Remember how I was explaning how The Walking Dead is more than swarms of attacking zombies and important characters dying? Well, that mindset never met with Scott Gimple’s intentions this week. The new showrunner for the flagship series, Gimple waved his magic writing wand around such classics as “Clear” and “Save the Last One,” and he ends up striking gold yet again with “The Grove.”
Interestingly enough, he manages to heighten the suspense and intensity of this week’s conclusion by initially exhibiting the same kind of exploits we’ve`had to experience with every other group already. Carol and Tyresse are just trying to find a place to call home, one sufficient enough that the girls could feel safe from harm more often than not. Ironic, considering the main threat has been under their nose for quite some time. We haven’t explored too much into the lives of either Lizzie and Mika since they’ve been introduced, but boy, the way one of them showed their true colors will be real hard to forget…
Thankfully, there was enough background in previous episodes to create a solid comparison between the sisters and gear us up for how the second half of tonight’s proceedings would develop. Mika’s too goody-goody to wanna have to kill any live, non-brain-dead human being. The scene with the deer reiterated that, and made it very clear that she’s an unreliable, vulnerable piece for any group to survive in the long run. In regards to those who have turned, or basically walkers in general, Lizzie is totally different. It’s one thing for someone her age to keep hope alive over the idea that maybe the people they once were are still there somewhere, but Gimple’s interpretation of Lizzie’s logic is both gonzo in a larger perspective and mentally horrific for the characters on the show to realize in person. Not only did she indeed feed the walkers with the mice that Rick found within the prison, but she believes she can connect with them the same way we can with each other in real life. In her unfortunately psychotic mind, these walkers are willing to communicate, to reach out to us for comfort and counsel. She thinks they’re good natured and wants them as friends.
The beginning scene for tonight’s episode, with who I believe to be the two sisters playing around in their old backyard, was paralleled with Lizzie doing the exact same thing with a walker later on, an excellent callback to how it all went downhill for her in the present. Her reaction to Carol killing it to protect her was incredibly frightful, but set off all the right alarms for those of us who’d hoped she was only playing dumb. We could all see the rest of the episode getting darker from there, but one of the nicest touches that Gimple added to the recipe were the false promises. Throughout the entire episode, Mika tried her darndest and her hardest to help Lizzie. This is her sister, we’re talking about, and she’s smart enough to be well aware of the crazy s#!* she’s capable of at the flick of a switch. Even the slight zombie breakout near the new home has us all wondering whether Lizzie was going through a childhood phase or was just crazy. But there’s no such thing as a basic psychological resolve in a show like The Walking Dead, and most realists were probably preparing for the storm that was destined to follow. The fact that Mika’s conversations with Lizzie all went for naught, coupled with Lizzie killing her to prove her point about the walkers, was spectacularly sad and unforgivingly startling. It was a moment in time where the show basically toyed with our minds throughout the first half with empty, symbolical instances and constant scenes of dialogue, just to suddenly beat us down to the ground emotionally and mutter “Didn’t think we could do that, huh?” with so much conviction that we almost cried. Very few other instances throughout television history can dare to be mentioned with the same impact and punch.
But of course this was only just a training exercise for the blood and tears that would immediately follow. Carol’s evolution this season has been outstanding, and it played perfectly into the ultimate climax of her executing Lizzie to protect the group. In case some of you missed it, Lizzie was prepared to murder Judith next. This was something she (Carol) simply had to do. She even says that to Tyresse when all is said and done. But that scene can’t, and absolutely won’t, go without its just mentioning. The final talk outside between her and Lizzie was as heavy as possible, with the young killer misinterpreting Carol’s insistance to have her stare at the flowers as Carol being disappointed in Lizzie pointing a gun in her face. It was also shocklingly realistic, I might add. Most kids her age with her problems would probably make the same mistake, too. Even her pleas to “not be mad at me” were scary in a natural sense. But like Carol said, “she can’t be around other people,” and she most certainly had to “do what needed to be done.” I felt the weight of the bullet meeting the flesh like a cannon striking me in the chest. I wanted so desperately to pause (since I was watching it on my DVR) and assess the severity and gravity of what had just happened and gather myself again. For The Walking Dead to top one of it’s most dynamically salient scenes with one even more pungent and penetrating all in the same episode is a rare feat we may not have the pleasure of seeing for a very, very long time.
That being said, seeing Carol change her perspective on life and her companions and the results that have followed has been a remarkable revelation. So much so that I firmly believe that she’d be strong enough to outlast nearly every other living soul on this planet. Yes, she has killed those most close to others. True, she could now add “child-murderer” to her ledger. But she is the only person I’ve seen in this series who has not hesitated to make the best decision. They may not all be right, and the repercussions that come with said decisions may damage relationships eternally, but at the end of the day principle beats morality if one wants to survive in this apocalypse.
Tyresse seems to have acknowledged that first-hand, as he watched Lizzie’s death through the kitchen window. While at first his nightmares of Karen and inability to spiritually let her go had me think back to all the cliche’d sitcom guilt trips I’ve seen before, Carol’s actions throughout the episode made it all work in the long run while helping to craft a compelling case for her confession. Appropriately quiet yet increasingly unsettling, their little talk at the kitchen table couldn’t have triggered more nerves. Carol handing him the gun and stating “do what you have to do” definitely had me counting on Tyresse taking her out. But having witnessed what could have been if Lizzie was still alive, he honestly couldn’t convince himself that blood-soaked revenge would satisfy his yearning. To both the convenience of the episode’s quality and Carol’s own life, this scene came with perfect timing, and Gimple does a masterful job at reeling us into another possible death while at the same time giving us the sense that there was enough heartbreak and vehemence for us to swallow in one night.
And it was all wrapped up with a poignant ending showing the house these two would be physically and mentally departing from. Hovering over the audio, among other things, is an old line from Lizzie during her days at the prison: “I’m not afraid to kill, I’m just afraid…”
I may be too old to shed tears and burst out crying in public, but parts of “The Grove” hit home hard for me, and not in a relative sense. It was just so damn powerful. Never in my wildest dreams would I expect Carol to go to such great lengths to do what’s best for herself and others, and I could never bring myself to fathom the possibility of Lizzie AND Mika being in the center of such heavy bloodshed, only to lose out altogether. I tip my hat to Scott Gimple one more time. Not only for breaking the fourth wall and inducing gut-wrenching, tear-jerking pain to fans across the world, but for doing it so unapologetically and earnestly. If there’s anything you could possibly take away from such a beautiful episode, it’s that the other groups weren’t given screentime. Other than that, we’re looking at what may be this season’s masterpiece, and in my opinion one of the top-3 greatest episodes this series has ever produced.
+Lizzie’s sociopathic ways reaching an all-time high
+Carol’s child execution unlike any other
+Excellent, poignant send-off for Lizzie and Mika
+Carol’s confession and Tyresse’s forgiveness perfectly done