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Tag Archives: Carol Peletier
Episodes like these make me thank Heaven that The Walking Dead didn’t start airing on network television in the era of twenty-two episode seasons. With scores of characters, multiple locales, and plenty of plotlines, the show should be plenty capable of finding enough plot and incident to fill an eight-episode half season with minimal wheel-spinning. Sure, not every episode can advance a major season arc, but there’s still tons of space for character development, illuminating vignettes, or details that make it more meaningful when those major arcs do finally come to a head.
Instead, it feels like every half season has at least one episode like “The King, The Widow and Rick” which cannot, even charitably, be called a table-setting episode. At best, it’s an episode devoted to tying up loose ends. It throws out a few miscellaneous plots here and there, but those storylines don’t move the ball in terms of the overarching story of the series; they don’t really tell us anything new about the characters, and they don’t add much, if anything, to the show as a whole.
Imposter syndrome. Fake it till you make it. False confidence. There are dozens of phrases in hundreds of permutations that each stand for the proposition that if we can just project enough strength, if we can put the right mask on over our doubts and insecurities, then we will become who and what we hope to be. It’s the idea that inspiration can be built up from within, and eventually flow out to those we seek to lead or impress or merely comfort.
But what if you have imposter syndrome because you are, in fact, an imposter? What if you fake it with all your might, but the odds are too stacked against you for you to make anything? What if your false confidence just gets your friends and allies killed.
Realism is always going to be a tricky needle to thread for The Walking Dead. On the one hand, a big part of the show’s claim to fame is the way it takes the well-worn idea of the zombie apocalypse and plays it seriously, sometimes overly seriously. That’s in its DNA. On the other hand, it’s also a show where corpses come back to life, civilians can use weapons like pros with minimal training, and the undead recur in some new obstacle course-like form on a weekly basis. The very premise of the show means that The Walking Dead can’t exactly be as down-to-earth or grounded as its naturalistic aesthetic might suggest, and that’s simply part of the deal.
But sometimes, the series just pushes things too far. The Junkyardigans (my name for the collective that congregates at the dump, at least until an official one is offered) read as silly from the word go. Our heroes have run into plenty of colorful groups before — The Terminites, The Wolves, and the dibs-based biker gang come to mind — but they tend to read as pulpy rather than cheesy. It’s a fine distinction, to be sure, but the difference is that as wild as those groups could seem at times, their outsized characteristics seemed to fit into a certain exaggerated, over the top quality that’s present throughout the series. The Walking Dead isn’t just real; it’s hyper-real, and its more extreme villains and antagonists fit well enough within that atmosphere.
In between Seasons 6 and 7 of The Walking Dead, I finally found the time to watch Deadwood, the acclaimed, short-lived HBO series that helped usher in the current era of prestige television that The Walking Dead has been trying desperately to be a part of. And though Deadwood is a longstanding critical darling while The Walking Dead has been a perpetual whipping boy in the critical community, the most recent seasons of TWD have focused on the same question that consumed Deadwood for its three-season run — specifically, what does it take to make a society?
That’s an oversimplification of both shows, but to my mind, Deadwood was first and foremost about what it means to build a civilization: the myths we perpetuate, the wheels we grease, and the dirt and blood we try to scrub off the floor or otherwise hide in the process. From the onset of the Alexandria arc, The Walking Dead has been interrogating the same idea. Whether it’s Deanna’s vision for Alexandria as the start of a sustainable bit of rebuilding, or Gregory running the Hilltop as his own little fiefdom, or Negan extracting his pounds of flesh with The Saviors, The Walking Dead has been interested in what type of system, what sort of leaders and visions for the future, will prevail. All of these people, like Deadwood’s Al Swearingen, are trying to fashion a society in the midst of something approaching a state of nature, and this era of the show seems as poised as any to dig into the ways that these differing perspectives clash and conflict.
One of the interesting things about The Walking Dead under showrunner Scott Gimple’s influence is that it has, more or less, eschewed the traditional narrative structure for a season of television. The storyline of the prison and The Governor seemed to be building to a finale at the end of Season 3, but then it didn’t really end until several episodes into Season 4. Afterward, the show embarked on its Wandering in the Wilderness/Terminus storyline that stretched from roughly the midpoint of Season 4 until the beginning of the Alexandria storyline in Season 5. Then that plotline, about our heroes discovering a new community and gradually integrating into it, reached its natural conclusion with this year’s mid-season premiere, where the Rick’s group and the town came together to defeat the zombies at the gates as a whole. Only then, did the current arc begin in earnest.
Which is to say that as Season 6 draws to a close, we’re not at either the end or the beginning of the Negan storyline; we’re in the middle. That’s admittedly a little strange. It’s a departure from the annual Big Bad structure that Buffy the Vampire Slayer established and many other shows adopted. And it’s even distinct from the trend started by The Wire and The Sopranos, where the real fireworks happen in the penultimate episode of a season, with the finale reserved for aftermath and reflection.
“East” is about cycles, about chain reactions, and the way that decisions big and small come back to us in one form or another. Morgan says it himself — it’s all a circle. But whether that circle is good or bad, whether you get out of it what you put into it, remains to be seen in the world of The Walking Dead.
To Morgan’s mind, that reciprocity or karma or whatever you want to call it, can be a force for good. He decides to spare The Wolf, and to Morgan, that decision not only leads to The Wolf deciding to help to save Denise (which allowed her to save Carl), but it also led to Morgan’s philosophy trickling down to Carol, making Alexandria’s most hardened warrior so uncomfortable with the act of killing that she leaves the community so that she need not risk having to hurt anyone else.
And yet Daryl faces the mirror image of that series of events and sees a very different result. He chooses to spare Dwight, and to Daryl, that makes him responsible both for Denise’s death at Dwight’s hands, and also for the message that it sent to Carol, who had to help him bury yet another innocent person in these harsh environs, and possibly served as the final straw that drove his dear friend away. Both men made the same kind of choice, but interpret the consequences of those choices very differently.
How can an episode where so much happens seem so dull? “Twice as Far” features a firefight, a significant casualty, a big decision from a major character, and a reckoning between two people who’ve had unfinished business for a long time now. This is all major stuff. So why did the episode feel so thoroughly lifeless?
In fairness, “Twice as Far” aimed for a certain feeling of routine in the proceedings. It opens with a repeated sequence of supply inventory, guard shifts, and the daily rhythms of Alexandria in order to establish the semi-normalcy that the town has settled into after the most recent bit of excitement. The Walking Dead has thrived on this type of “calm after the storm” vibe in episodes like “The Next World”, but here it felt ponderous and contrived.
One of the best parts of Carol’s arc on The Walking Dead is that it’s largely been underplayed. Melissa McBride is such a talented actress that the show can dispense with its often lumpy dialogue and simply let her performance convey the meaning in the moment, whether it’s a sullen look after the events of “JSS” or a harsh tone in her voice when she tells Rick that Maggie shouldn’t be out on the raid in “Not Tomorrow Yet”. This season in particular, The Walking Dead has done well to let the idea that Carol is feeling the weight of her actions and gradually pivoting away from her more ruthless persona, bubble under the surface. That’s made the scenes where those ideas are brought to the fore or dramatized in a more prominent fashion, stand out as effective and earned.
But “The Same Boat” basically turns that subtlety on its ear. It’s a bleak bottle episode that spends most of its time keeping Carol locked in a single room while trotting out an odd version of This Is Your Life!
There has been a great deal of death on The Walking Dead over the years. We’ve seen characters take out hordes of zombies, roving marauders, and even their own as a necessary if-bloody kindness when circumstances require it. But very very rarely has the series shown our heroes as the aggressors in a life-or-death situation.
That’s what made “Not Tomorrow Yet” so interesting and so novel, especially for a series already in its sixth season. Many episodes of the show have examined the morality of killing — when it’s justified, when it’s morally dubious, and how those standards change in the ashes of the world. But it’s never shown “the good guys” engaging in what amounts to a preemptive strike before.
It is, in a word, troubling, even when on paper it makes sense. It’s uncomfortable, even when the audience, by dint of affection and perspective, is on the side of the people doing the killing. It’s meant to be. The Walking Dead has paid lip service to the moral gray areas that emerge when having to decide whether to take a life in something approaching a state of nature, but rarely has it confronted these ideas as directly as it does here.