Tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Consumed,” felt a little bit like a memory play. It largely focused on Carol, who I would argue is shaping up to be the true hero of the entire series, and her recent past since the split with Rick over her actions in the prison. It allows her to quickly reminisce on critical junctures of the last few weeks that continue to evolve her as a survivor.
The episode wasn’t exactly the showcase I wanted for the wonderful Melissa McBride as Carol – it was heavy on silence and mood and light on dialogue – but it did offer several great moments in the pairing of Carol Peletier and Daryl Dixon.
We start with Carol leaving Rick behind in the suburban neighborhood where he first told her she was no longer welcome in the group. Remember how horrified Rick was when Carol revealed she killed the virus-infected survivors and burned their bodies? Seems like Rick got over his indignation pretty quickly after that…
Carol drives away from the scene as only Carol would: stoic and steely-eyed and not looking back. A few miles down the road, she breaks down into tears, devastated by Rick’s shunning. There’s a quick, morbidly funny scene here when a walker starts banging on the car window, and Carol screams at it to go away before driving off leaving it ambling down the highway. Perhaps this speaks to a reluctance to resort to violence when dealing with the dead (or the living… or dying…) post split from the group. It’s something the show has dealt with for years now: is violence the only way or is there a kinder, gentler path?
Right now, we’re trending toward the violence, guided down that path by Rick Grimes, himself.
Flashing forward to the present, Daryl and Carol are in hot pursuit of a car with a white cross on its back window. It’s similar to the one that kidnapped Beth last season but what we know to be the Grady Memorial survivors. They manage to hold up in a few buildings in Atlanta and are themselves pursued/stalked by a mysterious figure in shadows. There’s one amusing scene halfway through the episode when they stumble upon a makeshift camp of former survivors, now zombies, trapped in sleeping bags and tents. Apparently, all you have to do to zombies is zip them up in something. Zombies can’t deal with zippers. Who knew?
Finally, their stalker is revealed to be Noah, the card-carrying member of the Lollipop Guild (he gave Beth lollipops) from Grady Memorial. He manages to strip them of their weapons and runs off with Daryl’s crossbow, which is becoming something of a theme lately. As much as that man loves his crossbow, he’s really bad at keeping it. Let’s not even get into his endless supply of arrows. I know he pulls them from his victims, but come on…
Daryl and Carol continue, looking for any further signs of vehicles with the telltale cross in the window. There are a few nice scenes interspersed through this section. First, the showrunners give us more of the burned-out shell that Atlanta has become, and what a haunting thing of beauty it really is. There is also much discussion about starting over, which Daryl is completely on board with but Carol, less so. She wants to confess the incidents of “The Grove,” but Daryl doesn’t really want to hear it.
Clearly, they’ve almost exchanged personalities. Significant loss on either side (Carol’s daughter, Sophia, and Daryl’s brother, Merle) has altered their original personas. Daryl was once tough and remorseless – the lone gunman of the group. Carol – the once timid, battered housewife – is now a grimly effective killing machine. She later refers to herself as having burned away the old versions of her persona. They dance around their new personalities and differences, and the conflict nearly boils up from under the surface.
There is also an amusing scene where they briefly critique a painting in an Atlanta office. Daryl says of the expressionistic work, “Looks like a dog sat in paint and wiped its ass all over the place.” Carol, with her newly independent streak, professes to like it and claims that Daryl doesn’t know her, truly. “You keep telling yourself that,” Daryl returns. The sparring back and forth between the two is some of the best work in the series, not just this episode but also the entire span of their constantly evolving relationship.
Still in hot pursuit of the cross-bearing vehicles, they make their biggest blunder of the episode: climbing into the back of a broken-down van perilously perched on the edge of an overpass with two hoards of zombies fast approaching. Side note: while I loved the thrilling sequence that came after (they strap themselves into the van and tip it over the bridge to escape), I do not for one second believe that these characters, brilliant in their brutally efficient strategizing through much of the series, would have climbed into that obvious death trap. Still, it made for a cool getaway sequence. Particularly when the zombies started falling off the bridge onto the van.
Finally, they manage to find Noah and reclaim their weapons after pinning him beneath a bookcase with a zombie hovering nearby. After some tense debate, Daryl decides to spare his life, and only then do they realize he is from Grady and knows Beth. I half expected Noah to exclaim, “Yeah! She sucked my lollipop in a non euphemistic manner!”
They then spot a station wagon tagged with the hospital’s cross, and Carol, ever the soldier, probably deliberately runs in front of the vehicle to garner safe passage to the hospital. She had earlier inferred that they could not magically waltz into the heavily guarded hospital without a good story. Carol delivers on the goods, make no mistake about that. So, now we know how Carol ended up in Grady on a stretcher, and we can only surmise at this point that the figure standing behind Daryl in the woods was none other than Noah.
Nicely balancing character and plot development, “Consumed” isn’t the best episode of the series (that would be “The Grove” folks), but it’s a far better partner episode than last season’s Daryl/Beth outing (the one where she wanted to get drunk). These are deeply complicated and complex characters, and it’s the unsung truth of the series that, despite the massive amounts of zombie gore, The Walking Dead develops characters that continuously evolve and react to their intense surroundings better than most any other show on television.
And at the center stands Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, delivering some of the most complex work I’ve seen on television when given the chance. She will never win an Emmy for this role, but, in my world, she’s won them all.