“The Grove” aims to tie up loose ends from the first half of season 4 and flesh out the remaining undeveloped characters. When we last left Tyrese, Mika, Lizzie, Li’l Asskicker, and Carol, they’d joined up and set off in search of Terminus. Upon discovery of an abandoned house in the woods not far from the train tracks, they decide to set a while and rest. There are three graves in the backyard, presumably of the children of the family who once lived there, but the whole world is a grave now, so they aren’t about to let that taint a good thing. The pantry is full, the stove still works, there’s a pecan orchard in the yard and fresh water out back, and the property is surrounded by wildflowers. Everything’s so lovely Tyrese and Carol decide to stick around. Terminus isn’t going anywhere, and they can always leave. But for now the safety and solitude could work. If nothing else, Mika could use some more lessons in toughening up and Lizzie could benefit from some stability and security.
I suspect this is going to be one of those polarizing reviews, so buckle up kiddos, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
But, to paraphrase Beth and Carol, good people can’t survive a world as dark as this. Lizzie ramps up the craziness, and Mika hints that her psychosis has been around a lot longer than the apocalypse. Mika wants to help her sister, Lizzie wants to help the zombies, and it all results in Lizzie stabbing her sister to death while Carol and Tyrese are off having an emotional moment in the woods. Carol puts Mika and Lizzie out of their misery while Tyrese cowers in the house with Judith. That night, Carol comes clean to Tyrese about Karen and David, and Tyrese, newly full of the knowledge that sometimes shitty things happen and there’s naught to be done about it, forgives her. The next day the trio head off in search of Terminus.
Just when I think The Walking Dead can’t get any worse, they throw up an episode of kids killing kids. I’ve had it with Lizzie’s incessant insistence that zombies are her friends, so her death wasn’t all that tragic for me. And Mika, for all her sweetness, was a pile of blonde beigeness. She was about as well-developed as Sophia, in that they both had absolutely no personality beyond “nice” and that trait caused both their deaths. But Lizzie does pose an interesting question. Before, she might have gotten treatment or been institutionalized, but now? Is killing Lizzie really the best thing for her, the best thing for the group, both, or neither? What do you do with a child who is clearly a threat to others and herself? An adult is easy enough to kill or otherwise remove, but a child? Do you kill her? Abandon her? Tie her up and take her with you? Is she suffering from something that can be managed or is she only going to get worse? Does it even matter in the zombie apocalypse?
The show did a fine job of resolving old plotlines. And by “fine” I mean sufficient. Yes, Lizzie’s instability has been mentioned before, but it was written and played like she was just an odd, creepy kid who wasn’t coping well. If she was supposed to be mentally ill this whole time, I missed it completely. (Then again, television has never been very good at portraying mental illness, so.) I hate to be the person piling on kids, but the actors playing Lizzie and Mika also weren’t up to the tasks the script was requiring of them, mostly because the writers were giving them material above and beyond what most child actor could reasonably handle.
In order for Lizzie’s insanity to work, there needed to be a lot more of it. She was a relatively normal kid a lot more than she was crazy, which made her shifts seem forced. We also needed to care about her or Mika, and their existence made less than no effect on me. Frankly, I was kinda hoping they Chuck Cunningham-ed them. We barely knew anything about them as people, and “The Grove” hardly bothered to rectify that before axing them.
Carol killing Lizzie gives her the perfect opportunity to come clean about Karen and David—something that needed to happen before they got to Terminus, where it would get subsumed by more important and urgent plots. It’s all tied up into such a neat little bow that it actually kinda pisses me off. All of which makes Mika’s murder and Lizzie’s execution shocking stuff, but shocking for the wrong reasons. It should be horrifying and heartbreaking, but instead it’s shock and gore for shock and gore’s sake. It’s the writers getting giddy about how far they can push the envelope and make the audience squirm, which takes all the heart right out of it. It reduces what should be a tragedy into a violent plot device. Even Daryl and Beth’s fire gets consumed by their storyline, which takes away from the importance it had to them.
If this episode offered nothing in terms of the girls, it gave the world with Tyrese and Carol. The penultimate scene with Carol confessing to Tyrese was powerful and moving, so much so that it almost made up for the rest of the episode. Melissa McBride and Chad L. Coleman were phenomenal, and if you ever had any doubt of their acting chops, that scene proved you wrong. As indifferent as I am to Tyrese as a character, Coleman made me suddenly (briefly) care about him, and not just for what his reaction would be to Carol. I cared about his decision, about what he would choose and why, about the consequences of that choice and what it would mean for their futures. I became invested in him. And all that was completely due to Coleman. The script was as lazy as always, but he totally killed it.
Carol is the only adult on The Walking Dead to have ever killed a child, and the only one to have killed people who weren’t actively intending to kill her. Heroes can get away with killing the bad guys, because they operate in a black and white world. Carol lives entirely in greys. The people she’s killed weren’t good or bad, just people caught up in a horrible situation. There are hard choices to be made, ones that make it easier for the group to survive but are still no-win. No one else is willing to make those decisions, and someone has to or the group collapses.
When they first introduced this new role for Carol, I liked the complexity of it, but didn’t totally buy it as a valid character shift. But the more I think it over, and the more I recall her past, the more it makes sense. As a wife suffering her husband’s abuse, she took his violence so Sophia wouldn’t have to. She kept silent because it was better for the family unit—for her daughter—than if she fought back. Weathering destructive decisions is something she’s keenly skilled at. Tyrese may be good at killing biters, but he’s a giant softie at everything else. Rick has too much of a hero’s complex to have killed Lizzie and walked away from it with his sanity intact (remember how much he frayed with Shane and Lori?). But Carol keeps on keeping on. She’s like a sin eater. She absorbs the pain and cruelties of this brave new world so others don’t have to. You wanna know why I like this new Carol so much? This is why. And Melissa McBride is fan-frakking-tastic at playing her with just the right mix of regret, determination, forethought, and will.
- “My mama used to say ‘Everything works out like it’s supposed to.’” Oh yeah, Mika? Well, your mama’s dead so get over it.
- “I’m gonna name her Griselda Gunderson!”
- “The people who are living are haunted by the dead.”
- “You feel it, I know you do. It’s a part of you now.”
- Tyrese doesn’t even offer to help Carol take care of Mika or kill Lizzie, which really gets my goat. Come on, dude. Making her do all that alone? Not cool.
- Another theory for getting rid of Lizzie and Mika: the show now has half a dozen new characters to deal with (not counting all the ones chilling out in Terminus), so they’ve got to cull the herd somewhere.
- As far as geography goes, since Carol and co. can see the smoke plume from Daryl and Beth’s burning moonshine shack, that must mean the latter are a lot closer to the Terminus signs than I thought. All the ex-prisoners save Glenn must have been within a 10-20 mile radius from the prison and each other. Which makes it all the more implausible that they haven’t collided yet…and that they didn’t have a rendezvous point in the first place.
- I hate when people dangle rats and mice by the tail. They aren’t opossums; hanging by their tails isn’t something rats and mice are comfortable with. Do it long enough and their body weight can actually cause the tail to rip off. SO KNOCK IT OFF, FILMMAKERS.
- Shame they didn’t give Steinbeck a writing credit on this one.
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.