Sunday, March 23, 2014

THE WALKING DEAD Pauses to Mourn at "The Grove"

Article originally written for Seat42F.

Last night’s episode of THE WALKING DEAD, “The Grove,” is a rough one to watch. It is an entry that illustrates the very real moral struggles in this new world. It also poses a tough dilemma for two of our main characters, who contemplate doing something that is unquestionably bad, but also clearly necessary. If you haven’t seen the hour yet, grab a box of tissues, hunker down, then return to this review when you’re done.

Like other episodes this half-season, “The Grove” features only one surviving group from the prison as they continue their journey towards Terminus. While searching for water, Carol (Melissa McBride) and Mika (Kyla Kenedy) come across an abandoned house in a pecan grove, an ideal setting to rest. They need a pause as Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) is fighting off infection and fever from his arm wound, which Carol treats. And, for a time, all three consider building a life here, rather than continuing on, until events make it impossible for them to stay with the memories of what transpires.

This isn’t the first time some of the characters on THE WALKING DEAD are tempted by relative, temporary safety, rather than feeling it’s necessary to push on and find everyone else. Is this because they don’t trust strangers after what The Governor did to them? Do they think all their friends are dead? Or are they just exhausted from traveling? Or maybe it’s because they’re just trying to recapture the appearance of normalcy, as Tyreese and Mika seem to do, relaxing in a real living room.

But as any viewers know, these reprieves are destined to be short-lived. This time, the threat that propels them forwards comes from inside their little group, rather than outside. That’s because there’s a fourth member of this company I haven’t mentioned yet – Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino).

Fans already assume that Lizzie is the one who fed the walkers rats at the prison, as well as dissected the rodent down in the tombs. We see her callously stabbing bunnies a few weeks ago. She has all the makings of a psychopath.

But Lizzie’s situation is more precarious than that. She may be hard-hearted against animals, but she loves walkers. She thinks the human being they were is still present inside of them, and with a little effort, they can overcome their people-eating impulses. She decides to prove her theory, which she definitely whole-heartedly believes, to the adults by turning her sweet sister Mika into a walker, stabbing her to death, but not in the brain.

If I hadn’t read the comics in which a pair of twin boys have a similar, less developed story, I wouldn’t have seen this coming, even after Lizzie’s “I know what I have to do,” coming on the heels of her feeling guilty for killing walkers in self-defense. Television shies away from child violence, especially against those so young, and “The Grove” does dance around the issue, declining to show much. Still, the fact that the writers go here is a bold move for any network.

It’s sad because we know Lizzie is just trying to be good and help others. Carol and Tyreese are faced with a real conundrum because they and baby Judith are not safe around Lizzie, but can anyone bring themselves to kill a misguided child? It’s not like Lizzie’s behavior screams evil, even if her deeds do. She’s begging them to love her, and Carol, at least, does. In the modern world, Lizzie could go to a psychiatric hospital and seek help. But here, there is no such luxury in THE WALKING DEAD.

And so Carol puts Lizzie down. She has to. I don’t think Tyreese, gentle giant that he is, could have done it, but he doesn’t object or try to stop Carol. He understands they are in a terrible position, having talked it through, and something must be done. It isn’t easy for Carol, either, as we see, but as she has in the past, Carol does what she has to for the good of the group.

This opens the door to resolve the whole Karen situation, which hangs over Tyreese and Carol throughout “The Grove” and before. Carol was banished for murdering Karen and another guy to stop the spread of a virus, but Tyreese loved Karen and doesn’t yet know Carol is responsible. Charred walkers, presumably coming from the fire that Beth and Daryl set two weeks ago, reawaken Karen’s memory, as she was burned, and Tyreese struggles with nightmares. As he confides these feelings to Carol, the only other adult present, viewers can see how hard it is for Carol not to confess.

Carol is a good person at heart. She only hurts others when it’s necessary. If she told Tyreese the truth early in this episode, though, Tyreese would not have been able to handle it. Only after Tyreese sees how hard it is for Carol to kill Lizzie is he able to understand and forgive Carol when she finally gets her secret off her chest. It’s the timing of the revelation, more than anything, that allows the two to stay together.

One has to wonder if Carol wants to die when she tells Tyreese the truth. Taking out Lizzie, whom Carol saw as a surrogate daughter, does a number on the woman, who can’t even kill a deer in the aftermath. Plus, the parallels between Mika and Carol’s own daughter, Sophia, are strong, so that’s another blow against Carol. As she hands Tyreese a gun and awaits his reaction, she might actually think she deserves to die, and might crave it just a little bit.

But Tyreese is better than that. As Lizzie told him, misguided as she was at the time, killing isn’t always necessary. In this instance, Tyreese needs Carol to get him and Judith safely to Terminus. And I do think he respects her for doing what he couldn’t in regards to Lizzie. He’ll be wary around Carol for here on out, but their bond isn’t completely broken.

One has to respect the amount of foreshadowing and through-lines in this hour. When our heroes first get to the grove, they see three graves, one with baby booties. This may trick some in the audience into thinking Judith will die along with two others, which is only narrowly avoided. There’s also a lot of repetition of lines such as “it’ll all work out” and being a good person isn’t enough, often meaning something else in subsequent deliveries. These make for a very cohesive, strongly written episode, raising the overall quality considerably.

I can’t end this without comment on the first scene shown being set mid-episode, as this is a trope I’ve frequently complained about in other reviews lately. Yet, somehow, it didn’t bother me here. It may be because it wasn’t initially obvious that’s what the scene was. It may be because it was artistically done, not merely included to smack the audience in the face with a hook. Whatever the reason, THE WALKING DEAD, unlike most series, made it work.

“The Grove” is an excellent, emotional episode. The two young girls do all right, not the strongest performances, but not bad for someone of their age. Coleman is terrific, and McBride is really something to watch, her feelings definitely communicated well to viewers as the character struggles with herself and this awful existence. This will be a memorable installment, a stand out in a consistently fantastic string of episodes, largely because of the acting abilities of McBride and Coleman.

THE WALKING DEAD airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.

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