In what could be the most emotionally-taxing episode of AMC's "The Walking Dead" yet to air, Carol and Tyreese dealt tonight with the realities of the world they live in, and we finally got the endgame of the long-simmering plot that dealt with Lizzie's twisted worldview.
The episode started out fairly hopeful, but that hope deteriorated about two-thirds of the way in, and by the time it ended, all that was left was silence and despair for the survivors that made it out.
Check out 13 highlights from the episode "The Grove," which aired on Sunday, March 16. Warning: Spoilers ahead!
1. Back to the beginning
In the season's first episode, we saw that Lizzie was a bit cozier with the walkers than anybody was comfortable with. That's a recurring theme in this episode, and as it turns out, it has been all year long ... they just hid it from the camera and so we're getting the whole year's worth now.
2. Sophia, the past and the present
There's a fair amount of talk this episode about the art of parenting during the zombie apocalypse. We all know that Lori Grimes was one of the worst parents in the history of television, but nobody in Rick's group has had a particularly easy go of it except for Hershel, whose children were grown (or at least teenagers) by the time the outbreak occurred.
It's telling that Sophia has been brought up again and again. It seemed for a while as though the idea was to write Carol as someone who had moved beyond the loss of her daughter by essentially putting it out of her mind. The fact that we've seen that isn't true is not only solid characterization, but it ties her to Michonne in a way that neither of them is really aware of.
Meanwhile, the fact that Beth and Daryl were just talking about Sophia recently not only ties them to this group but reiterates a recurring theme in the second half of the fourth season: every death has weight. In a recent interview, Lauren Cohan said that she hates to lose any of her cast mates but that she's always a bit excited for the great story opportunities that come from losing a character. Hershel has been the hardest on everyone and, if these recent episodes are any indication, it's got everyone thinking.
3. She didn't have a mean bone in her body
Not only is this line used twice in the episode -- to refer first to Sophia and then to Mika, tying the two together -- but it seemingly echoes Daryl's statement from "Alone" that good people don't survive anymore.
"Is that why [Sophia] isn't here now?" Lizzie asks, and Carol tells her yes.
4. Always kill the walkers, Tyreese!
When Carl didn't kill the swamp walker back in the second season, it got Dale.
When Tyreese and company didn't kill Christopher's father in "Inmates," he reanimated and went after Beth and Daryl.
Now, Tyreese lets this one live. Why? Well, Lizzie wants him to. And I'm sure on some level he thinks, "Well, what harm can it do? It's got no legs. It can't chase anybody."
True enough. But neither could the one that bit Hershel's leg in the prison.
5. Gimme Shelter
It's hard to ignore the fact that while the whole premise of this year's episodes is that nobody has a place to stay following the fall of the prison, each of the groups we've spent the most time with have found well-kept, comfortable places to call home, if only for a night.
It begs the question: how few people are there left, really? Nobody is crashing in these places? Why?!
6. Lizzie really just likes the walkers too darn much
The fact that Lizzie not only begs Tyreese to spare the life of a walker but then has a fit when Mika kills one that's after them is strange behavior, even for Lizzie. While she's talked about the idea that walkers may not be inherently bad, that they've still got that person deep down inside of them ... well, she's killed people before when the circumstances called for it, and didn't seem to bat an eye after the fact. It really takes some of the wind out of her later claims that killing a walker is "the same as" killing a living person.
This is a theme throughout the episode, but arguably, the oddest instance of it is when she expresses regret that she shot Alisha (The Governor's agent who was preparing to kill Tyreese) in the head so she couldn't turn.
7. Fire, fire, fire
The timelines of the various groups of survivors are intersecting in interesting ways. It seems likely that this episode takes place prior to, or at least at the same time as, the previous one and that Daryl and Beth's fire at the bootlegger's house is what's causing all the smoke and charred walkers this week.
When the episode is released on Blu-ray and DVD, it might be interesting to see whether there's an official timeline in the features ... and whether some enterprising fans might cut the second half of the season together into something that's more familiar as "The Walking Dead," alternating between the characters in relatively real time instead of bouncing around between groups and timelines.
8. Look at the flowers
This is something that the girls got from their parents; a centering exercise to calm down Lizzie when she's stressed out: "Look at the flowers, and count to three." We see it a couple of times in this episode, including one particularly heartbreaking instance at the end.
9. Alas, poor Billy and Ben. We knew ye not at all.
As widely predicted, the story of Lizzie and Mika becomes a variation on the story of Billy and Ben, a pair of twin brothers from the comics.
Ben started torturing and dissecting animals and, ultimately, killed his brother Billy. When confronted about it, he told his fellow survivors not to worry -- that Billy would reanimate, since Ben had not damaged his brain. It's the epitome of "creepy kid" stories from Kirkman's comic, and for a while now, fans have figured it was only a matter of time before it turned out that Lizzie is Ben and poor, sweet Mika is Billy.
Of course, in the comics, the group was more or less all together when this occurred (plus, Tyreese and Carol were dead). They tied up Ben and kept him isolated while the group debated what to do, but Carl snuck in and killed Ben for the good of the group. Here, we get the same action out of Carol, although it takes a much more profound emotional toll on her since losing her "kids" again is such a conscious sacrifice and the realization of her worst fears.
10. Self-preservation ... and then not.
When Tyreese finally admits that he believes it's Lizzie who was feeding the walkers, and who killed Karen and David, Carol doesn't take the opening to admit that she's the one who killed them. She shifts the blame away from Lizzie, but stops short of offering any guidance that would help him figure out what actually happened.
There's a kind of self-preservation that she's had going on since she met up with Tyreese that involves not actually lying, but not volunteering information that she knows he would need if asked. At that point in the story, not yet having seen things through to the end with the girls, she still had something to lose if Tyreese had lost it and killed her.
Ironically, once she resolved that issue, she had nothing left to lose ... and it's arguably the realization that she'd already been as punished as she was going to get that helped Tyreese stay fairly calm.
11. Lizzie and Clara
Lizzie might not ever get to grow up, but we did get to see ? in the first episode of the season ? what it might be like if she did.
Like Lizzie, Clara had a hard time really coming to grips with the reality of what the walkers are. It's not entirely unheard-of, after all: that's how they eventually found Zombie Sophia -- Hershel believed the walkers to be "curable" and was keeping a bunch of them in his barn to save them for when help came.
And like Lizzie, Clara was prone to violence and emotional outbursts. She valued human life not just at the same level as the zombies, but seemingly even less. And she made the demand that Rick not kill her, but allow her to turn so that she could join her husband in his walker-dom.
12. Lost children
Lizzie and Mika are buried alongside the children of the people who used to live in the Grove. It's the first "decent burial" that any of our lost characters has had since the fall of the prison and it continues the theme of lost children that's been pervasive over the last few weeks.
We finally learned about Michonne's, while Sophia has been name-dropped more often in the course of a few episodes than she had been in all of the third season. There was the house where Michonne found the dead family and, of course, the recurring conversations that Rick, Carl and Michonne have had about Judith.
It could be argued that the whole second half of the season has been laying the groundwork for this particular episode and this tragic end for the girls.
13. Forgive, don't forget
This could be an interesting arc for Carol and Tyreese. It's hard to know just how much longer they have to be on the road together, but it seems as though it will be an uneasy time. He didn't kill her, he didn't lash out ... but he certainly can't be happy to know that he's traveling with the person he's been so furious with for (in-story time) a few weeks now.
Some random thoughts:
- Sophia (again)
The reasons for going back to Sophia so many times in this episode are many and varied, and should be fairly clear, but here are a couple of quick things:
Current showrunner Scott Gimple (the series' third in four years) really took the world of "The Walking Dead" by storm when he wrote "Pretty Much Dead Already," the episode in which Sophia emerges from the barn. It's a hugely important episode not just for our characters, but also for the behind-the-scenes folks, too.
In the comic books, Sophia is still alive and living with Maggie Greene. The pair had left Rick's group but are currently engaged in a multi-pronged "war" between various factions of survivors, including Rick's ... and one run by a maniac named Negan (think The Governor with two eyes and worse language) who is headquartered at a place called The Sanctuary.
- "30 Days Without an Accident"
Once again, we get multiple callbacks to the season premiere, "30 Days Without an Accident." That's where Carol's knife class came from, it's where we first saw the weird relationship Lizzie had with the walkers ...
... just about every episode since the break has made an explicit reference back to episode 1 of season 4. One has to wonder just what kind of bookend the showrunners have planned to make that really pay off in a few weeks when the season finale comes around.
- Around this time in the comics, I interviewed creator Robert Kirkman. He told me at the time that he had quietly managed a trick: His zombie survival drama had gone a full year without any of the characters actually being killed by a zombie. That period started with The Governor's prison siege in #48 and ended with the death of Dale Horvath during the "Beware the Hunters" storyline ... the beginning of which featured the Billy and Ben story.
In other words, we may be headed into a danger zone for somebody to end up walker food over the next two weeks ... or Lizzie might be right and it might be the people who are the real danger here.
- Hunting season
Deer are a very bad omen in this show, particularly for children. It was at the start of the second season when Carl was shot in the chest by Otis, who was aiming for a deer and didn't see Rick and Carl in the woods. This week, the episode is book-ended by them ... perhaps in a nod to Hershel, whose presence has been felt in nearly every episode since he died.
- "Of Mice and Men"
Observant viewers will note that the final scene from tonight's episode, in which Carol has to shoot Lizzie, is an almost beat-for-beat translation of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," in which a man is forced to kill his mentally-handicapped friend who represents a danger to the world around him after he kills someone close to him without any real malice in the action.