*This review contains spoilers.
There comes a point in a TV series where all that has come before can be encapsulated in an episode, even if all the main characters are not present. Such is the case for season 6 episode 13 “The Same Boat,” which focuses on Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Carol (Melissa McBride) after they have been abducted by a splinter group of the Saviors. The heft of what the group has done to survive collides head-on with the ramifications of those actions, leaving a grisly feeling that the worst is yet to come.
Looking back on previous episodes and seasons, the survivors in our group led by former sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) have become increasingly adept at being killers – this by nature of the series landscape means the killing of living people. One can argue that when they dispatch the walkers (the reanimated corpses) they are not killing but that may also be grasping at straws. In either case our survivors have become inured to the procedural they must follow – it is kill or be killed.
What makes “The Same Boat” so compelling is that Maggie and Carol have been imprisoned by three female Saviors and one male. Donnie (Russ Blackwell) has been shot in the arm by Carol, who suddenly has developed something of a conscience and is even keeping a list of her human kills. The old Carol would have shot him in the head and been done with it. The leader of this group is Paula (in a towering performance by guest star Alicia Witt) and she and her other female cohorts are running the show with Donnie in the shadows moaning about his wound.
With Carol and Maggie bound and gagged, we get some background on these Saviors. An older woman named Molls (Jill jane Clements) is coughing up blood and still smoking cigarettes, and the younger one Michelle (Jeananne Goossen) is a good soldier following Paula’s lead. When Carol starts up an act of hyperventilating, they all marvel at how she has survived this long. Carol is asked what she is afraid of, and most of us who have come to know and love Carol would usually say “Nothing,” but that kill list seems to be coming back to haunt Carol like Marley’s Ghost.
We learned about the Saviors earlier in the season when a group of them stopped Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), Daryl (Norman Reedus), and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) on the road and threatened their lives. Daryl’s quick thinking and use of an RPG stopped and pulverized that bunch, but this is how they learned about the Saviors and their leader Negan. Later on when our survivors went to the Hilltop community and made a deal – one that Maggie worked out – for food, the stage was set for Rick and company to eliminate the Saviors as part of the bargain.
Last week a firefight in an abandoned satellite station left at least 40 or more Saviors dead, but Paula and her group witnessed this and took Maggie and Carol hostage. Rick had a bargaining chip though – a Savior named Primo (Jimmy Gonzalez) who apparently has medical skills, ones Paula needs to patch up good old cranky Donnie.
What happens inside the makeshift prison (an old animal slaughterhouse) is a game of cat and mouse – or in the case of Carol and Paula it could be argued a match of cat verses cat. Melissa McBride (it is inconceivable that she has yet to receive an Emmy nomination for her amazing work in this role) pulls out all the stops, making us wonder if Carol is heading off the deep end. Even Maggie is not certain what’s happening when Carol reveals to their captors that she is pregnant. Is this a calculated risk or just a case of Carol losing it?
Alicia Witt matches McBride in the intensity of her portrayal of Paula, a woman who is literally and figuratively in the same boat as Carol – Paula lost her husband and four daughters. While Carol seems to be developing an aversion to killing, Paula has no such luxury – it’s survival of the fittest and the Saviors apparently do that well (at least until they encountered Rick and company).
The episode brings up some serious questions about this post-apocalyptic world where zombies roam and humans must do despicably inhumane things in order to avoid becoming one of the undead. Pitting females against each other raises the bar in what seems to still be a man’s world – Rick is our group’s leader and Negan leads the Saviors. Still, there is room for female empowerment as witnessed here, as long as the women are willing to get with the program.
As a formerly battered wife, we have watched Carol evolve into commando, cookie maker, and shrewd character who plays the part she knows others want her to be. While we think we know the real Carol – the one who tells Lizzie to smell the flowers before putting a bullet in her head – this episode makes us question everything.
Cohan as Maggie also registers a strong performance and one that continues the exploration of femininity after the zombie horde. Michelle takes her into another room to interrogate her, but just as Carol and Paula are in the same boat we find so too are these younger women – both have lost their fathers. Michelle actually reveals much more to Maggie than Maggie lets her know – Michelle also lost a baby and its father was killed by Daryl. Maggie insists that having the baby is the right choice, but Michelle feels that she is deluding herself.
Michelle tells Maggie, “You’re not the good guys.” Now, we know Maggie and Carol and Rick and Glenn and the rest. We have been with them for these six seasons, and we have invested enough emotional capital that we want them to still be the good guys, but each week they are forced to do reprehensible things – like killing Saviors in their sleep last week. Still, when Glenn looks at the Polaroids on the wall, he sees that they are taking pictures of humans with bashed in skulls – so what level of good you are is contingent on not just how you kill but how you live.
When Paula realizes too late that Carol was putting on an act she asks her what she was so afraid of, and as Carol points a gun at her she says, “I was afraid of this.” So perhaps Carol has hit a breaking point, but in the end Maggie and Carol manage to kill their captors, and Paula is dispatched by a walker after a fight with Carol. Her demise brings a whole new meaning to the term “sucking face.”
When other Saviors arrive on the scene to rescue Paula, Carol and Maggie lure them into a “Kill Room” where they do just that. Having already spilled gasoline on the floor, Carol throws in her cigarette and they lock the door. It is clear that both women have reached the end of the road with this act – but there is no going back now, not for Maggie and Carol, and not for anyone else who still lives in these grim times.
When Rick, Glenn, and company arrive on the scene, Carol falls into Daryl’s arms (I know, we have been waiting for that one) and Maggie into Glenn’s. Rick is dragging Primo along and asks about Negan, and Primo cockily says that he is Negan. Rick does not bat an eye as he puts a bullet in the guy’s head. Carol watches this execution and you can tell she is thinking, “What have we become?”
To backtrack a little during their captivity Maggie and Carol asked about Negan, and Molls said, “We are all Negan.” Now, many of those who read the comics or know about casting news know that there is a Negan character coming soon to a TV screen near you. Still, the concept that they are all representative of their leader sounds a little like they have been drinking Jim Jones Kool-Aid.
The real Negan is going to have a bone to pick with Rick and his group, who by my calculation have now killed at least 60 Saviors. We can imagine that Negan is going to want a pound of flesh, and the question is how far Rick and company will have to go to stop him. Or perhaps that is not a question at all. Carol was like Paula; Maggie was like Michelle, and we can surmise Rick and Negan are more alike than different – after all, now we know they are all in the same boat, but after the end of the world wouldn’t we all be?
Photo credits: AMC