This week’s installment of The Walking Dead was gut wrenching. Continuing the focus on only a few group members at a time, we saw the tragic story of Tyreese, Carol, Judith, Lizzie and Mika unfold. And though it was extremely compelling, the episode strayed into questionable territory.
The opening scene initially appears pretty innocent. We see a small kitchen, tea kettle on the stove, and an old fashioned tune heard in the background. As we pan to the window, we see a child frolicking about, playing tag – with a walker. It’s very unsettling, but it isn’t hard to guess the child is probably Lizzie, though we won’t find out more until later. The bizarre nature of this visual, however, sets the stage for the rest of the macabre episode.
On their way to Terminus, the small group rests by the railroad tracks for the night. As Tyreese and Mika lay sleeping, Carol, with Judith asleep in her arms, listens as Lizzie recounts how she shot two people at the prison in order to save Tyreese. Carol (in a move that will come back to haunt her later) lets Lizzie know she had no choice but to kill those people. She also reveals to Lizzie that she had a daughter who “didn’t have a mean bone in her body.” Lizzie, eerily, asks if that’s why Carol’s daughter is no longer here. Carol sadly says yes. And so the foreshadowing begins.
The next day, while patching up Tyreese’s prison battle wound, Carol tells him that Lizzie can’t see the walkers for what they truly are, and Mika is even worse because “she doesn’t have a mean bone in her body.” Hmm, who else did Carol just say that about?
Later, Tyreese sees a walker shamble, then get stuck on, the railroad tracks. He then witnesses Lizzie’s strange zombie affection when she asks him not to kill it. At the same time, Carol is trying to talk to Mika about toughening up. Mika states she can kill walkers, revealing that she knows her sister has strange ideas about them, but that she can’t kill people. She also feels sorry for humans that would do them harm because they probably weren’t like that before the zombie apocalypse. Carol tells Mika she will have to change her thinking about people or she will die. The two then come across a house in the woods, and as a smiling little Mika speaks of her mom’s favorite saying that “everything works out the way it’s supposed to,” it’s pretty obvious Mika won’t be making it out of the episode alive.
The group decides to stay at the house and rest for a while. They have a well full of water, pecans and peaches, and deer roaming the premises. When Tyreese and Carol go inside to clear the house, they leave the kids alone – yet again – and Mika shoots a walker that comes within inches of Lizzie and Judith. As Lizzie gets increasingly distressed by the shooting, Mika tells Lizzie to look at the flowers like she’s supposed to. Mika said this before at the prison when the girls’ father died, so we can infer that Lizzie had been having troubles even before the prison fell.
The group settles into life at the house – complete with a crib, a glowing fire and family time in the living room. On the surface these scenes show warmth and comfort, but just like in the kitchen scene, hint of something sinister brewing underneath. That feeling is cemented when Mika finds a doll (that she interestingly names Griselda Gunderson) and suggests they live in the house permanently. At that point, they might as well stick Mika in the same doomed category as the young, optimistic military men in war movies – you know, the ones who are almost done with their tours and have cute nicknames like “Kansas?” We all know what happens to them.
Lizzie soon finds a Griselda doll of her own, and we go back to the same scene we saw in the opening with Lizzie playing tag with the walker. Carol rushes outside and kills it, and Lizzie completely freaks out (Brighton Sharbino is mesmerizing in this scene, and in the entire episode), ranting to Carol about how the walker was her friend. When Lizzie repeatedly shouts “what if I kill you!” Carol begins to understand the true depth of Lizzie’s distorted vision of walkers. Incomprehensibly, though, she doesn’t take any decisive action about the matter.
Mika’s gentle nature in regard to living things is again showcased when she and Carol go hunting and Mika is unable to shoot a deer, even for sustenance. It’s still home sweet home, however, as Tyreese has the idea that, instead of going to Terminus, their small group could stay and live in the house (though why isn’t Tyreese at all concerned about trying to find Sasha?).
Meanwhile, Mika follows Lizzie to the tracks where Lizzie is feeding a mouse to the stuck walker. When Mika tries to talk some sense into her sister about the walkers, Lizzie says she can hear them and is contemplating letting them bite her so she can return and show everyone their true nature. At first viewing, this mentality seems psychotic, but Lizzie is still a child, and the show has told us that in the past even some of the adults – like The Governor and Hershel – weren’t initially convinced the walkers didn’t retain some human characteristics.
Despite her views, Lizzie’s self-preservation instinct kicks in when some charred walkers stumble out of the woods, and she and Mika run screaming back to the house. The burned walkers were something new for The Walking Dead, and they were simultaneously gruesome and awesome looking. Kudos to the special and visual effects team for giving us those fantastically gory creatures.
At the house, the group- including Lizzie, who finally pulls out her gun – takes the walkers down. Carol sees Lizzie firing away, and thinks that she’s turned a corner. Later that night when Carol asks Lizzie if she understands what the walkers are now, Lizzie replies that she understands what she has to do. It’s an ominous statement, but curiously, Carol doesn’t pursue the issue further.
While Tyreese and Carol go out hunting that elusive deer, Tyreese tells Carol he is haunted by constant nightmares of Karen. Despite Melissa McBride and Chad Coleman doing an amazing job with this scene (and throughout the whole episode), I just can’t buy that Tyreese is still so broken up about Karen. Rick lost his wife, Carol lost her daughter, Daryl lost his brother, and they all got through it. But Tyreese can’t move past his grief over a woman he only met a few weeks, or at most months, prior to her death? He seems to have gotten over not knowing Sasha’s fate pretty quickly. Of course without his trauma, the show couldn’t tease the big reveal of Carol admitting she killed Karen and David for more than half a season.
As the two come back from their hunt, leaving the three girls alone, again – which is pathological in and of itself given A) how Lizzie has been acting and B) they’re children and it’s a zombie apocalypse – they see a grizzly scene. Lizzie is holding a knife, her hands covered in blood – having just murdered her sister. She pulls a gun on Carol and Tyreese, wanting them to let Mika turn so they could finally realize what Lizzie has known all along about the walkers. In fact, Lizzie explains, she was just about to do Judith next. Carol gets Lizzie to give up the gun, and Tyreese takes her and Judith inside the house. The scene is horrific, even if nothing is overtly shown. And when Carol is shown silently sobbing as she takes out her knife, ready to stop Mika from turning, we (and Carol) realize sweet Mika ended up with the same fate as Sophia. The whole thing is heartbreaking to watch. In the end, poor Mika never had a chance.
We get the answers (that the audience figured out long ago anyway) that Lizzie was the one feeding the walkers at the prison, and the one who killed the rabbit and nailed it to a board in the tombs. Distraught about Lizzie, Carol offers to leave with her in order to keep Judith safe, then Tyreese offers to leave with Judith so Carol and Lizzie can stay, but they both decide neither of them will make it alone with kids. Ultimately, Tyreese and Carol come to the conclusion that the only solution is to kill Lizzie, and Carol takes her outside. Lizzie sees Carol’s agony, but thinks Carol is upset because Lizzie pointed a gun at her, totally unaware that it’s because Lizzie killed her own sister. Carol has Lizzie turn her back and “look at the flowers.” The last words Lizzie hears are those of her deceased mother’s: “Everything works out the way it’s supposed to.” On the way back inside the house, Carol is already haunted by loss as that elusive deer peacefully roams in the grass right in front of her.
Carol and Tyreese bury the girls’ bodies, adding to the graves of children already present in the yard. Later that night, Carol finally tells Tyreese she was the one who killed Karen and David. But under the weight of what we just saw on screen, the reveal seems anticlimactic and pointless. She offers Tyreese her gun to do what he needs to, but conveniently, Tyreese forgives her.
The last shot we see is Tyreese, Carol and Judith leaving the house (accompanied by a sad voice-over from a time when Lizzie was a bit more innocent), as they forever walk away from the home they were never allowed to have.
This episode, despite being one of the most powerful of the season, was heavy handed in many places. Lizzie’s rapid mental deterioration was somewhat forced, and the fact that Carol wasn’t more resolute in protecting the other children after the “tag” walker incident was a bit hard to swallow. The show wants us to believe that Carol does what needs to be done, even if it’s excruciating for her, but at other times only sees what she wants to see because the truth is too painful to bear. And while it’s possible that the two opposing traits can co-exist, the show never bothers to explain the discrepancy.
Also, though the show has tackled morally gray areas before (the good of the one versus the good of the many), and has shown deceased children previously, this was more horrific. Did Carol and Tyreese really have no choice but to kill a child? Is that what the show is telling us? Granted, they did have to protect Judith, and leaving Lizzie alone in the house would have been cruel, but was there no other option? Couldn’t they have taken turns keeping watch over her until they got to Terminus and then maybe get some assistance from others? After all, doesn’t Carol bear any responsibility for pushing Lizzie to be ok with killing? It seems this slope Carol is on where she gets to decide who lives and who dies is getting more slippery by the minute.
Perhaps, though, the show chose to depict these events the way they did in order to tell us what they have been saying all along: This zombie apocalypse changed all of humanity in profound ways. And perhaps the other message they want to hammer home is that those who couldn’t adapt (Lizzie and Mika, among others) were always doomed.
After this episode, I’m ready to see the group finally get back together. They will likely have questions for each other, and it will be interesting to see how much the members share about their journeys to Terminus. Besides, I personally need to see some happy reunions, even if that happiness doesn’t last – something else the show has been telling us all along. Not that it doesn’t make for compelling episodes. I just sometimes wish they didn’t tell us so forcefully.