She’s gone from a timid, browbeaten victim to a leader within the camp. With that power, she’s been endowed with a responsibility she feels unable to turn away from and unprepared to shoulder. She both clings to the girls, Mika and Lizzie, and pushes them away. It’s gratifying to see a female character struggle with deep conflict arising from something other than her sexual relationships – even Lori, the show’s first heroine, wasn’t close to as complicated.
Carol earnestly defends herself to Rick, whose quiet silence belies his own conflicts about how to handle her revelation. Her defenses are deeply felt, but almost mechanically delivered. Her emotionless explanations mirror her cold-heated decision-making. As she tells Lizzie before heading out the door, “Do what you have to to protect yourself.”
Her philosophy is further demonstrated when they meet the pair of wounded travelers. Carol is leery of asking the injured to join their group, but can’t help herself from fixing the guy’s dislocated shoulder. The two competing elements of her psyche are clearly on display here: terrified, but absolutely compelled to help.
But the former is stronger. Once Rick has determined to allow the two to come back to the prison, Carol prods them to demonstrate their ability to contribute by helping to sweep the rest of the area. Rick knows it’s a bad idea: a girl with a bad leg and a guy with a just-relocated shoulder. But Carol is adamant – she doesn’t want anyone else weak to join the group.
Of course it ends badly. The girl can’t outrun a group of walkers, and gets her insides torn out. The guy goes AWOL – if not killed by walkers, he’s most assuredly hiding out somewhere, trapped by zombies, with no idea that his partner’s been murdered.
That’s the last straw for Rick. As Carol forces the pair to show their weakness, Rick knows she’s past the point of no return. Just like Shane, she can’t be trusted. To him, there is no one she wouldn’t turn on if she thought they were a threat in anyway.
But I think he’s misunderstood her. Because even more than fear, the biggest emotion Carol feels is love. As as hard as she tries to deny her feelings toward Mika and Lizzy, they are her first though when Rick tells her she won’t be returning to the cell block. But she accepts her sentence with the same cold realism we’ve seen in the last two episodes.
Though it’s a shame that this is the last we’ll see of Carol for a while, there is a silver lining: as we’ve learned over and over on this show – most recently with Tyreese only last week – if you don’t see them die, they can still come back.