THE WALKING DEAD: “The Grove”

What some might call “character development” I call “stalling,” as most of the latter part of season four has delayed the plot to the point of plodding along (at least someone died…). This is not the comic book, Kirkland. Let’s get somewhere!

But, for now, it’s all character study, gun play, and spilled kiddie blood this week on “The Walking Dead.”

I don’t want to be mean.

You have to be, sometimes.

— Lizzie and Mika

We open in a James Wan-style pan across a decrepit home, settling on a window looking outside to what appears to be a game of zombie-tag with our favorite little maniac Lizzie. That brilliant set-up is quickly abandoned for more sitting quietly by the train tracks, contemplating Terminus. Lizzie and Carol stand watch as Mika and Tyreese get some shut-eye, and what do they talk about? Oh, of course. Dead daughter Sophia. When in zombie apocalypse time is it appropriate to stop talking about the dead? This is the reality of your character’s lives. It’s lazy writing to have your characters sit and wax philosophical about loss and moving on and what it takes in one’s personality to survive. I realize that this conversation was suppose to stand as foreshadowing, more on that later, but come on! We’ve sat through four episodes of this! It’s the zombie apocalypse! People die! And speaking about it flippantly is not a sign of strength. The next morning, while Carol treats Tyreese’s wounds, they speak about Lizzie’s attachment to the walkers and Mika’s ability to be bait. They said it with more pizazz, more foreshadowing, but you get the gist.

Our first walker appears nine minutes into the episode, not bad for the slow-moving train that is the back half of season four, but train-track tripper is there to serve a purpose. Lizzie relates to Tyreese that, “sometimes we don’t have to kill them,” just in case you didn’t get the point that she’s “messed up” about them, as Mika puts it. In the other side of the same scene, Carol urges Mika to toughen up, but is faced with the harsh truth that not everyone wants to kill people that pose a threat. So writer Scott Gimple has set the scene: these are four very different people — and baby Judith — that are traveling together. What could possibly go wrong?

The MacGuffin is still under the table, so to speak, as Tyreese still considers Carol a friend, not knowing that she is the one who dispatched with Karen and David. When the group stumbles upon a Pecan Grove — yet another undiscovered bit of paradise in the vicinity of both the prison and Woodbury that has remained undisturbed — Mika takes out a walker, and we finally experience how completely Lizzie is disturbed. Whether she has a point or not, her attachment to the walkers appears a mental handicap to the group, therefore signifying more trouble for the little blond girl that likes to dissect furry creatures in her spare time.

Everyone relaxes in a scene very much like the ones in the four episodes previous, when each character has found some sort of dwelling. (We get it. They’re separated.) That is until Carol catches Lizzie playing zombie-tag, and the latter has a full on meltdown at the death of her “friend.” Later, after Tyreese implores Carol to consider staying in their new grove, Mika catches Lizzie feeding a rat to train-track tripper, and the pair get chased by a horde of burning zombies. There’s that Nicotero Emmy in action! Lizzie finally comes around when she sees her sister in danger and empties her gun into one of the burning men. Uh, oh. Character development. A grand shift in ideals. Yep. She’s toast. But all this changing and growing causes Carol to tell Tyreese, that if he wants, they can stay. Of course, this prompts a conversation about Karen, because this is the time when we talk about the dead…ugh… The dramatic irony is palpable, as Carol stands by listening to her crimes, not able to confess. “That’s the deal, right? The people who are living are haunted by the dead.” Yuk, yuk, Tyreese. “The whole world is haunted now.” Even though this is a bit over-dramatic, Chad L. Coleman and Melissa McBride play it with such sincerity, the scene is actually poignant and bittersweet. We know Tyreese must eventually find out, and the more intimacy develops between the two, the more interesting the eventual confrontation will be. The two stay gone long enough — why, exactly, do they keep leaving sweet girl and psycho barbie alone with baby Judith? — for the most out-of-this-world, whacked-out, banana crazy-pants scene in the history of TWD to play out.

Lizzie has stabbed Mika in the chest, preserving her brain so that she might “come back.” In fact, if Carol and Tyreese hadn’t showed up, Lizzie was planning on taking out Baby Judith, too. Slow clap for Scott Gimple. You is F-ed up, sir….Lizzie trains a gun on the two adults until convinced that they will let Mika change. After all, the only way for them to see it through her eyes is to see it. Here’s the thing, and it is evident in Melissa McBride’s approach to this scene, at the heart of it, this is all Carol’s fault. She armed the children in an effort to save Sophia over and over again. She taught them “the truth of this reality.” If she had let crazy, little Lizzie be, would this have happened?

When the complete depravity of Lizzie’s world is revealed, Carol offers to leave with her, and by this, we truly know that SHE has changed the most. The old Carol — well, not the beaten wife, Carol 2.0 — would have killed Lizzie immediately, but she cares what Tyreese thinks of her. We cut to Carol walking with Lizzie away from the grove; Tyreese looks on. The little one cries, turns her back to Carol, who, in her best Of Mice and Men impression, shoots Lizzie in the head. Tyreese sheds a tear, but he lets it happen. Hypocrite, much? Weren’t, on some level, Karen and David just as much as a threat to other people? Lizzie’s handicap may be of the mental nature, but it is a disease nonetheless.

Later that night, Carol confesses, because there is nothing left. She slides her gun across a table to Tyreese, who collapses in tears. “You do what you have to do.” Assured that the deaths were quick, and learning the reality first hand, he lets her live. And forgives her. Moreover, he understands the fear in her.

And now, the Grove is a place of horror. Terminus must be reached. And I must go wash my eyes out.

GRADE: Performance:Story: C.

This is what we in the business like to call “exploitative.” Can we please, for the love of all that is good and holy, move the story arc along for ANY OF OUR CHARACTERS?! This is the farm all over again, people. 

 

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