The Walking Dead 6.13 (written by Angela Kang) was a taut, psychological thriller showcasing Carol and Maggie’s emotional states of mind as they face off with a small group of women from the Saviors’ camp. For all intents and purposes it was a battle of wills, pitting the women against one another in the ultimate chess game to see which group would outlive the other. But even though Carol and Maggie stayed alive, “The Same Boat” illustrated they are not necessarily winners, as survival has its price.

The episode backtracks a few minutes from 6.12, as an armed man sneaks up behind Carol and Maggie at the perimeter of the Saviors’ compound. Carol shoots him in the arm, but the man’s partners, three women named Paula, Molly and Michelle, capture Carol and Maggie. Paula is clearly the leader, and as she watches Rick and his group rough up Primo (another Savior), she radios Rick and starts talking about making a hostage trade.

Paula and her group drive Carol and Maggie to an old slaughterhouse, tying them up and gagging them in a holding cell. It’s here that we see the chess match begin, mainly between Paula and Carol, who in many ways are two sides of the same coin. Carol sets off her familiar façade as weak, scared “Suzy Nobody,” hyperventilating, clinging to rosary beads, and pleading with her captors not to hurt Maggie’s baby. It works, because before long, Carol and Maggie’s gags are removed, nobody will expose Maggie’s unborn baby to secondhand smoke, and Paula starts to be lulled into a false sense of security.

Donnie starts throwing his weight around, hitting Paula and threatening to kill Carol, but Paula takes him down with ease. Guys like Donnie are pretty useless for Paula, providing only a warm body for her bed. In fact, throughout this episode, it becomes clear that Paula really doesn’t need anyone. What she needs is to survive. That’s just one of many parallels drawn between her and not only Carol, but Rick as well. These people will do what needs to be done in order to live. Some are just more comfortable with the justification for their actions than others.

TWD 6.13 Paula

Maggie and Carol are separated when Michelle takes Maggie into another room to question her about her group. Maggie won’t talk, but she learns Michelle was pregnant once (and apparently had a miscarriage), and had a Glenn in her life, too. It turns out Michelle’s boyfriend was one of the guys Daryl blew apart with the rocket launcher. “You are not the good guys” Michelle tells Maggie. That statement is at the heart of this episode, and the theme of what defines “good” in this landscape has been explored to fascinating effect this season. And as we move farther along, the difference between Rick’s people and Negan and the Saviors is getting smaller. This is exemplified when Carol rationalizes the massacre of the Saviors’ compound as a means of stopping Negan and Molly tells her, “Sweetie, we are all Negan.”

As Paula waits for backup from her people (who are about 30 minutes out) to arrive, we get her backstory. But instead of flashbacks, (a device the show often employs) we get Alicia Witt’s gripping monologue detailing her character’s unsatisfying clerical job and the devastating loss of her entire family. When the zombie apocalypse started, Paula killed her boss in order to increase her own chance of survival. Now, that survival is the only thing she cares about. And she thinks that makes her stronger. Paula is what Carol could become, if she let herself. But the burden Carol carries may be too heavy to ever allow that. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Paula finally contacts Rick and tells him to meet her and her group in a nearby field. But Paula’s smart, and she recognizes the lack of static on the radio means Rick’s group must be close. Convinced she knows how weak Carol is, Paula makes a fateful mistake – she leaves Carol in the room alone. I love how the writers are showing us that one decision a character makes can have a massive ripple effect that produces devastating consequences. It happened when Morgan let those Wolves go in Alexandria, when Carol had Maggie stay behind during the compound attack, and for Paula, when she leaves Carol unattended. But that’s the nature of the world they now live in; there’s very little room for error.

Carol finds Maggie and just wants to get the hell out of the place, but surprisingly, Maggie is the one who says they can’t leave any of the Saviors alive. That could have also been a fateful decision, and it really seemed like they were setting things up for either Carol or Maggie to die. In fact, the entire episode had that sense of foreboding about the two of them. Just like the high tension in 6.12, here you never knew when Paula would just lose her patience and kill one of them. Ultimately (and quite remarkably), Carol and Maggie lived through the ordeal. Instead, they systematically kill Molly (using the newly dead and turned Donnie as a killing instrument), shoot Michelle in the head, and corner an injured Paula. Carol gives Paula a chance to escape, but Paula won’t take it. She needs to win – it’s who she is. Paula and Carol end up in hand to hand combat, until Paula is impaled on a stick like the walkers put there by the Saviors (in an effort to stop hostages from escaping). So after everything she’s done to survive, Paula meets her end via a gruesome face-chewing walker attack.

TWD 6.13 Paula and walker

Carol and Maggie have one loose end to tie up, so Carol lures Paula’s back-up Saviors to the “kill room” where she burns them alive with a lit cigarette inside a locked door. I’ve noticed that where the show used to think up new, grisly ways to dispatch walkers, it seems that lately they try and come up with more horrific means of massacring humans. Quite frankly, it’s disturbing. But then again, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what they’re going for.

In the end, Rick and the others come for Carol and Maggie. But though the two are alive, they are far from okay. Maggie, who has worked so hard to build a meaningful life with Glenn – including creating a family – has reached her breaking point. And Carol, who can’t forget those who died at her hand, is sinking deeper into despair from the weight of her guilt.

“The Same Boat” was very well done, with a claustrophobic setting that only added to the nerve-racking nature of the episode. It also showcased tremendous acting from some very accomplished women. I think a scene or two of Glenn and/or Daryl’s concern for Maggie and Carol could have enhanced the episode even more, but I understand that the focus was on Carol and Maggie and their alter egos personified in Paula and Michelle.

Now we wait for the devastating consequences the slaughter of Negan’s people at two different compounds will certainly have. Perhaps even more important than any potential character deaths, though, is the aftermath of such actions on our group members. My guess is this will be a turning point for most of them – but not everyone will take the same path. Everyone does, however, have to live with the choices they are making.

The show is at a fascinating place right now, perhaps more than ever before. It’s exploring just how strong the will to live is, and what people are willing to do and justify, in order to live to see another day. It’s deeply compelling, walkers or no walkers.

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