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I hesitate to call this episode a snoozer, considering the appearance of zombies-on-the-vine, a dismembered leg, and a damn-near-giddy smile from Michonne. Considering there’s not much going on at the prison besides blood-coughing and Hershel’s killer-flu remedy—somewhere, in real life, a dude with a handlebar moustache is concocting an artisanal elderberry martini, I just know it—it made sense to get most of the healthy folks out on the road. But what we find out there doesn’t amount to much. There’s some fairly standard-issue walker-dodging at the vet college and in the suburban neighborhood. But the real action is of the human variety, as the true natures of Carol and D’Angelo Barksdale (who’s earned enough screen time to warrant a real name now, Bob) are revealed. Neither is pretty. But did Carol get a raw deal?
We’ll kick that around later. But first, something that I’ve been thinking about since season two and can wait no longer to be discussed: the Grimes Gaze. What Blue Steel is to Derek Zoolander, such is the Gaze to Rick. It begins with close-talking, to let you know he means business. Rick’s head tilts to the side and angles downward, allowing him to stare up at you, as if he’s searching for secret passage through your eyes that will lead directly to your brain so you’ll understand every single word he’s saying. It began as a tic, it seemed, something he’d unleash only during moments of the highest stress, such as telling Shane to stop being an asshole or asking Lori why she was being an asshole. But now he’s whipping it out all the time. We’re farmers, Carl, not gunslingers. I feel your pain, Tyreese, but nonetheless I’m still going to beat the snot out of you. No, Carol, you may not abscond with two children who’ve been verbally bequeathed to you by a rando on his deathbed. It’s one of those moments that pulls me out of the show because I can’t help but chuckle, and then do The Gaze myself, much to the annoyance of those around me. Honey, we need more salsa for these wholegrain nacho chips. Yes, puppy, I know you need to go outside and take a dump, but the show is almost over.
In case we thought Daryl’s posse set a record for Most Awkward Apocalypse Road Trip, Rick and Carol team up to look for supplies not long after she admitted she murdered two people. Rick also imagined himself as a witness to the crime. Presuming his visions were accurate, Cold-Ass Carol (as her prison nickname should be) knifed her victims before she dragged their bodies outdoors and gave them a flame bath. It seems like a rather big leap—yes, she’s teaching kids to kill and toughen up, but murder? Or was it? Carol argues that offing Karen and David from Decatur was “humane,” that she saved lives. You can see her point—it’s euthanasia for the zombie age, and keeps other folks safe. But she’s essentially a compassionate vigilante, a one-woman death squad. If she took her idea to the council, maybe they would have agreed.
But go back to Lizzie’s ramble at the start of the episode, which prompts Carol to tell her, “We all change. We don’t get to stay the same way we started.” That explains Carol’s bonus survival tips to the little girl: run fast, keep your knife where you can grab it, and DON’T CALL ME MOM. It also explains Carol’s attitude when the Produce Twins appear with fruit. One has a bum leg, the other, a weak shoulder. No matter to Carol, who’s ready to send them out on their own. Even with Rick’s guns, at least one of them—the boho girl—ends up as zombie food. (Wonder why they left the leg behind?) Carol is unmoved by the sight of the walkers chowing down on Lilith Fair. Her metamorphosis from abused wife and grieving mom to hard-ass survivalist makes sense—my beef is that the transformation was too abrupt.
On the opposite end of the shady survivor scale is Barksdale (ah, what the heck, let’s keep calling him that), who presents his “people are dominoes” theory of existence (though one would think he’s more of a chess guy). Turns out this is the third group he’s hitched his wagon to—or the third wagon he’s fallen off? Daryl warms up to the poor guy, until it turns out his supply bag has a bottle of booze and no meds. In what has to be one of the all-time baddest Daryl moves, instead of backing up when Barksdale threatens to draw on him, Daryl steps to him, headbutt-shoving the medic like an aggressive dog and taking his piece. I used to think that Michonne and Rick were headed toward a hook-up, but between that big smile she gives Daryl early on, and assuring him she’s done running off, I’m rooting for a crossbow-katana connection.
Somehow, Daryl refrains from throwing Barksdale to the walker horde below—a move Carol would have supported. Rick makes a fair point in suggesting she hit the road immediately—Tyreese would certainly have killed her when the truth came out. Still, I did not see Rick taking a page from Carol’s “do what must be done” playbook and banishing her on the spot. It will be interesting to see how Rick explains her absence. I’m guessing he comes clean and Tyreese gets mighty pissed that he let her run away, rather than face some jailyard justice.
Now the big question is whether the meds will arrive in time to save everyone (I still think Sasha’s a goner). In the final moments, we see each of the road trippers with heavy thoughts, as cars drive down lonely roads with a Sharon Van Etten tune—a rare use of modern music for this show—provides a haunting background. Rick glances in the rearview mirror, for reasons clearly more symbolic than literal (traffic and speed traps, not an issue). In an episode where the contemplative stuff outweighed the scares, a lyric drives home Carol’s point one last time: “Everything changes.” It’s a guarantee that even if the meds work, there’s more bad news ahead back home.
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