Mar 17 2014 10:00am

The Walking Dead, S4 E14 “The Grove”

“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.

Final Thoughts

  • “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.

Sky Thibedeau
1. SkylarkThibedeau
Called this one after 'Inmates'. COMIC SPOILER BELOW:



I've been expecting Lizzie and Mika to die since I realized their plot was taking the same arc as Ben and Billy in the comics. Ben and Billy were two kids from the Atlanta Camp taken in by Andrea and Dale when their parents died. Ben showed signs of being a little psycho being caught killing a cat. He killed his brother Billy to watch him come back.

I was expecting Lizzie and Mika to make it to terminus and for tonights episode to happen there with Carl being the one to dispatch Lizzie as he dispatched Ben in the comics.
2. Fuzzy_Dunlop
I think this episode really showcased everything that is good and terrible about the Walking Dead show. It puts the characters in a situation which could lead to serious emotional trauma for the viewer but under cuts itself by having never made me care about the people who die. While everything that happened was utterly tragic, I still felt removed from it. Carol and Tyreese showcase some serious acting chops but are hampered by exceptionally average writing. It's like the writers and actors can never sync up. You either get great dialogue delivered terribly or great acting over flimsy plot and characterization. But rarely do they ever meet.

The Mice and Men stuff was way to on the nose for me, referencing great works of literature should always be subtle, this was a reference as subtle as Lennie with a puppy.

This episode really made me want to just go play Telltale's game. Not only do they handle plot and characterization better, they make child characters I can actually care about. Clementine is Mika and Lizzie without the weakness or sociopathic tendencies. I actually started to wonder if the writers were trying to draw a line between the girls and Clem.
3. Colin R
The Lizzie/Mika storyline was... ok. If this was a self-contained episode, rather than part of a whole, it would be creepy and eerie. I didn't think the kid actors were that bad. In fact I thought it was kind of interesting that Mika is cogent in arguing with Carol about whether it is okay to kill or not. I found the episode creepy, but not very affecting--I guess I just didn't feel like there was enough investment in the relationship between the kids and adults. Or even the kids as sisters.

What I'm not sanguine about is the way this fits into the season as a whole. Carol's decision and the conflict with Tyrese basically just puttered out. When we first learned Carol killed Karen and David it was a powder keg capable of destroying the already delicate situation at the prison. But what did amount to? The prison was destroyed, and with it all the tension created there disolved away. Her banishment meant nothing, because most people didn't even know that she was banished. Carol's confession to Tyrese was well-acted, but the stakes were much lower than they once were.

And that ties into my second problem. There is a parallel here in the episode, and I'm not really sure it's one the show-runners have grasped, but they should have. Carol handles killing Lizzie because she is tougher than Tyrese. Tyrese is having a hard time coming to terms with loss, and with difficult decisions. Carol worries that Mika is soft, but Tyrese is soft too--unlike her, he's big and strong. Carol on the other hand isn't crazy like Lizzie, but she has a hard time grasping morality. She kills Lizzie, and maybe it's a merciful killing--but ultimately her killing Karen and David didn't actually help contain the sickness.

Tyrese knows that Carol is tougher than he is--I think he lets her lead him to believing that she was doing what she thought was best. Like Mika, he feels kind of sorry for the people who kill. And also deep down he probably knows that Carol is more capable of keeping Judith alive than he is. There was never much of a chance that he was going to kill or abandon Carol; he can't go on alone with a baby.

But, I don't trust the people making the show have noticed this parallel. I think that their vision of the show is so nihilistic that they don't actually see much of anything in Carol's actions other than a willingness to do difficult things. Killing Karen, David, and Lizzie are just things she did, not actions that have any moral meaning. I think it's possible to do a show about nihilism, but I don't think that means the show should be nihilistic about its own vision. If what they are aiming at is that morality has no meaning when civilization has died, they should commit more fully to that vision.
Bill Capossere
4. Billcap
This one just ticked me off. It was lazy, it was cheap. It was all predicated on a faux emotional response, a fake intellectual response: “a kid kills a kid, a kid is killed; therefore I should feel moved.” As opposed to actually moving an audience because they have connected with the characers.

And if you’re going to want to make something greater than its “shock” value, then two things to avoid are:
1) blatantly setting up the shock. Seriously, when Carol says “I should have seen it,” how can you have any other response than, “No shit.” The whole idyllic little Eden was so overplayed (not to mention George getting to feed the rabbits, er, zombies) that it was impossible not to see where this was going
2) Making the shocking event only able to happen due to blatant idiot plot manipulation. See Carol’s point above. Of course she should have seen it. But even if one wants to great them not seeing the psychosis, clearly the girl was not to be trusted caring for a child. She doesn’t think zombies are bad, she doesn’t let you kill them, she “plays” with them, and when one bursts out and she’s holding the baby, she does nothing, I repeat, nothing, to escape. Yet the two adults go blithely wondering around together without any reason whatsoever. None. Parents wouldn’t leave those kids alone with a baby in a McMansion in a gated community filled with Volvos and white picket fences, yet these two wander off all the time. (and really, where are these people getting all their bullets? And whatever happened to not making unnecessary noise?

No, this episode showed contempt most of the time for the audience: “The audience will feel bad because we’ll have one kid kill another kid and then we’ll have an adult kill a kid. That’s all we need.” This could have been great. Spend your time. Build your characters. Let us know these kids. Let us feel for them. The one we slowly see broken. The sweet one. Let us feel the sense of tragic fate in this world. Then give us reasons for the tragedy to occur. Don’t have it be because once again people repeatedly do stupid things so plot can happen. It didn’t even make any sense, killing her so she would change. Why? Why now? Why just after Carol killed her “friend”? Don’t wave it away with “she’s crazy”—it’s cheap and lazy.

Hated this episode. Absolutely hated it (save for 4 or 5 minutes between the adults)
5. themaniel
As far as the characters running into each other: the author of this article clearly has zero clue how big a 20 square mile area is to think that 4 groups of people would randomly walk into each other in area of land that big. Example: Post prison in a single day Ricks group travels 8 miles North, Daryl travels 7 miles Northwest, Glenn travels 5 miles south, then gets in a car for X amount of miles, while Maggies goes Southeast for 6 miles. Sure they pass by the same spots a few days apart, but that is a HUGE swath of land.
Alex Brown
6. AlexBrown
@SkylarkThibedeau: Yep. I don't recall that plot in the comics - must've been after I abandoned them for the sunnier climes of Preacher - but I've seen a lot of references to it. But like you, I assumed they'd make it to Terminus before getting killed off.

@Fuzzy_Dunlop, Colin R, Billcap: I didn't outright hate this ep, but I didn't care for any of it outside of that penultimate scene...well, the earlier chatty scene with Tyrese and Carol was pretty good, too. But I was especially annoyed that they just brushed aside her excommunication and executions like they were nothing. They weren't, and everyone in the show seems to agree with that, but the only way to have Tyrese move on was to have her confess after he's already come to terms with something far worse. It cheapened Lizzie and Mika's storyline, and dragged down Tyrese and Carol's as well. He has to move on from Karen, I totally get that. But he doesn't have to forgive her. He can be conflicted and hypocritical, that's what people do.

Colin R: I especially like your last point about the writers not fully getting Carol's complex morality, and think you're dead on. They do have some sense of it at least - they had Carol burst into tears over Tyrese and Mika, after all - but the emotional heft that should've come from the script came entirely from Melissa McBride. The script was, like usual, half-assed at best. Tyrese is still developing as a character, but he's come a helluva long way since the first half of season 4. But Melissa McBride, like Norman Reedus, has taken her empty character and imbued her with depth and diversity. At the rate characters are expanding, I'm ready to see everyone die at Terminus except Michonne, Carl, Beth, Daryl, Carol, Tyrese, Bob, and Judith. Let them be season 5. I'm all for it.

@thamniel: Well, no. I've lived 29 of my 31 years in rural/country areas. I know precisely how vast 20 country miles is. The point I've been making is that the writers clearly don't. They haven't used that 20 mile radius. Instead they keep having the ex-prisoners circle back on each other and pass like ships in the night. They keep seeing evidence of each other but don't once stop to think about it. Daryl is supposed to be this master tracker and the writers would have us believe he couldn't find evidence of his friends' wanderings? Bull.

None of which excuses the fact that they never made an escape plan while at the prison. It's such a basic concept. Even Carol mentions it as soon as Tyrese suggests they stay at the farm house. Why didn't they do that before? Or at least a rendezvous point, for Pete's sake.
7. Wes S.
"Escape plans?" "Rendezvous points?" Seriously, when have any of TWD's major characters (save for, occasionally, Daryl and Michonne) shown any survival skills at all? Remember the whole summer-campout-in-the-woods thing from the first season, for example? The whole lot of 'em should have been either zombiefied or zombie poop by the third episode.

Seriously, you'd think none of the characters had ever read or watched any zombie fiction (which, to be fair, with few exceptions seems to be characteristic of the genre).

And as for contrived plot devices, it sure seems that sometime after the first season the writers mostly quit writing horror and started writing Days of Our Lives with zombies instead. That's pretty much why I've given up watching the series on a consistent basic for the past couple of seasons, and am about to give up on it entirely.

...Or maybe I'm being unfair. Let's face it: When you can go to Cabela's or one of the other big-box sporting goods stores and buy zombie-themed live ammunition (Hornady's "Zombie-Max") and anti-zombie pepper spray, you've got to figure the whole genre has well and truly jumped the undead shark.
Sara H
8. LadyBelaine
I think Imma gonna hafta break up with this show. Setting aside the very dark tone and subject matter - this episode alone makes me want to eat like eighten boxes of oreos and toss back gallons of red wine - it's just that these people are idiots and the world building really makes no sense.

If we are to pretend that the zombie apocolypse is a Thing, I really need someone to explain how everything was overrun, and why no one has any real ability to plan for anything. Maggie looking for walkers so she can kill them and use them as writing supplies? Wouldn't have been easier to just find some spray paint? I also don't really understand where all the walkers keep coming from.... I mean, do they just keep walking, endlessly waiting to happen upon prey? Do they retain some vestigal hunting instincts because they have a knack for hiding in dark places them pouncing... the episode with Darryl in the funeral home or the country club - where did they all come from? Where they inside, chilling, waiting for stoopid live humans to move in and then Yum? When they herd, do they have a goal, like following the movements of the sun?

I know, I know, its just a television show but a show that takes itself so very seriously, it really needs to have answers to basic questions.
9. REWaters
I agree with your assessment of the episode for the most part, but I don't agree with your assessment that the various groups should have bumped into each other by now. When you are on foot, without the luxury of vehicles and fast travel, a mile is a long distance between groups, especially if you are not moving in the same direction, at the same speed, OR, if you are on different lengths of the same train track. Hell, even during the Civil War, you had huge armies not more than fice miles apart that had no idea of the other's presence.
Alex Brown
10. AlexBrown
@Wes S.: In fairness, Kirkman has said that the concept of "zombies" doesn't exist in their world, so no, they haven't got a baseline for that. However, I think it's a kinda stupid conceit and that it'd be so much easier if they had a frame of reference.

@LadyBelaine: If "The Grove" is your breaking point, I totally understand. I ditched the comics shortly after another unexpected, tragic, and violent death of a child that occurred simply for the sake of gore and shock value. I hit that panel and literally said, "Nope." and was done. I read another volume or two, but I have no memory of anything post that panel. And you couldn't make me pick up the comics again for anything.

However, to answer your particular questions:
---Maggie had a sharpie, but she was pissed and wanted to do some punching and stuff, so she killed two birds with one stone, so to speak.
---It has been established that there are 2 kinds of zombies: roamers, who wander around looking for noms, and lurkers, who chillax where they are until noms wander by. Get enough roamers and they form a herd. No vestigial instincts have been determined; they just hang out in the dark because it's a horror show and the dark is spooky.
---The zombies that attacked the funeral home are, as of now, still unexplained. My theory is that the asshole that drove off with Beth lured them there as part of his plan. The one-eyed dog may or may not have been involved.
---The herd probably doesn't have a "goal." Things like to clump together, sentient or otherwise. Jellyfish aren't particularly intelligent by any means, but even they will herd together and roam the seas looking for noms. Zombies are basically land-based jellyfish.

@REWaters: True, but, given the tons of historical evidence the show has provided, I'm still going with rampant incompetence.
11. Matt Mikalatos
Thank you. Great review and exactly right. I abandoned the comics a while ago and the show is doing its best to be abandoned also. Pretty sure if they just stopped following the comics at all we'd have a stronger show with more surprises....
12. rfresa
This is a world where death really is a kindness. It needs someone like Carol who can understand when it is needed and do it quietly and dutifully. Lizzie needed that kindness badly. I disagree that her mental illness came out of nowhere. She was seriously creepy from day one, and her treatment of baby Judith was more than enough to sell her insanity.

This whole show is based on shock and gore. If it wasn't, then more of the characters would do smart things like build traps and fortifications and try to actually lower the number of zombies walking around, like Morgan in "Clear". The fact that they consistently fail to use common sense is so that the writers and directors can continue to bombard us with suspenseful music and walkers suddenly appearing out of nowhere. It's a horror show, so it has to do horror things. I've accepted that, because I otherwise enjoy the show. I just suspend my disbelief and occasionally roll my eyes.

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