Carol Battles Her Own Humanity on a Nearly Perfect The Walking Dead

Illustration for article titled Carol Battles Her Own Humanity on a Nearly Perfect The Walking Dead

Carol isn’t Carol anymore. Gone is the remorseless killer that tried to stop the plague by murdering two sick members of the group and setting fire to their corpses. Instead, she’s regaining her compassion, doubting herself, and trying not to kill people, even her enemies. And of course, in truest Walking Dead fashion, her newly-returned humanity nearly gets her killed. A bunch.

“The Same Boat” was half a boring filler episode, half an incredible tour de force by Melissa McBride. Once she starts, though, damn. It helps that the show has written her an excellent episode in which, having lost her conviction in what’s she done and what is right, she’s immediately put to the test over and over again.

But first the episode begins with what can charitably be called the Saviors’ B-team capturing Carol and Maggie in the woods on the night of the attack on the Saviors’ compound. As we saw, Rick tries to trade their captive Paulo for Carol and Maggie; Alicia Witt (who’s playing a character named Paula, but I seem to be medically incapable of referring to as anything other than Alicia Witt) says she’ll think about it, but immediately scampers off to a Saviors safehouse.

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Honestly, not much happens during the first half of the episode, other than Carol acting really strange. While tied up, she seems to make a panicked grab for a crucifix necklace dropped by a zombie and then also seems to have an actual panic attack that leaves her hyperventilating. I had immediately assumed that Carol was giving another “suburban mom “ performance, this one adapted for “captured by maniacs.” It’s followed by Carol acting meek as hell, scared, talking about her belief in Jesus, fussing when one of the Saviors starts smoking around the pregnant Maggie, etc., all things to make her captors think her too pathetic to worry about.

Illustration for article titled Carol Battles Her Own Humanity on a Nearly Perfect The Walking Dead

It seems like classic Badass Carol in full-on Meek Midwestern Mom Deception Mode. But if you were expecting Carol to throw off her chains (er, duct tape) and turn into Rambo, as she’s done in the past, then you were disappointed. She does manage to get free, and she uses the metal crucifix to cut through her tape. Instead of going Call of Duty, however, she sneaks off to Maggie and tries to get them to just leave. (She’d just overheard Alicia talk to Rick on the walkie-talkie, with Alicia realizing he lack of static meant that Rick and the others were closer than they pretended.) It’s when the B-team gets ready to leave that Carol and Maggie are able to escape.

But Maggie doesn’t want to escape. She wants to kill them all—which was, technically their mission, but seems like is yet another unnecessary danger given that they’re outnumbered and out-armed. Carol lets herself get swept up by Maggie’s bloodlust and watches as she puts a zombie on a leash (the Savior Carol shot at the end of the last episode, who just died from blood loss) so it could immediately bite whoever walked in. It works.

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As they creep through the compound, they come across the “kill floor” a room full of impaled zombies, designed more or less to block the passage (or at least slow intruders down). It’s there where Alicia Witt finds them and shoots at them, helpfully missing them entirely. Carol pulls on her gun (napped from the recently turned Savior) but can’t bring herself to pull the trigger.

Several of the conversations between Carol and Alicia Witt have set them up as parallel, even if Alicia Witt thinks Carol is a scaredy-cat. Alicia Witt was also a wife, a mother of four. Her work as a secretary in Washington, DC, kept her from getting to her family when the outbreak hit, and she had to kill her boss just to get out of DC—clearly, like Carol, her family didn’t make it. Alicia Witt boasts about killing a lot of people. “I stopped counting after the double-digits!” she crows, having no idea Carol probably has her beat. Most chillingly, Alicia Witt tells Carol this: “You’re not the good guys. You should know that.”

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Illustration for article titled Carol Battles Her Own Humanity on a Nearly Perfect The Walking Dead

I assume that Carol, like most of the audiences, has known that but hasn’t been admitting it to herself. Rick and the group attacked the Saviors seemingly without provocation (no one there realizes who blew up that group of Negan’s biker gang from the season premiere). These invaders have gone out of their way to slaughter everyone. Unlike the Wolves who attacked Alexandria, they aren’t even trying for supplies, so they don’t even have that apparent justification for murdering everyone in the compound. We know the Saviors are bad people, and from a certain point of view, this is for the good of Alexandria. But that doesn’t make what they’re doing noble in the slightest.

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So Carol can’t shoot Alicia—she begs her to run. Then Alicia marches forward, yelling angrily about what she’s done to stay alive so far in a manner that would have been completely appropriate for Carol of the past few seasons to do. But an errant zombie slips off its spike, nearly grabs Carol, and Carol wings Alicia despite her best efforts.

The shot brings the final member of the B-team to their location, where she immediately gets in a knife fight with Maggie. It’s pretty brutal even before you remember Maggie is a few months pregnant. The Savior even manages to slice her shirt at the belly, which is when Carol steps in and shoots the Savior right in the head. Carol may be losing her killer instinct, but some dangers are just too great. Speaking of danger, Alicia Witt has recovered enough to get in a brawl with Carol, and eventually Carol body-checks her into one of the spikes, where a zombie has been patiently waiting for just such a snack. Alicia Witt does not last long.

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Carol is drained and upset. But when a Savior scout team radios in and Maggie demands they have to finish it—again, putting the slaughter of the Saviors ahead of her own safety, and the safety of her unborn child—Carol reluctantly puts on Alicia Witt’s country twang and tells them to meet them at the kill floor. And when the Saviors arrive, Carol and Maggie light the oil-soaked floor on fire, shut the door, and let these people burn to death. It’s brutal, but it’s efficient.

Illustration for article titled Carol Battles Her Own Humanity on a Nearly Perfect The Walking Dead
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When Carol and Maggie finally exit the compound, Rick and the others are literally at the door, ready to burst in and kill everyone who needs killing, but of course that job is done. Daryl quickly asks Carol, “You good?” Carol says no, still anguished at the additional numbers she’s going to need to add to her list from last week. Daryl gives her a hug, and Carol is surprised by it—almost as if she never thought she’d be hugged again. Not only is it one of Carol’s most vulnerable moments since I don’t know when, but it’s one of the sweetest moments The Walking Dead has ever given us.

Of course, the episode isn’t over. Because Rick still has his hostage, the Savior called Pablo, and Rick no longer needs a hostage. He needs answers. He demands to know if Negan was in the compound or in this safehouse. Pablo smiles and even laughs a little. “Both,” he smiles, “I’m Negan.” And then Rick shoots him immediately in the head. Right in front of Carol. When it happens, the show actually goes slightly into slo-mo, and the frame is filled with nothing but Rick’s gun firing, as Carol watches it happen with an inscrutable numb look on her face. But the episode’s final shot is a close-up of Carol, still holding that crucifix in her hand. She’s squeezing so tightly that her blood drips to the floor.

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First and foremost, we need to discuss how Melissa McBride just crushed this episode. It’s very rare that The Walking Dead gives one of its actors a chance to emote this much (and this subtly!), but Melissa McBride is more than up to the task. Seriously, go watch the scene where Carol bums a cigarette from the B-team and begs Alicia Witt and the others to just leave, because if she stays she will be killed. “What, you gonna kill me?” asks Alicia Witt. Carol whispers, “I hope not” and there’s such an incredible honesty there, like Carol has completely stopped talking to Alicia Witt and is instead talking to herself, wishing, begging to avoid a situation where she doesn’t have to kill again. It’s fantastic.

My problem with the episode is not Melissa McBride’s fault at all (nor is it even really a problem with this episode, per se). Like a lot of stuff after the time jump in episode 10, Carol’s sudden crisis of inhumanity doesn’t seem fully warranted by the events of the show. It’s welcome, and it’s not completely out of the blue, since she had her showdown with Morgan over the captured Wolf in the mid-season finale.

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But Morgan’s way of peace nearly got Carol, Denise, and himself killed. Meanwhile, Carol was at her most pragmatic—to the point where she was seriously considering Morgan just so he couldn’t cause more trouble with his dangerous “let’s try not to kill people” philosophy. It doesn’t seem like that that experience, which proved her side “right” in many ways, would really cause her to completely doubt her commitment to killing people who she believes need to be killed.

The thing that really sucks is if the show had actually made Carol aware of the manner of Sam’s death—if we knew she actually blamed herself for his panic attack, or at least wondered if her terrifying talks with Sam were partially responsible—I would absolutely 100 percent believe everything about Carol’s return to compassion. I don’t dislike the incredible Carol arc we’ve gotten this half of season 6, I just think it’s a missed opportunity. (And please don’t talk about it probably happening off screen. If it isn’t acknowledged on-screen, it’s fan fiction.)

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Illustration for article titled Carol Battles Her Own Humanity on a Nearly Perfect The Walking Dead

Now let’s talk about the elephant that apparently refuses to leave the room until the season finale: Negan. As mentioned above, Pablo—whose name is notably Pablo—claims to be Negan, after mysteriously saying that Negan was somehow in the compound and the safehouse. Earlier in the episode, Alicia Witt enigmatically tell Carol, “Don’t you get it? We are all Negan.”

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The hell? The limited knowledge I’ve acquired about Negan and the Saviors does not include this, and I am baffled. My first guess is that this is some sort of weird “I am Spartacus!” thing, where the Saviors all claim to be Negan. However, usually people do that for a reason, and Alicia Witt has nothing to gain or prove by telling Carol, “We are all Negan.” Are the Saviors some socialist hippie commune? Is there a chief Negan? Because I have never gotten the sense that Negan would be interested in a democratic army of killers. Is there going to be an actual Negan at all? Because if The Walking Dead wanted to shock the comics readers by zigging instead of zagging, this would certainly do it.

We’ll presumably have to wait and see, because there are three more episodes left in season six, and that’s when Jeffrey Dean Morgan is supposed to show up, whether he’s playing the Negan or a Negan. That’s a long time to keep waiting for this show’s new big bad, by the same token, that’s a long time for the things to go wrong for the people of Alexandria.

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But for Carol, everything’s gone wrong already. And given the war that Rick and the others have undoubtedly started, things won’t be right again for a long, long time.

Illustration for article titled Carol Battles Her Own Humanity on a Nearly Perfect The Walking Dead
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Assorted Musings:

• As many of you guys realized, the list Carol was making last week was of the living people she killed, so gold stars for you guys. The guys at Uproxx figured out her list is actually wrong; do you think Carol has trouble remembering who she’s killed, or does the show? Because one is an interesting character choice—that she, like Alicia Witt, has also lost count—and the other is just a dumb mistake.

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• The B-team is using what appears to be a lot of soldier-type jargon when talking to each other on the walkie-talkies. This is notable because 1) it’s pretty clear there’s a decent amount of Saviors still out there, and 2) they appear to be very organized.

• When Rick offers to trade hostages, Carol assures Alicia Witt that Rick will honor the deal. “He’s a man of his word,” she promises. Uh, does anyone believe that, had the exchange taken place, Rick wouldn’t have immediately gunned down all the Saviors? Because I certainly don’t. Alicia Witt was 100 percent correct—Rick and the others are not the good guys here.

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• When Alicia Witt gets impaled, her new zombie stake-mate bites of a hunk of skin off her cheek, and it just doesn’t look very real at all. You can see it above. I have zero problems with this, as 99.9 perfect of the zombies and other assorted SFX on TWD is incredible. I merely wanted to point it out.

• When Carol and Maggie exit the compound, Daryl doesn’t ask Carol, “You okay?” He asks, “You good?” And Carol quietly replies “No.” Nicely done, The Walking Dead. Nicely done indeed.

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Contact the author at rob@io9.com.

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DISCUSSION

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I am scared for Carol. Not because she is doubting herself or losing her edge or going soft or anything like that. I am scared for Carol because I know this show, and it feels like they may be setting us up for a real tragedy. Carol started as an abused wife, and in the process of surviving both her husband and the death of her daughter, became one of the most badass characters on television. She euthanized a girl who was dangerous and didn’t understand the true nature of walkers by shooting her in the back of the head, and went Rambo on a bunch of Wolves.

Then, she met Morgan, who stubbornly believes that all life is precious (the nerve) and that people don’t have to kill. After dealing with the Wolves and the subsequent walker hoard, it appears that his message is getting through to Carol. She never liked killing people, but now she’s starting to regret it and fear it. Carol doesn’t want to lose her humanity.

Morgan went on a similar journey. Morgan was a widower who couldn’t bring himself to finish off his walker wife. His hesitation lead to the death of his son, and he went off. Morgan made it his personal burden to rid the world of Walkers, and was clearing that town when Rick and Michonne found him. After that, Morgan hit the road, and didn’t stop with Walkers: People, bad or not, weren’t spared. Then, Morgan met the Cheese Maker and his awesome goat, and everything changed. Morgan learned that killing wasn’t a necessity, and that everyone deserved a second chance. Or a third. Whatever. However many chances you’ve already had, you get one more. Morgan is Carol’s Cheese Maker.

The Walking Dead reinvents itself every eight episodes or so, so there is hope. However, the way this show has usually gone, as soon as a main character makes gets some closure or backstory or makes some big decision or changes their ways or comes to a revelation or something, they get got. Look at Merle or T-Dog or Herschel or Noah or Beth or Tyrese or any of the other characters that ended up dead. There is precedent. I’m scared for Carol.

Carol wasn’t trapped in there with the Saviors, the Saviors were trapped in there with her. Despite everything I just said about her, Carol remains one of the baddest of asses on the show. Just like when the group met the Alexandrians, she immediately put on a meek housewife style persona, luckily and nervously stumbling her way through the zombie apocalypse. Golly gee, if it weren’t for Rick and his big strong ways, she would have been a goner. Morgan saw right through it, but no one else even batted an eye. As soon as her smoking neighbor caught a hatchet to the face, she flipped a switch, and Carol Bourne was back at it.

When the Saviors found Carol and Maggie, Carol remained calm, and immediately put on that meek persona. She faked a panic attack. She needed her Rosary. She pleaded for Maggie (and the baby’s) life.

The Saviors didn’t stand a chance.

It took some goading, because she really is accepting Morgan’s message, but once Carol Bourne was let out of the cage, there was no stopping her. She walked up and just blasted that nine and a half fingered Savior, and skewered the ringleader. Backup was on the way, and she got on the radio, and led them straight into the kill floor. And lit them on fire. She didn’t even flinch. I’m scared for anyone who crosses Carol.

But Carol did flinch. She did not want to kill the ringleader, but did when it was required. She flinched when Rick killed the last Savior. She was legitimately worried about Maggie and the baby. She’s is accepting Morgan’s message, and is changing her.

It’s changing her so much, it was very hard to tell whether or not Carol was putting on her meek persona or actually scared for most of the episode. One thing she was actually scared about was having to kill again. Like I said: Carol never liked killing; but she never regretted it or feared doing it. Now she does. I hope the hesitation doesn’t cost her or anyone else in the future.

You know who else changed? Maggie. I think Maggie was so used to seeing Carol be the Bourne we all know she can be that seeing her “fake” it was off-putting. She never really saw the persona Carol used on the Alexandrians (or didn’t acknowledge it) and was seriously confused when Carol hyperventilated and asked for the Rosary she watched her put in her pocket as the body was dragged by.

It’s interesting, because Maggie seemed the most calm and collected throughout the episode, and picked up the slack when Carol Bourne took her time joining the fight. Maggie was ruthless, and reminded me of Season 4 and 5 Carol. Maggie didn’t flinch.

One thing is for certain: Tara or Heath are in for a one on one with Lucille. I said it last time, but now that Maggie and Carol are free, Tara and Heath are the only ones in any overt danger right now: They took a truck from the Savior outpost, before realizing that more Saviors may be out there. We know this was one outpost and that they had patrols out and about (the kill room guys were a scout team). Now, the remaining Saviors will find their outpost and safe house full of dead Saviors. They will recognize the truck Tara and Heath took from the outpost, and connect the dots: These two were part of the group responsible for the massacres. Negan (will the real Negan please stand up?) will make an example out of one of both of them once he finds Alexandria.

There are only three episodes left. Shit is going down.