“Consumed” is another solid entry in a strong season, due in large part to being 42 minutes of two of the show’s best actors doing some quality work. The episode fills in what happened after Daryl and Carol drove off after the car with the white cross but before the former returns to the church with an unknown companion (dollars to donuts, it’s Noah). It’s also chockablock with flashbacks to Carol’s major subplots from season 4.
Basically, they end up back in downtown Atlanta staking out the kidnappers. Carol and Daryl wander around a bunch of high rises looking for clues and talking about their past lives. Oh, and driving a van off an overpass when they’re surrounded by walkers. Noah, freshly escaped from hospital hell, ambushes them and takes their weapons, but when fate pulls them back together the trio temporarily and reluctantly join forces to rescue Beth. Noah’s inexperience draws the attention of walkers and Officer Dawn’s cops, leading Carol to get hit by one of their cars and carted back to the hospital (I’m kinda disappointed her arrival wasn’t a trap).
Clearly this and last week’s episodes are functional place setting for the final confrontation, which will likely hit soon. I suspect most of next week will be gearing up for the battle, with the fight taking place in the mid-season finale after Abraham’s company wanders back to the church in episode 7. It also means we as an audience need to prepare for the untimely death of one of the group. Rick’s group is awfully large now, but with quite a few cannon fodder characters – plus Morgan still in woods. You can’t have a battle royale without a tragic death scene. I’d be surprised if Noah or Father Gabriel make it to 2015, but we could just as easily lose a fan favorite. I will freak out if they kill off Carol, and all of her moralizing and philosophizing recently leads me to think that’s where we’re headed. If they do axe her, we’ll lose not just a great character but the phenomenal Melissa McBride. Heaven help us all.
Out of everything, sorting out character development has been current showrunner Scott Gimple’s biggest success. He (rightly) realized the point of The Walking Dead isn’t the zombies but the people surviving them. It’s because of his attention to personal details that we can have an episode revolving around Carol be so dynamic. Season 1 Carol was about as interesting as a wet paper bag, but now I’d be totally happy if we never saw Rick again and spent the rest of the show hanging out with Carol, Daryl, and Beth. The sequence with the zombie mother and her child is one of the most powerful things the show has ever done. Letting Carol and Daryl experience it without commenting on how it makes them feel, save her soft “Thank you” at the end, made it even more meaningful. Subtlety is a great force when used properly. It’s only taken five seasons but the writers have learned to trust the audience. The zombie family in the halfway house doesn’t mean nearly as much without the audience knowing Carol as intimately as we do.
We don’t often see who these survivors were before the zombie apocalypse. Who they are now is not who they were before, yet, as Carol proves, they’ll never truly be able to shake off the past. Carol is stronger, better, tougher, and more practical than she ever could’ve hoped to be before the end of the world, yet here she is, holed up in a shelter for victims of domestic abuse just like she was before, and the thing that drew here there before – wanting to protect a young girl from a violent man – is fueling her today, albeit it in a slightly different format. We’ve gone so far back to the beginning that Beth is being held at the same hospital (the same room?) where Rick woke up. “Consumed” even treated us with a shot of the highway from the season 1 promo poster and the tank where Rick and Glenn met a million years ago. Rust Cohle was right: time is a flat circle and we’re all doomed to end where we started.
Carol is easily the most compelling character on TWD. She has suffered loss more than any other character. Rick gets his happy ending with Judith and Carl, Tyreese and Sasha still have each other, Maggie, Glenn, and Beth are a family (even if the marrieds have all but forgotten about Beth), and though Daryl and Michonne have both lost their entire families, they remain close with the rest of Rick’s group. Carol was always slightly apart from the group, so much so that she made wholesale decisions to kill people in the best interest of the larger community without even consulting anyone. You could think of it as myopic arrogance, or you could remember she spent most of her adult life living in fear of her husband.
She is used to acting without asking if it means to protect those dearest to her, to suffering the brunt of the pain so others are spared. And she’s used to accepting that terrible things happen to good people and resisting only makes it worse. Just imagine if Rick had the murder twins after the prison fire, or Michonne, or anyone else but Carol and Tyreese. The girls would’ve still gone mental, but I can’t see Rick or Michonne dealing with them and not having a psychotic break over it. Carol carries the agony and guilt of the murder twins alongside that of the sicklings at the prison and Sophie and all the times she couldn’t protect her daughter from her husband. Before she was a person who waited, now she’s a person who acts.
- “You said we get to start over. Did you?” “I’m trying.”
- “How did we get here?”
- “I mean, at the prison I got to be who I always thought I should be, thought I shoulda been.”
- Two more Easter eggs: we saw both the roof where Rick left Merle handcuffed to die and the grate Rick cut through during his escape.
- The only real critique I have is that we’ve already heard endless iterations of every conversation between Carol and Daryl. If the writers want to keep hitting those notes, they need to find a new way to do it. Their conversations didn’t add much to their personal development or the larger issue of morality in an amoral world.
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.