When does despair and grief threaten to consume all who we are? This week’s The Walking Dead episode, “Consumed,” spends the entire hour with Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride) and Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus), allowing the characters to explore who they are and what they’ve become in the aftermath of last season and the encounter at Terminus.
Fire consumes and cleanses; purifies and destroys, and fire was a prevalent symbol throughout this week’s Walking Dead. We see the prison consumed by the firestorm wrought last season by the Governor; we observe Daryl commit the body of a dead zombie to fire in an act of kindness (toward both the zombie and towards Carol). We observe the city of Atlanta, a burnt out hull of a metropolis. Fires burn, too, in Carol’s flashbacks to season four and the hell she goes through after Rick leaves her to fend for herself.
Both Carol and Daryl have been through fires of hell that would make Dante blush, but through the process each has been transformed; transcending their tortured pasts. Crushed glass submerged and consumed by fire, re-formed into something different: harder, more resilient, yet maintaining the essence of who they are.
As the two wend their way through Atlanta, they find shelter in a place Carol knows quite well: a home for battered wives and abused children. She would, pre-apocalypse, flee there from Ed, only to return, afraid to stay, resolve crumbling, only to become again the victim of a brutal man. When we first meet her in season one, she is very much that terrified, beaten-down woman, yet here she is, not so long after, toughened, unafraid. But she has also become cold in ways that seem to horrify her. When she meets up with the group post-Terminus, the hero of the fight, she feels aimless–an outsider. What has she become, she must wonder? And Daryl not happened upon her outside the church sanctuary, she might have fled and once again been out on her own.
Daryl has also grown, transformed from a belligerent sociopath into a dark knight; his humanity intact, and perceptive enough to bring Carol down from the darkness that threatens to consume her. It is telling, that while seeking refuge in the battered women’s shelter, Daryl pockets a book on surviving childhood abuse. As he has slowly come out of himself, even in the face (or perhaps because) of the horror of their lives as survivors, he is beginning to understand himself a little more. The “old” Daryl had burned away a long time ago, reformed–reshaped–into a stronger, but more empathic man. But how can he come to terms with where he’s been, all he’s been through, and yet, through this terrible ordeal finding it within himself not to be that brutalized boy, and instead a man of great humanity and strength?
Carol is really struggling here, not at all having come to terms with actions, as her mind flashing back to the circles of hell through which she has crawled since being removed from camp. Who has she become? What has she become? And in the final analysis, is she still suited for life with the tribe of survivors with whom she’s lived since the zombies came?
Daryl insists they get to start over (and over). But Carol doubts it, I think. Yes, she has started over–several times, but does she still have it in her? Can she recapture the humanity she thinks she’s sacrificed to the god of survival? Or is it up in flames?
Daryl sees this and guides her path back to who she is. It is stunning for her to observe the zombie mother and daughter at the shelter–shadows of her old self–and Sophia. But when she wants to put knife to their heads and end their un-lives, Daryl stays her hand. She doesn’t have to do this. “It’s alright,” he tells her. And while she is asleep, regenerating, he does it himself, paying them the honor of wrapping them in muslin before committing them to the flames.
Later in the episode, again Daryl stops Carol, this time from from murdering Noah in cold blood, reminding her that Noah is just a frightened kid and doesn’t deserve to die. And when, eventually, Noah is in danger of dying, Daryl walks away–but not too far. He needs Carol to realize that she does still possess her humanity, and cannot let Noah die. And she does.
The two characters are essential to each other; they need each other to hang on and keep going. They each are better with the other nearby for support. Although Carol protests to Daryl that “You don’t know me,” he knows better, responding sharply (but with affection), “You keep tellin’ yourself that!”
But Carol actually fears that in the aftermath of season four, much of who she’d become had been burned up. Just as the pushover, battered Carol had been burned up, just as Sophia had been burned away, she believes all who she’d become at the prison–the leader, the nurturer is gone to ash. “Now everything consumes you,” she laments.
But again, Daryl retorts, “We ain’t ashes.” They’re both still there, still fighting for survival, still trying to stay on the human side of the line, even in the face of despair.
And in the end, after Carol is hit by a car and taken away into the Hospital of Horrors (and horrible Dawn), Daryl must go against every instinct in his body and trust Noah. Or Carol will be lost to him forever. And Beth will never be found.
I really like these quieter episodes in between the chaos and action-laced episodes. I’m a character junkie, so spending time to get a little deeper into Carol and Daryl’s stories makes me very, very happy. And although the episode was not action-packed, it was taut and as intense as any episode in the series, leaving me breathless at every commercial break.
And about that van scene: Yes, the damned van landed on its feet (or wheels), and against all odds, defying all logic. But there is an irony written all over that improbable moment. How many times have Daryl and Carol each landed on their feet against all sense? Daryl has not only survived a brutal childhood (presumably at the hands of both his father and Merle), but has emerged like a phoenix from the ashes of the zombie apocalypse. Likewise Carol has emerged cat-like, on her feet, when all bets would have been on her destruction several seasons ago.
Next week looks like we’re back into the thick of it as everyone’s reunited to descend upon the hospital and rescue Carol and Beth. Can’t wait!
- That was some incredible scene at the bridge, likely forevermore to be known as “the van scene.” And of course the irony that, having survived the crash, Carol is taken out by a speeding station wagon.
- I loved Carol’s assessment of how Daryl has changed since she’s known him. “You were a kid; now you’re a man.”
- That was badass, driving the car off the bridge. (And, yes, I realize that many of you all doubt the logic of the van landing on its feet against all odds–see comment above!)
- Daryl smokes Morley cigarettes! Flashing on The X-Files and the Cigarette Smoking Man. Man, if Mulder and Scully had Daryl on their side (with his trusty crossbow, they’d have certainly beat the syndicate!)
- Fantastic acting tonight from Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride. Beautiful, emotional, nuanced. Perfect.
Be sure to tune into Blogcritics’ Let’s Talk TV Live this Tuesday as we deconstruct the episode and speculate on what’s going to happen in the final two episodes The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights on AMC.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00FN5Z8UY,B009NH6AOQ,B0049P1VHS,B005LAJ22Q,1607060760]