The Walking Dead: The Same Boat

Posted on March 14, 2016


The Walking Dead isn’t really a show that does character arcs to any great extent. Part of that comes down to the fact that the majority of its characters have limited life spans, but that excuse only gets you so far when you’re talking about the main core of characters, most of whom have been in the story for a long time now. When you look at the mains, most of them are just locked-in and more concentrated versions of the characters as you first met them. Sure, Daryl’s not quite the angry redneck he once was nor is Rick the tight-assed lawman of yore, but they’re both simply more hardened and tempered versions of the people they used to be. Daryl’s now a zen-quiet, but badass redneck and Rick is now a tight-assed dictator with much more violent tendencies. Michonne is the taciturn ninja with a heart of gold, Glen is the capital-G Good Guy, Maggie is the capital-G Good Girl, Carl is the boy-becoming-a-man. We’ve seen them all face incredible hardships and horror and come out the other side of it each time, but they are all essentially the same characters they’ve always been. With the exception of Carol, of course.

Unlike all of the other long-term characters, Carol went through a fundamental change of personality during the course of the story, from abused spouse and mousey follower to hardened soldier, brilliant tactician, and sometimes alarmingly casual murderer. In a story populated with more than its share of badasses, Carol was the easiest badass to love because we lived her origin story right alongside her as it happened. In some ways, that relationship Carol has with the audience – which is somewhat unique among Walking Dead characters – is what fueled this episode as we watched our badass pretend to regress back to her meek beginnings only to reveal, to our shock, that she wasn’t pretending as much as we thought.

This has been building for a while with Carol. It’s not believable or even interesting to have her character be a relentlessly competent badass at all times.  Even the superheroic Michonne got her sharper edges softened by motherhood, just as Daryl had his more violent tendencies tempered by fierce loyalty and love. Carol’s relationship with the doomed Sam and subsequent feelings of guilt over his death, along with Morgan’s judgment of her, the comforting allure of domestic suburbia after months of living in it –  even Maggie’s pregnancy – all combined to form this perfect storm of near-fatal introspection for a character who’s been defined by her defiant lack of overthinking things. In addition, she came face-to-face with her own doppelganger in Paula, a woman who made roughly the same journey from mouse to badass that Carol did. There’s no way you’re not going to wonder about your choices when a person exactly like you in every way turns out to be a psychotic asshole.

It’s a shame, however,  that the writing wasn’t up to the task here. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect a character like Carol to go through a PTSD-infused moral panic attack. The problem is that her actions and motivations were so muddled and inconsistent throughout the episode that the whole thing became difficult to sustain. We’re not even sure if Carol’s hyperventilating was a put-on or not. The writing wasn’t always clear as to whether we were watching a cooly calm Carol assessing the situation and playing a part to get the better of her captors or whether we were watching a true meltdown. We suspect the point was that it was a little bit of both and that Carol doesn’t know who she is anymore. But if so, what was the point of Carol telling her captors that Maggie was pregnant? Surely Carol (and the writers of this episode) didn’t think a bunch of women were suddenly going to lower their guns in solidarity with their pregnant sister, did she? There’s “questioning my moral code” and then there’s “just being plain stupid;” a distinction that kept playing out with Carol throughout the episode as she hued to one of The Walking Dead‘s most consistent character norms: When a character is having a moral crisis, they suddenly forget every single thing they learned that allowed them to stay alive this long. In other words, once again the world of TWD associates a lack of eagerness to kill with extreme stupidity.

It doesn’t help that this show has such a long and boring history of killing characters off right after they have a a bout of moral confusion or despair, exactly like the one Carol’s been shuffling through.Nor does it help to stage these bouts of moral panic in the middle of situations that don’t exactly set them off well. It’s one thing to wonder if killing sleeping people in their beds is the right thing to do, it’s quite another to wonder about it when you and what is ostensibly one of your family members is in mortal danger. When people are pointing guns at you and knifing your pregnant friend, get off your high horse and just shoot your gun, like you have dozens of times before.

To be fair, Carol’s weariness with all the violence came across, even as she was putting bullets into people or lighting them on fire, but that had more to do with Melissa McBride’s ability to fully inhabit this character after playing her so long. It had little to do with the writing, which was, as far as we could see, very typical for the kind of episode this show always gives characters it’s about to kill off. We’re hoping this is all a fakeout because we like Carol, but we have to admit we’re long past due for a big death that truly means something to the characters and the audience. We just wouldn’t want to see Carol’s last storyline have her acting so dumb and inconsistent.

In other news, we realize we’re all supposed to be lulled into a false sense of security, just like the characters are, but so far, every group of Negan’s followers they’ve come across have been total pushovers in the end. In a way, it’ll be an unearned shock when the big showdown finally comes and they all suddenly become much more competent than previously depicted.


blog comments powered by Disqus

Please review our Community Guidelines before posting a comment. Thank you!