Talk about heavy! This was an extremely intense episode that answered several niggling questions from the earlier parts of the season, and finally brought two characters’ brewing issue to a head (even if only one of them knew there was an issue between them). For the first time since the Mid-Season Finale, we actually had deaths among the series’ regulars, and some real narrative movement which sets us up for the last two episodes of the season. I’m still not sure what the destination is going to be, but it looks like we’re approaching it with a full head of steam. Click through after the break for my synopsis and review of tonight’s episode.
<<Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss at length plot points of The Walking Dead S04E14, “The Grove.” Read more at your own risk.>>
The episode opens with a close-up on a kettle boiling on a gas stove, as seen in the preview shown on last week’s Talking Dead (you can view this clip in my Sneak Peek from earlier in the week). We pan left, and see Lizzie running and giggling outside. She says, “Griselda,” and we see that she is playing with a walker.
We go back a day or two, and see Lizzie and Carol sitting under a trestle bridge at night, talking quietly as Tyreese sleeps below on the tracks, Mika and Judith bundled up with him. Carol and Lizzie are talking about children, whether there may be any at Terminus, and what parents have to do to save them. Lizzie turns it around, and points out that she saved Tyreese. She tells Carol about shooting the two attackers back at the prison, and expresses regret for shooting the woman in the head – this comment will come back to have considerable meaning later in the episode. She asks Carol about whether she had children before, and Carol tells her about Sophia, and how she didn’t have a mean bone in her body. She seems to regret this, and sees this as a weakness, implying that this is why Sophia died. She tells Lizzie to go grab some sleep, and we see that Tyreese is having a nightmare, saying “No” over and over again in his sleep.
The next day, Lizzie and Carol find some tree sap, which Carol then uses to cover the scratch on Tyreese’s arm. He has a fever and the wound is infected, and Carol tells him this should help. They discuss Lizzie – Carol tells Tyreese that the girl doesn’t see the walkers for what they are, but as just a different kind of human, someone who is sick. Once he’s bandaged up, they walk down the tracks, continuing on their way toward Terminus. Carol is telling Mika about Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, and Mika says she’s just like Huck. Lizzie disagrees, and Mika corrects herself, pointing out that Lizzie is “not even grossed out by dead rabbits.” Lizzie looks momentarily upset, but they move past the topic without comment. Carol and Tyreese smell a fire, but can’t tell how far away it is.
Carol takes Mika to find water, leaving Tyreese with Lizzie and the baby. Lizzie is playing “I Spy” with Tyreese, when he notices a walker coming down the tracks toward them – this is the scene from the Sneak Peek released by AMC last week. As it approaches, it falls between two ties and gets stuck, unable to get back up again. Just as Tyreese is about to hit it with his hammer, Lizzie intervenes, pointing out that they don’t always need to kill them. In the woods, Carol is trying to train Mika, to toughen her up. Mika tells her that she understands the walkers are dangerous, that she’s “not like my sister, I’m not messed up.” Carol tells her that she may need to kill people too, but Mika resists. Carol tells her, “You have to change, everyone does now.” These are echoes of her sense of culpability in Sophia’s death. If only she had given her the tools she needed to survive, she’d still be with them. As they are walking, they come across an idyllic little farmhouse situated behind a barbed-wire fence, surrounded by nut trees.
The five approach the house, passing through the fence. In the distance, they note a large column of smoke, but figure it’s pretty far away – this is the source of the smell they detected earlier. They get to the house and pound on the door, Carol and Tyreese going inside to check for walkers. Mika is on watch, holding a gun while Lizzie is sitting with Judith on her lap, looking at a grave with a pair of baby shoes dangling from a rough cross. Mika asks her if it makes her sad, and Lizzie explains that the baby doesn’t; rather, she’s sad because if Carol and Tyreese find any walkers, they’ll kill them. Mika argues with her, pointing out that they’re not people, but Lizzie will have none of it. Suddenly, a walker comes stumbling out onto the porch from a side door, and falls over the banister right toward them. Lizzie falls back onto the ground holding Judith, and freezes as the walker tries to crawl to her. Mika shoots it, once in the shoulder, and the second shot in the head, just as Carol and Tyreese come running. Lizzie begins to hyperventilate – she’s very upset, but doesn’t want to say why. Mika helps her, telling her to stare at a bunch of flowers. “Just look at the flowers,” she says, and gets her sister to count to three.
That night, inside the farmhouse, Carol is shelling pecans, and Lizzie seems less upset. Tyreese, shocked at the feeling of normalcy being in a living room brings, sits down in a comfy chair, and Mika plays with a doll she’s found in the house. For the first time in ages, they’ve found a place where they can let down their guard a little – or so it seems.
The next day, we see Carol putting on a kettle, but she hears something from outside. She sees Lizzie go skipping by, leading a walker that she’s referring to as Griselda. She’s giggling and ducking, as though she and the walker are playing a game. Carol runs out to help her, but Lizzie stands between them, trying to talk Carol out of hurting the walker. As it just about grabs the girl, Carol grabs her and flings her out of the way, knocking down the walker and stabbing it in the head. Lizzie completely loses it yelling at Carol that “She’s my friend, and you killed her!” Her grip on reality here is tenuous at best, and Carol does her best to reason with her, although she looks very concerned with the turn Lizzie seems to be taking, and her complete lack of any sense of self-preservation. Tyreese, inside the house, looks out at the scene with a mix of concern and confusion; but he trusts Carol, and leaves the situation to her.
Later, we see Carol taking Mika hunting, Mika carrying a rifle. They see the column of smoke, and Carol comments that it must be out. Mika corrects her – the column is still black, so it’s still burning – if the fire were out, the column would be white. She tells Carol that she misses science class. Carol tells her that although Lizzie is bigger and stronger, Mika is smarter, and she needs to look out for her sister. As she is saying this, they spot a deer. Carol tells Mika to go ahead, and the girl raises the rifle, sighting roughly down the barrel. She holds the weapon up for a few seconds, then lowers it. “I can’t” she says, and then reminds Carol with a smile that they still have peaches. Mika’s inability to hurt anything living acts here as a mirror to her sister’s unwillingness to hurt anything dead. Oddly, Lizzie has no problem with killing living things (the rabbits, nearly smothering Judith), whereas Mika suffers from the opposite issue. Which one would you rather have doing a sleepover with your child?
The hunt over, Tyreese and Carol go out to the well to pump some water. Tyreese suggests that maybe they can stay here for a while, that they can always go on to Terminus later. He tells Carol that he trusts her, but that he’s not sure he’s ready yet to trust others again, what with everything that has happened.
We cut to Lizzie, taking a box with a live rat inside. Mika is calling for her, and sees her disappearing into some bushes down toward the train tracks. Mika follows. Lizzie goes back to the fallen walker, the one with his legs trapped between railroad ties. She opens the box, and pulls out a live rat, which she then feeds to the walker. Mika gets angry at her, tells her she’s not understanding the walkers properly, but Lizzie insists that she’s the only one who does understand them, that she can hear them. What do they say? She tells Mika, “They just want us to change, to be like them. Maybe I should change,” this last said as she sticks her fingers practically in the walker’s mouth. As she’s doing this, several badly charred walkers come out of the bushes nearby, right on top of them. Mika grabs Lizzie’s hand, and the two run back toward the farmhouse.
We hear Mika scream, “Carol!” Carol and Tyreese come running, just as Mika and Lizzie try to crawl through the barbed wire fence. Lizzie makes it through alright, but Mika gets stuck. Lizzie goes back to help, and the two adults show up and start shooting walkers. Mika stands and joins them, using her pistol, and then, with a look of reluctance and self-loathing, Lizzie pulls her gun and helps out. Carol sees this as a turning point for Lizzie, telling her, “It’s okay, you did it.” That evening, Lizzie is sitting with Carol, breathing a little heavily. She explains, “I had to help stop them.” So, she hasn’t really changed then – she feels guilt over shooting the walkers that were going to eat her sister. In Carol’s defense, Lizzie also tells her that she knows what she has to do now – but Carol doesn’t read this for what she really means, thinking instead that this means she’s snapped out of her inner fantasy of walkers being nothing more than ill humans. Unfortunately for all of them, it means something altogether different. Meanwhile, in a repeat of the previous evening, Tyreese sits in his armchair, and Mika plays with her doll – the two seem to be setting up a family idyll while Carol and Lizzie wrestle with Lizzie’s worsening mental disconnect. Mika tells her, “I don’t wanna be mean,” and Lizzie replies, “You have to be sometimes, but just sometimes.” Carol decides to distract them by baking some pecans, and she takes them into the kitchen.
In the daytime, Carol and Tyreese are out in the woods. Carol agrees with Tyreese’s earlier comments that maybe this would be a good place to hole up at for a while. He’s happy to hear this, and he opens up to her. He tells her that he dreams of Karen every night, and every night it’s like he loses her again. As he’s speaking, Carol turns away – her face is ashen, her lips trembling. She’s very uncomfortable hearing him speak about Karen, as her guilt returns to the surface – to be clear, not guilt over killing Karen and David – this was something she felt she had to do for the safety of the group – but guilt at how it made Tyreese, her friend, feel, and the fact that she hasn’t been open with him. He comes up to her, and continues, saying, “We are who we are, and we do what we do, because they still here, in our heads, in the forests. Whole world is haunted now and there’s no getting out of that, not until we’re dead.” Tears begin to slowly and silently roll down Carol’s cheek, and she turns to him. “Maybe they’re not haunting us,” she says, “maybe they’re teaching us.” He hugs her and holds her tight, comforting her. She hesitates, but returns the hug. “Tyreese,” she says, and the air is heavy with expectation. But she doesn’t confess to him in the moment, and I admit that I breathed a sigh of relief when she didn’t – or perhaps it was that I just started breathing again. This scene was, frankly, one of the most intense and well-acted moments I’ve seen in the nearly four complete years of The Walking Dead, and shows me that Gimple and the other showrunners have made absolutely the right choices in what they have done differently from the comics with regard to these two characters, especially considering how strong the chemistry is becoming between Melissa McBride and Chad L. Coleman.
A renewed bond (albeit of grief) between them, the mood is lightened as they walk back toward the farmhouse. Carol even brings up her husband and his hunting, and tells Tyreese a bad joke her husband used to tell, and warns him there’s more where it came from. Suddenly, both of their faces drop in horror. Standing in the yard, smiling with a twitching face, stands Lizzie, holding a bloody knife in her right hand, her left coated in blood as well. Beside her is baby Judith, up on all fours and looking around; but behind lies Mika, still and bloodied. We never see her directly, but if the vivisected rat found in the prison basement by Tyreese is any indication, it likely isn’t pretty. She smiles wider when she sees them, and as they approach she reassures them, “Don’t worry, she’ll come back. I didn’t hurt her brain.” Carol and Tyreese fight with everything they have to keep it together in front of Lizzie, finally realizing exactly what they are dealing with in her. Carol holds out her hand, and tells Lizzie to give her the knife. Lizzie pulls her gun, holding it on them, and tells them they have to wait until Mika comes back, so that they’ll see – the “seeing” that she’s been trying to convince them of all along, that the undead are really just people too. Carol calms her enough to get the gun, convincing her to go inside with Tyreese and Judith. She looks at Judith with a degree of regret, saying that she was about to change her too, but Carol admonishes lightly, pointing out that the baby can’t even walk yet. This seems to mollify Lizzie, and she goes with Tyreese. If the intensity of the scene between Tyreese and Carol in the forest was high, this ramps things up even further. The whole time they’re talking, Carol’s face is moving almost of its own accord with barely repressed emotion, as tears force themselves out of her eyes and she forces a smile to her lips to try to pacify the broken little girl. Tyreese stands there, mouth agape, horror barely concealed – but Lizzie has eyes only for Carol, and doesn’t notice. She’s so lost in her own skewed version of reality that it probably wouldn’t matter if she did look at him. After Tyreese leaves with Lizzie and Judith, Carol falls to her knees, taking out her knife. The tears flow freely but silently down her face.
Later, Carol and Tyreese are in the kitchen. Tyreese tells her that he’s got Lizzie locked in her room, and that he’s cleared it out, making sure that she doesn’t have any knives. He tells Carol that Lizzie admitted to feeding the walkers at the prison, and to vivisecting the rat he found in the basement. He suggests that it might have been Lizzie who killed Karen and David as well, although he doesn’t know how she could have dragged them outside – Carol tells him it wasn’t Lizzie. Carol offers to leave with the sick girl, to take her away, but Tyreese points out that they won’t survive. Instead, he offers to take Judith and leave them here in the safety of the farmhouse, but Carol rightly points out that he won’t survive either. What they can agree on is voiced by Carol: “She can’t be around other people.” Inevitably, Carol and Tyreese understand that this means them, as well.
Carol takes Lizzie outside, and they walk out to the pecan grove surrounding the farmhouse. Lizzie begins to apologize, and gets into one of her verbal ticks, saying sorry over and over again. But her reason for being sorry isn’t what Carol needs to hear; she’s not sorry for killing Mika. No, she’s sorry because she pointed a gun at Carol. She begins to cry, and is nearly hysterical, but she has no clue as to why Carol has really brought her outside. From the house, Tyreese is watching out a window. He looks sad, but resigned, and not a little horrified by what he is watching; yet, there is no anger, but more of an acceptance. Outside, Carol tells Lizzie that her own mom used to tell her that things always work out the way they’re supposed to, and she comforts Lizzie, telling her, “Just look at the flowers.” Lizzie stands over a group of wildflowers as Carol, behind her, draws and cocks her handgun, telling her again to look at the flowers. Trembling, tears again forcing themselves down her face, Carol pulls the trigger once, putting Lizzie down.
We cut to the yard, where Carol is digging a sad little grave beside the three already in the yard. Tyreese comes out, carrying Mika wrapped in a sheet, to place her on the ground beside her sister. Nighttime finds them inside, sitting at the kitchen table, a partly finished puzzle between them. The mood is somber, silent, both looking sad and spent. The gun Carol used to execute Lizzie is on the table to her right. She grips it, and moves it over to Tyreese. She says, “I killed Karen and David. I had to stop the illness from breaking out. I had to stop other people from dying. It wasn’t Lizzie, it wasn’t a stranger. Tyreese, it was me.” She finishes by telling him to do what he has to do. In this moment, Carol is clearly ready to die for what she has done. She’s psychologically comparing herself to Lizzie’s actions, despite her intentions being completely different; but her own guilt at being here, working with the man whose love she murdered, is too much, and she seeks to face her guilt head on.
Tyreese trembles, tears on his face. He grips the table hard, hard enough that I wondered if it would snap in his hands. He asks Carol if Karen was aware of what was going on, and Carol shakes her head. He asks, “Was it quick?” and Carol whispers yes. His left hand reaches out to the pistol, and he grips it hard in his hand, trembling further. Just as quickly, he lets it go. He looks Carol directly in the eye, and says, “I forgive you. I will never forget.” He tells her that Karen is a part of him and that now, through Carol’s action, Karen is a part of her, too. Again, he says, “I forgive you.” Carol, tears now flowing freely, thanks him, and they sit there crying together. They agree in their grief that they can’t stay here – the ghosts are too strong, and there’s no way they can make a life in this atmosphere.
The next day, we see shots of empty rooms, the baking tray with half-eaten pecans, Mika’s doll sitting alone on the floor. Outside, Tyreese, baby Judith strapped to his back, and Carol open the fence and leave, not bothering to close it behind them. They walk to the tracks, and Tyreese turns momentarily to look at the fallen walker, still stuck in the ties. He turns his back, and together they walk on down the tracks, heading to Terminus. Carol, in voice over, repeats what she said to Mika: “We fight it, we don’t give up, and then one day, you just change. We all change.”
In any form of media, the death of children is a difficult and challenging topic to deal with. In tonight’s episode, we saw this subject dealt with in a visceral and highly emotional manner, tearing apart Tyreese and Carol and ultimately eliciting Carol’s confession of her own actions to Tyreese. In the culmination of Lizzie’s madness, we saw the answers to several niggling questions – who was feeding the walkers, who vivisected the rat – and we had a moment of pure honesty between two hurting people who needed to find a way to communicate. Although I thought that episode 412 “Still” had ramped things up, this episode was even more intense, and dealt with extremely dangerous material, material that if handled incorrectly could have brought heavy criticism on the show. After all, how often do you see a prepubescent child out-and-out executed on television? It was a gutsy choice to go in this direction, and I feel that it was handled deftly and with sensitivity by not only the actors, but the writing and production team as well.
This was, in my opinion, the most emotionally fraught and heavy episode of any, not only this season, but in the series. Certainly, we’ve had intense moments, such as Dale’s death, the face-off between Shane and Rick, and Hershel’s death; but never have we seen someone descend into madness, and be so oblivious to it that she doesn’t understand others’ horror. Only once before have we see a child kill with such coldness, when Carl shot the young Woodbury attacker at the end of Season Three, but even there, it wasn’t because he was insane – it was because he sought vengeance and saw an enemy. Carl recovered from his choices, but there would be no recovery for Lizzie. She was thoroughly broken, was irrecuperable, and in a world without safe places for such people, executing her was really Carol and Tyreese’s only choice. In bringing the story of the Samuels sisters to this conclusion, the showrunners gave their deaths just as much weight, as much gravitas, as the deaths of more beloved and longer running characters, such as Hershel. This was masterful, and storytelling at its strongest so far this season, even more so than what we saw between Daryl and Beth recently. And if the Lizzie storyline wasn’t intense enough, having things come to a head for Carol and Tyreese intensified things further. Gimple has set a high bar for the last two episodes of the season. I, for one, am confident that he can deliver.
The two young girls playing Mika and Lizzie, Kyla Kenedy and Brighton Sharbino respectively, were never the strongest actors in the show, but tonight they were more than serviceable. The focus was clearly on the interplay between life and death, between killing and being killed, and on understanding who and what the walkers are. Melissa McBride and Chad L. Coleman were masterful, acting just as much with expression and gesture as with words. For both, their strongest episodes yet, and for McBride, that’s saying a lot, as she is one of, if not the, strongest actor on the show (I might argue for Norman Reedus here). I’m looking forward to seeing what new kind of relationship Carol and Tyreese forge out of the ashes of their old one.
Steve’s Grade: A
An intense episode rife with heavy and emotional storylines, involving the deaths of two children and a new understanding between Tyreese and Carol. Leads into what should be two very interesting final episodes for Season Four.