This week’s “Consumed” (written by Matthew Negrete and Corey Reed) was a quiet episode that packed an emotional punch, giving us rich characterization with well-established characters who still have new things to tell us about themselves. It also proved – yet again – that The Walking Dead doesn’t need constant zombie kills to tell a dramatic, effecting story.
Whereas last year gave us a Daryl and Beth dynamic (which was surprisingly enjoyable), it makes sense that in this season we would see Carol and Daryl join forces in order to rescue Beth. All three characters have undergone major change since they were introduced, and all three have acquired certain traits that have been influenced by one another (Beth taught Daryl hopefulness, Daryl taught Beth to be strong, Daryl is trying to teach Carol hopefulness – thus the connections are threefold). Taken together, Beth, Carol and Daryl form an interesting character triangle, and their stories intersecting at Grady Memorial seems very appropriate. It may have made more sense to have “Consumed” right after “Slabtown” chronologically, but then again, Abraham’s story and the events of last week’s “Self-Help” had to line up with a certain timeline within the rest of the group’s actions, and waiting does build up anticipation, something the show knows how to do very well.
This episode – just like last week’s – gave us flashbacks scattered throughout the hour. But whereas the ones in “Self-Help” served as mere factual in order to give us backstory on Abraham before he ran into Maggie, Sasha, and Bob, this week’s flashbacks peeled back the curtain to reveal Carol’s state of mind and explore her continual transformation in light of recent events. We see Carol right after Rick banished her (and it was nice to see him again, even if only for a split second), making her way to a law firm in town and carving out a safe haven for herself, only to go rushing back to her people when she saw smoke billowing up from the prison’s exterior walls.
The building turns out to be temporary housing that Carol and Sophia fled to while attempting to escape Ed’s abuse. Once Daryl and Carol clear the area, they settle into a small room, and the first of many deeply layered conversations begin. Carol doesn’t believe they get to save people anymore. She’s burdened by the memories of all she’s had to do just to survive. Not much more is spoken in words, but Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride’s performances in this scene – and throughout the whole episode – convey a breath of emotions that say volumes about where both characters’ heads spaces are at now.
When Carol and Daryl hear some noises, they go to investigate and find two walkers behind a door. Only the shadows of the zombies are seen, but it’s enough to highlight their height disparities, as well as the difference in the size of their hands – big and little – pressed up against the glass – and we instantly know it’s a woman and child. The subtlety in this scene was brilliant: After four seasons, we viewers have become somewhat desensitized to the tragedy of a person’s fate after they turn, so most of the time, the walkers don’t make us stop and take notice of them anymore (unless they’re particularly gross). By removing that visual element and letting us see – literally – the shadow of what these two people once were (and to drive the knife in our hearts deeper, it was possibly a mother and child), it makes the scene that much more effecting. Those images, accompanied by a haunting musical piece, did indeed make us stop and take notice.
Daryl stops Carol from “killing” the walkers, and then in in order to save her the pain, he later does it, then wraps the woman and child in sheets and burns their bodies. As Carol awakens, she sees smoke in the air and gazes through the window, witnessing Daryl’s act of kindness. In addition to this scene, the image of smoke is present in every flashback we see of Carol: It emanates from the prison, alerting Carol to her friends being in danger; Smoke rises up near the grove as Carol and Tyreese bury little Mika and Lizzie; It wafts up in the prison courtyard as Carol stands over the charred remains of the two plague victims she killed; And plumes of smoke roll up toward the sky as Terminus burns after Carol’s heroic rescue of her people. The smoke metaphor can have many interpretations in these flashbacks, but each time Carol saw something smoldering, a chapter in her life was closing, burning away who she thought she was, and bringing forth new parts of herself – parts both good and bad.
But Carol certainly isn’t the only one who has undergone profound transformation, and Daryl’s was also touched on in this episode. His act of compassion for Carol, his true brotherhood with Rick, and his deep concern for Beth that started his and Carol’s mission in the first place, all point to him becoming the man (and no longer the kid, as Carol later points out) that Beth once told him he could be: Someone who is strong, loyal, – and maybe even hopeful – who can be a valued member of a real family (even if not a blood one). It’s ironic that so many people have lost who they are during the zombie apocalypse, but Daryl has actually come to find himself.
In the city, Carol and Daryl make their way to another building to getter a better view of things and possibly get more clues to Beth’s whereabouts. Here we see more shots of decimated Atlanta, and we also get what may have been another homage to the series pilot, just as we saw (in Slabtown) Beth waking up like Rick, we see a tank in the middle of the street – just like the one Rick took refuge in back in Episode 1. It was haunting to see the city in ruins, yet it was also strangely nostalgic. We haven’t seen Atlanta since the first season, and for those of us that have been with the show since the pilot aired, it felt – in a weird way – like coming home again.
Inside the building, Carol and Daryl make their way past a group of previous survivors in sleeping bags and tents who have now turned. The strange sight confounds even Daryl, who remarks, “Some days I don’t know what the hell to think.” We also glimpse that someone is following our duo.
All the interactions between Daryl and Carol in this episode are multi-layered, even though the two don’t actually share much dialogue. When Carol asks “how did we get here?” while viewing the wasteland of Atlanta, even Daryl’s mumbled “we just did” means more than meets the eye: They are where they are, and they have to move on from exactly where they’re at. The trouble is, Carol is haunted by her past, both by her pre-zombie apocalypse actions and by what she has had to do since to stay alive. But Daryl believes in starting over, because they have to.
As they’re leaving the area via a small opening in a chained up door – and I have to wonder why Carol doesn’t first slide herself out of the door and leave her gun behind with Daryl, and once she is on the other side have Daryl pass the weapons to her before he goes through the door – then they would always have control over their arsenal. However, none of that happens, and Carol leaves the gun out by itself and then Noah shows up, holding them up at gunpoint (he ended up being the one following them). Once in possession of Carol and Daryl’s weapons, Noah runs off, but Carol has one more handgun behind her and she aims to get a shot off to incapacitate Noah – but Daryl stops her, concerned she might kill the kid. Despite her guilt, Carol’s mentality is still to do what needs to be done to survive, even if that means hurting those outside her inner circle. She doesn’t want to die, and she doesn’t want to lose any more of her friends either, thus her attempt to leave with the car back at the church. But Daryl, who was haunted by his selfish past, but (with the help of Beth) has come to reconcile himself to it, is willing to sacrifice his well-being if it means avoiding hurting a kid. It’s ironic, then, that Carol and Daryl will switch philosophies so soon when they meet up with Noah again.
We get some walker action when Carol and Daryl find a van with a cross on it half-suspended from the roof of a building. They search the van and piece together that Beth might be at Grady Memorial Hospital, but they attract a large group of walkers in the process. When the walkers become too plentiful to fight through, they decide to belt themselves in the van and go over the roof. With a chance they might not make it but with no time to spare, Carol holds Daryl’s hand in a split second gesture that shows the depth of her fondness for him. Even in that moment they are connecting.
The van goes over the roof but lands on its four wheels (though when it started to tumble downward, it certainly looked like it would roll over, but with the magic of TV editing, it didn’t). A second later, it starts raining walkers (and it’s impressive that the show always manages new, clever ways to display walker guts). Carol is injured from the crash, but armed with new information about Beth, she and Daryl move on.
As they keep watch in a building across from the hospital, Carol laments how everything she’s been through has burned away parts of herself, and “everything now just consumes you.” She’s afraid there isn’t anything good left in her (but her heroic actions at Terminus prove otherwise), but Daryl reminds her, “We ain’t ashes.” He wants to help lift the burden of guilt that Carol carries and give her some hope, just as Beth did for him.
Daryl and Carol end up having another confrontation with Noah, which leaves him pinned under a bookcase with a walker closing in on him. This time it’s Daryl who is willing to not only leave an injured Noah, but stand back and watch him die by the bite of a walker. But Carol, who certainly has retained some of her humanity (despite her fears), pleads with Daryl to help Noah, and Daryl comes through, ironically using an arrow shot out of the crossbow that Noah stole from him at gunpoint. Despite everything, they still do get to save people.
Daryl and Carol learn from Noah that Beth is at the hospital (I don’t know how many people inhabit Grady Memorial, but apparently Beth is the only blonde girl in the place), and as Carol runs out of the building ahead of the guys, she’s hit by the car with a cross on the back of it, filling in the last of the blanks to how she got on that gurney in “Slabtown.”
The last shot of the episode shows us Daryl and Noah speeding by in a truck, which brings us to the point Michonne saw Daryl emerge from the trees (now we know with Noah behind him) in “Four Walls and a Roof.” Clearly, another mission is on the horizon.
This episode gave us great interaction between Carol and Daryl, provided new insight into both of their mindsets, and still managed to move the story forward. After almost four and a half seasons, Carol has become one of the most interesting characters on The Walking Dead, which leads me to fear for her future, especially given the fact that character deaths have been pretty sparse this year (we’ve only had Bob so far other than Terminus people). Anyone is fair game on this show, and Carol may be particularly susceptible since there’s been a lot of spotlight on her recently. The show seems to love letting us get to know established characters in new ways (like Hershel) and then letting them die violent deaths (like… oh I don’t know – Hershel!). However, we’ve also had new character exploration with Beth and Abraham, so their days could just as easily be numbered. In any case, it looks like we’ll get some exciting action when Daryl and Noah round up Rick and the others to stage a big rescue. I only hope everyone makes it out ok. Yet somehow, I just know they won’t.