Episode: 506
Airdate: November 16, 2014
Directed by: Seith Mann
Showrunner: Scott M. Gimple
Written by: Matthew Negrete, Corey Reed (episode); Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore (graphic novels)

Tonight’s episode answers several of our questions, questions that have been building throughout the early part of this season, and answers that are clearly leading Rick and the group to a big confrontation in the mid-season finale coming in only two weeks. This was another focus episode, taking place apart from the main group, but its events will have a huge impact going forward. Click through after the break to read my full review.

<<Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss at length plot points of The Walking Dead S05E06, “Consumed” – read more at your own risk.>>

As expected, tonight was the Daryl and Carol show. There’s a strong parallel between how this episode developed, and how last week’s Episode 505 developed. There, we saw several flashbacks showing us how Abraham became the lovable ginger we all know now; similarly, tonight we also saw several flashbacks, this time filling in gaps in our knowledge of what happened to Carol in the time she was alone, as well as a few formerly off-screen moments that fit in with episodes past. But the mirroring goes even deeper. Both episodes contain a recurring motif that ties together all of the various narrative threads, connecting past and present, and revealing deeper truths about the characters we’re following. Last week, it was Abraham’s bloody hand; tonight, smoke, fire, and the Pyrrhic rebirth of Carol.

Each of Carol’s flashbacks contain an image of fire, or the smoke that results. Her earliest shows us what happened immediately after Rick told her she had to leave the group, back in Episode 404 “Indifference.” She makes her way out of the suburb and into town, settling in an abandoned law office. She lights a candle to read by, the first flame we see. Interestingly, it’s a birthday candle she’s using, which contrasts nicely with the solitary solemnity of her isolation. Time presumably passes, as we see her putting out catch bags to gather rain water, when she notices a thick column of smoke rising from the direction of the prison. She drives there, and sees one of the guard towers in flames. This, then, would be when she sees Tyreese and the girls leaving the prison in the wake of the Governor’s attack (Episode 408, “Too Far Gone”), and decides to follow them.

Her second flashback occurs with Tyreese. He’s carrying a child-sized body wrapped in cloth – either Lizzie or Myka – to where Carol is finishing digging a shallow grave, placing it in the time of Episode 414 “The Grove.” In the distance, we see smoke rising – it’s the cabin still smoldering the night after Daryl and Beth’s bender. The important resonance here results from what causes its remembrance. In the show-present, Carol and Daryl came across a walker mother and child trapped inside a room in the building they’re staying in (a women’s shelter Carol has some familiarity with). Daryl stops her from opening the door, telling her she doesn’t need to do it. The next morning, she wakes to find him burning the bodies outside her window on a bonfire. With the smoke she sees in the flashback also being from a fire set by Daryl, this creates strong symbolic echoes with Episode 412 “Still.” There, Beth suggested that they burn down the cabin as a form of catharsis, freeing themselves from past demons. Recall, Daryl opened up to her about his own ugly past, as a follower first of his abusive father, then of his abusive older brother, Merle. Here, at the women’s shelter wherein Carol sought protection from her abusive husband Ed, Daryl sets a second fire, this time to metaphorically burn something that’s been holding Carol back: her guilt at killing Lizzie, and being unable to save either Myka, or her own daughter Sophia.

The third flashback takes her briefly back to the prison, where we see her standing over Karen and David’s burning bodies, a scene we didn’t get to see in the episode it would have happened during, Episode 402 “Infected.” The flashbacks are becoming, at this point, a story of Carol’s burgeoning pragmatism. Immediately following this flashback, there is a kind of homage to homages. On the road, near Daryl and Carol, we see a tank. This is, of course, the tank from Episode 101 “Days Gone By,” the one that Rick finds himself trapped in shortly after arriving in Atlanta. It’s little touches like this that make fans feel appreciated.

Carol’s fourth and final flashback is from the aftermath of her one-woman assault on Terminus from Episode 501 “No Sanctuary.” She falls to her knees, exhausted, and removes the gore stained poncho over her head. She turns back, noting the dark smoke rising behind her, and then hoists her weapons as she moves forward. She’s at the point now where she does what she must to protect herself and her own, which leads us to exactly where she is psychologically at the beginning of this episode.

There was a lot of action tonight, with tons of walker deaths, and more vehicular stunts than we’ve seen since Lori somehow managed to have a single car accident on a completely empty road, way back in Episode 208 “Nebraska.” Despite the adrenaline pops, most of the truly important stuff happened in dialogue, much of which was thematically tied to the idea of burning and renewal. It’s also focused on the idea of struggle, of how, despite the odds faced just to realize daily survival, the characters who survive do so because they, quite simply, keep on trying.

Shortly after arriving in Atlanta, having followed the car with the white crosses up I-85, Carol takes Daryl into a women’s shelter, a place she tells him she spent a very short time in. When he asks her, she says that she “didn’t stay.” Sensing his relative optimism – the fact that he thinks they’re going to be able to find and save Beth, she says, “So we get to start over. Did you?” He tells her he’s “trying.” She follows up, telling him that “I don’t think we get to save people anymore.” When he asks what she’s doing there with him, then, she echoes him, saying “I’m trying.”

The abusive relationships that both Daryl and Carol experienced pre-apocalypse have already been well established; here, we get to see not only their similarities, but also how they differ. Daryl has, in some ways, moved beyond Carol. It might be argued that she is the more advanced human in the post-apocalyptic world, the one most equipped to survive due to her well-honed sense of pragmatism; but this would be ignoring the pragmatic aspects of Daryl’s character as well. He is able to cut his losses when he needs to, but his over-developed sense of right and wrong, which can seem simplistically Manichean (black and white) at times, also gives him a moral compass that Carol seems to have either forgotten, or to have buried so deeply within herself that it is no longer accessible. Daryl, in this episode, seems determined to dig that moral compass back out, to bring it to the surface for his friend.

Now in the city, they decide to scout things out, to try to find out where the vehicles with crosses originate. They go up one building, Daryl using a burning legal pad to create a diversion to lure away walkers (again, an instance of fire being used). They cross from the first building to a second via a skyway – a skyway that has an interesting little campsite set up within it. There are a group of walkers, zipped tightly in sleeping bags, and a bunch more in tents, none of whom are able to get out of their various restraints. They kill the few in the bags, and move around the tents, heading into the next building. From a window there, they can see a crashed van with white crosses sitting precariously on the edge of a viaduct. When they head back to the skyway, however, Carol and Daryl are ambushed by a wily Noah (better than a Noah Wyle). Noah takes the machine gun Carol was carrying, as well as demanding Daryl’s crossbow. He backs across the skyway, slicing open the two tents to provide his victims with a challenge so that he can make good his escape. Carol pulls her hand gun, shoots the first walker, and then takes a bead on Noah as he flees. Just as she fires, Daryl knocks her arm down, saying, “He’s just a kid.”

This here, then marks another difference between the two of them. Carol claims she was only going to shoot Noah in the leg – but realistically, any kind of gunshot wound is as good as a death sentence in this world. A reason for his decision to save this “kid” comes to light as the two make their way out of the skyway. A book falls out of his bag: Treating Survivors of Childhood Abuse, a book they both saw earlier in the women’s shelter. Perhaps he feels a need to protect children, being that he himself faced terrible abuse as a child. Preventing Carol from potentially killing Noah fits into this possibility.

The two head over to the van they spotted, getting quickly trapped within it. They search around the van, and Daryl turns over a gurney, noting the letters GMH. Carol guesses they might stand for Grady Memorial Hospital. Meanwhile, they are surrounded, and the two are forced to ride the van for the fifty foot drop off of the viaduct in order to get away from the horde they’ve attracted. Carol is clearly hurt – it looks as though she’s dislocated her right shoulder or broken her clavicle – but the two are able to walk, and head back into the city.

Eventually, they manage to catch up to Noah, and just in the nick of time for him as well. He’s trying to prevent a walker from pushing past a bookshelf, and Daryl body checks him in the back, knocking Noah to the floor where the bookshelf falls on top of him. Daryl, who has show compassion to everyone he’s met so far – including Noah, in saving him from Carol – has no more interest in showing more. Or does he? He grabs a pack of smokes off the floor, and lights one. He tells Carol that he’s not going to save Noah – he saved him once before, and now he’s almost killed Carol by sending a walker back her way. Here, Carol suddenly rediscovers her humanity. Although she was more than willing to shoot Noah just a little while before, here she decides that they need to save him, helpless as he is.

Daryl just drags on his cigarette, shakes his head, and walks away. The walker breaks through the door it was behind, and falls on Noah and the bookshelf. Just as it looks as though Noah is a goner, a crossbow bolt blossoms in the walker’s forehead. Daryl and Carol free Noah, and he starts to worry loudly that “they’re” going to catch him, that “they” will have heard the gunshots. Daryl quickly gets out of him that the people he’s talking about have Beth, and that they’re running their operations out of Grady Memorial Hospital. Carol spots a car moving below, so the three make to leave very quickly. Noah stumbles, slowing Daryl for a crucial moment. Carol goes running outside, only to be struck down by the hospital vehicle that had been circling their block, trying, I assume, to localize the gunfire they’ve heard. The vehicle stops immediately, two officers get out, and they place her on a gurney to transport her to Grady Memorial. Daryl tries to go to her, but Noah (Noah!) holds him back, explaining that her best shot at survival is if he and Daryl can make a plan.

This brings up back to the same point we were at in the afternoon of Episode 503, prior to Daryl’s return with his mystery guest in the woods beside the church. It is safe to say at this point, that the “who?” of whom is behind Daryl has been solved – it’s clearly Noah, coming with him to help plan for Beth (and Carol’s) rescues. The other big mystery was how does Carol end up in the hospital at the end of Episode 504? Now we know, and I (along with millions of other fans) will be hoping for her survival. I don’t much care for how this hospital does triage.

The repetition of fire (and smoke) throughout the episode speaks to its primary theme: renewal and rebirth. While a Pyrrhic rebirth often involves the death of the protagonist in order to achieve the new life or changes that are necessary, there are plenty of lesser (or at least less permanent) ways that Carol and Daryl can attempt to redefine themselves. Carol thinks that she’s done with redefining, but when she’s faced with Noah’s death, and Daryl’s apparent lack of interest in helping him, she seems to suddenly find within herself the ability to care about another’s life. Whether this is incidental to Daryl walking away, or something that he elicited from her with purpose, is a tough call to make. I’d love to think that Daryl does this, abandoning Noah to his fate, simply to force Carol into a reevaluation; however, the pragmatic Carol he knows is just as likely to reach over and stick a knife through Noah’s temple. If he’s doing this to test her compassion, he’s taking a huge chance with Noah’s life.

While this episode reflected last week’s in a lot of ways (especially the focus on an external group, and using a motif throughout the episode (fire)), I found that the flashback sequences were a whole lot more relevant and cogent this week. This is for two reasons: first, Carol is an old friend, but Abraham is still something of an unknown; and second, context was obvious in each one. This comes from not having to teach us about an entirely new character in a single episode, and from the fact that each of the flashbacks edged on a scene from an episode fans have already watched.

Overall, I enjoyed this episode slightly more than last week’s. Daryl showed more depth than usual – communicating with Carol both through words and through physical presence. And Carol showed how much her pragmatism has actually worked against her, actively forcing her to seek solitude, away from the people she’s afraid she won’t be able to protect. The real wildcard here is Noah. Daryl doesn’t know him at all, but is putting a lot of faith in him, despite being robbed at gunpoint; and Carol, well, she’s unconscious and needing rescue of her own. This episode was only a slight uptick in the quality over last week, so let’s hope the next two episodes finish off the first half of Season 5 just as strongly as the season began.

Best Lines:

  • Daryl, looking at a painting: “Looks like a dog sat in paint, wiping its ass all over the place.”
  • Carol to Daryl: “How’d we get here?” Daryl – “We just did.”
  • Daryl to Carol near the end of the episode, “We ain’t ashes.”

Steve’s Grade: B+
A slight improvement over last week, largely due to a series of flashbacks that not only made sense thematically, but made sense in the narrative structure as well. Some important questions answered, and a clear direction for the next two episodes heading into the mid-season hiatus.

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  1. dave says:

    Great job as usual. Lately when an episode is good but not exceptional (as was the case with the last two) I think about Hershel’s farm to remind myself how spoiled I’ve been so far this season.

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