(All images used in this post are screen caps from AMC’s The Walking Dead, unless otherwise specified.)
Well, people, we have much to discuss, don’t we, with The Walking Dead’s Season 4, Episode 14, “The Grove.” For those WD fans who have been touched with a bit of the ennui regarding the last couple of weeks’ storylines. we got a bracing slap-up with this latest installment, written by Scott M. Gimple and artfully directed by Michael Satrazemis.
The opening scene of “The Grove” is a spare, haunting one. It opens with a close shot of a copper tea kettle on the stove, a gas flame burning under it…at first, it made me think it was a flashback of days past, at the beginning of the turn, perhaps…
The shot pans left to the open window, where a clean white curtain dances in a gentle breeze. We hear the sounds of girl’s laughter outside, and we see through the window’s pane what appears to be Lizzy running playfully around a tree. We lose the figure for brief moments, as she disappears behind the tree or the window frame, then reappears…and then we see, through the window, that there is another figure, but this figure does not run and dance like a young girl…this figure lurches and grabs at the young girl, who evades her easily, laughing.
“C’mon, Griselda!” we hear Lizzy’s voice beckon, when the walker stops at one point, having lost dim sight or sound of the girl…at the sound of Lizzy’s voice, the walker woman lurches again towards her, getting closer and closer, as Lizzy laughs, dances around the walker…the tea kettle on the stove starts to whistle, piercing through the dreamy, surreal quality of the old timey song that plays somewhere in the house, and the grotesque dance that is happening outside the window, in a sunny grove surrounded by pecan trees.
In the next scene, it is night on the train tracks, near an overpass. Carol sits, holding Baby Judith while Lizzy sits beside her. Mika and Tyrese are curled up on the tracks, sleeping. Carol smiles at Lizzy and tells her it’s ok, Lizzy can go sleep. Lizzy replies that if something happens, she can take Judith. “I can help,” says Lizzy, looking straight at Carol.
Carol smiles wryly. “You really think you can help me?”
“I know I can, m’aam,” Lizzy replies.
Lizzy then tells Carol how she saved Tyrese by shooting two people, a man and a woman, who were coming for Tyrese in the final prison battle. In remembering this, Lizzy looks down, regretful, “I didn’t mean to shoot her (Alicia) in the head.”
Aside from the opening shot, this statement by Lizzy is the first suggestion in “The Grove” as to how deeply Lizzy’s sympathetic feelings for the walkers really go, as shooting Alicia in the head would prevent her from reanimating into a walker…and for Lizzy, this is a bad thing.
By this point in the watching, it was like, seven minutes into the total episode, and I had already experienced two or three “Holy crap!” moments…is this what it feels like to be Gimple-slapped? I think so!
Lizzy asks Carol if she had a kid…Carol tells her about Sophia, how Sophia “didn’t have a mean bone in her body.”
“Is that why she isn’t here now?” asks Lizzy, astutely. Carol regards her, nods, “Yes.” Lizzy asks Carol if she misses her daughter. “Every day, “ Carol replies. Lizzy asks if Carol would miss her. “I won’t need to,” Carol answers, then tries to send Lizzy to bed again. Lizzy is quick, however, and she sneaks in a goodnight hug before Carol can protest or raise her defenses again:
In his sleep, on the tracks, Tyrese whimpers, in the grip of a bad dream…
The next morning, Carol is tending to Tyrese’s wound. Lizzy has found some type of pine sap, which Carol collects with the blade of her knife and applies to Tyrese’s wound to fight infection and bring down fever. Tyrese asks Carol how far she thinks they are from the Terminus station, the site of the supposed Sanctuary…three days out, four? Carol is not sure…Tyrese then comments on how tough Lizzy is.
“Yeah,” says Carol, “when it comes to people.” When Tyrese asks her what she means by that, Carol tells him that Lizzy is confused about the walkers, that she doesn’t see them for the threat they are…she just sees them as being different.
Tyrese looks over at Mika, who is holding Baby Judith, and asks Carol if she, Mika, is the same way. “No,” replies Carol. “She’s worse…she doesn’t have a mean bone in her body.” It is what she said about Sophia, before, and why Sophia didn’t survive.
Later, as they walk along the tracks, the girls and Carol pass the time talking about the adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. Mika asks if the story had a happy ending. At first, Mika likens herself to Huck Finn, but Lizzy interjects that she feels Mika is more like Tom Sawyer.
“Yeah,” Mika agrees easily, “You are way more like Huck Finn...you aren’t even grossed out by dead rabbits!” Lizzy shoots a look at Mika, makes the “zip it” sign with her mouth. Mika’s spilling Lizzy’s crazy deets, but the adults don’t notice.
A little ways down the tracks, Carol and Tyrese smell a fire, smoke…it smells like a big one. (Could it be the house fire that Daryl and Beth set? On Talking Dead, Chris Hardwick and the guests speculated on this possibility…I really do think the fire and smoke plume in this episode is from the cabin that Daryl and Beth torched. It seems like the kind of detail that Kirkman, Gimple, and Co. would add to an episode already rich with layers of meaning, nuance, and surrealism.)
Back at the tracks, Carol volunteers herself and Mika to go on a water run, suggesting that Tyrese stay back with Judith and Lizzy. Tyrese takes Carol’s advice and hangs back at the tracks, playing “I Spy” with Lizzy…there’s not much to see, besides trees and weeds, until it’s Tyrese’s turn, and he spies…a walker, some ways down the tracks, but lurching towards them.
Tyrese hands Judith to Lizzy and grips his hammer, striding down the tracks towards the walker, ready to take care of it…the walker falls through a weak part of the track and is stuck…Tyrese approaches it, ready to finish it off, when Lizzy rushes up to him, carrying Judith, and stops him. “Sometimes we need to kill them, but not always, “ says Lizzy. Judith begins to cry, and Tyrese looks down at the stuck walker, and relents to Lizzy’s wishes:
On the outing, Mika points out that Lizzy would be able to carry more water, and Carol admits to her that she wanted to take the opportunity to talk to Mika. When Mika asks her why, Carol tells Mika that she’s little and she’s sweet, “And those are two things that can get you killed.” Carol goes on to say that while Mika can’t change her small size, she can start to “toughen up” and adapt to the ways of the new world order.
Mika disagrees, saying that she doesn’t need to toughen up, that she can run, and she’s good at running. Carol stops, grips Mika’s arm. “No,” Carol says, “My daughter ran, and it wasn’t enough…that’s why I taught the kids at the prison to do more than that.”
(Now, I knew on many levels that this was why Carol was being so weird about teaching the prison kids the art of the knife kill, back in the day, but in this episode, we WD fans got many lingering questions answered, and after the watching, I felt a lot clearer about Carol and why she was being so weird and crazy then.
And, btw, in WD time, “back in the day”, when Carol was teaching knifery to the prison kids, that was maybe only like a week ago, right? Maybe not even a week? Ten days, tops?
Honestly, this whole crazy fourth season has taken place in about a week’s time, if I am calculating correctly, excluding the detour episode into the Gov’s story…please send me a line if I am wrong about this, but am I?
Let’s see…the explodey flu hit, then Patrick died and became Patrick Walker, led a walker riot at the prison…peeps died, peeps became infected with flu, Daryl and the crew made the Vet School Meds Run, while Rick sleuthed Carol’s double-homicide, led her away on the pretext of a goods run, and banished her from the prison with a lovely parting gift, a fully stocked car with a full tank of gas…Rick came back solo (with a lovely parting gift of his own, Carol’s watch), broke the 411 to Maggie, then Hershel, before the prison broke out into another round of walker mayhem.
Then, Rick and Carl shared a father-son walker mow-down moment while Hershel, Maggie, and the at home peeps held down the prison and goodness prevailed, for a moment, anyway…Daryl and the gang returned from their road trip, delivered the meds, and started getting them into sick peeps’ bloodstreams stat while Hershel and Michonne got themselves into an unwanted and much-hated hostage situation with the Gov.
Rick had the dreaded Daryl Conversation, and was about to have the even more dreaded Tyrese Conversation, when they were rudely interrupted by the Gov’s tank blasting a hole into the prison walls…war broke out, the prison got ruined, and everyone who didn’t get killed, scattered…now everyone’s having their own story, with most trying to get to Terminus...and this all happened in about 5 – 7 days’ time, if I am figuring correctly.
Am I right or wrong about this? Chime in, people…inquiring minds want to know!
If I am right, that is pretty much The Shittiest Week Ever, maybe taking second place to the first week of the zombie apocalypse, where everyone’s lives they had before, and many of their loved ones, were lost forever.)
Anyway, Carol is giving Mika her life-or-death “toughen up” speech, while Mika is holding her own and making a strong case for her belief system, which is falling somewhere in the realm of pacifism and vegetarianism, which I totally respect…but do not fully practice, myself.
Mika explains her position. “I can kill walkers…I mean, I’ve tried. I’m not like my sister…I’m not messed up. I know what they are. But I can’t kill people…I could never do that.” Mika goes on to tell Carol about how the bad people at the prison were right in front of her and Lizzy, and how she, Mika, held up her gun…but couldn’t pull the trigger.
“Killing people is wrong,” asserts Mika. She brings up Karen and David, how somebody killed them…and they were nice. Carol’s mouth, at this, (the first of several in-your-face, Carol, moments in this episode) sets in a tight line as she asks, “What about people who try to kill you?”
“I don’t even wish I could (kill them),” Mika replies. Carol bends down to get on Mika’s eye level. “People came in and killed our friends,” she says to Mika, emphasizing every word, looking Mika right in the eye.
Mika’s look back is unwavering, her reply immediate, ” And I feel sorry for them.”
Carol’s brow furrows at this. “Why?” she whispers, genuinely puzzled.
“Because they probably weren’t like that before,” replies Mika. She turns and continues down the wooded path.
As she follows Mika, Carol keeps on. “Sooner or later, you’ll have to do it…you’ll have to do it, or you’ll die….you have to change, everyone does now. Things don’t just work out.”
And at this very moment, the two turn a slight right and walk right into the opening of a stately old pecan grove, with a quiet country home nestled in the center. It looks peaceful and immediately inviting. “Look!” exclaims Mika. She turns to Carol, beaming. “My mom used to say, everything turns out like it’s supposed to.”
As they all approach the home, walking through the peaceful pecan grove, Carol pulls back a spare, but sturdy, barbed wire half-fence that surrounds the house and yard. “Maybe we can catch our breath here,” suggests Carol. Lizzy asks if they are still going to Terminus, and Carol replies that maybe they can stay a day or two before moving on. It seems like an ideal plan, as there is a well full of water, fences, deer that can be hunted, and pecans…as Tyrese says, “You can eat your fill, and then some!”
Mika seems very stoked on this. “I love pecans!” she exclaims, which is a good thing, as nuts are a key protein source for vegetarians.
Lizzy, of course, being a disciple of the Dark Side, spots the large black plume of smoke coming up from the distance, over the tree line…it is a foreshadowing of trouble to come, a course of events unwittingly set into motion, most likely by two wild young people on the run, and falling in love...ouch, Carol, I feel that arrow to the heart for you, girl, but that little killing episode was a total dealbreaker…sorry…sux 4 u.
Carol suggests they leave the hole in the fence for the deer to come through and, “play it really safe here.” It’s a good plan, and I am giving Carol mad props for mentally multitasking like a motherfucker right about now. She’s got the goods. The New Carol would have kicked Ed’s ass good, and busted a cap in his mean mug, before he ever got a chance to lay another hand on her. That thought gives me a lot of satisfaction.
Carol and Tyrese approach the door to begin the process of “clearing” the house…they order the girls to stay outside, where they are sitting, Lizzy holding the baby and Mika holding the gun. Carol has deliberately put Mika in charge of this, to force her to shoot to protect if necessary, and desensitize her from all that pacifistic nonsense.
As they rap on the door and go inside, Lizzy begins to look more and more distressed, which Mika notices. She tries to reassure Lizzy that Carol and Tyrese will be fine, but Lizzy isn’t worried about Carol and Tyrese…she’s worried about the walkers that will surely get killed if found inside.
Mika and Lizzy get into it, Mika starting to lose her patience and yell at Lizzy that the walkers are not people, when Ol’ Farmer Walker comes lurching out of the house and pitches over the porch railing, landing him right in front of the girls and the baby. He begins to claw his way towards them, and Lizzy falls while trying to back away, clutching Judith and screaming in terror while poor Judith wails helplessly.
Mika fires upon Ol’ Farmer Walker, but it is Carol and Tyrese that finish him off. This sets Lizzy into a real fit of despair, which Carol cannot understand and is growing impatient with, as she keeps asking Lizzy what is wrong.
Lizzy responds that she doesn’t want to say, and turns away. Mika fixes Carol a look, like, “What are you, new?” before going after Lizzy.
With the practiced air of someone who has done it many times before, Mika first apologizes to Lizzy for yelling at her, then puts her arm around Lizzy’s shoulders, quietly urging Lizzy to look at the flowers, focus on the flowers, and count, and breathe.
A troubled Tyrese and Carol look on, as Lizzy and Mika breathe and count together, and Lizzy begins to calm, while the Bear McCreary music twists and turns in the background like the unraveling of Lizzy’s young mind…
Later, in the evening, Carol and Lizzy are sitting at the kitchen table, shelling pecans. Carol asks Lizzy if she is still upset, and Lizzy tells her that sometimes she doesn’t understand (why the walkers must be killed), “but I am trying to, m’aam, I really am.” Mika runs up to them, beaming and clutching a sweet rag doll with long red yarn ponytails. “Look what I found!” Mika exclaims, showing them the doll. “I’m going to name her Griselda Gunderson!“
And with that pronouncement, Mika flounces onto the living room rug to play with her new doll. There is a cozy fire burning in the fireplace, and Tyrese cannot seem to comprehend this long-forgotten feeling of home, and hearth, and comfort. He remarks on this as he looks around, dazed at the coziness and warmth and feeling of family in the room.
Mika, ever the sage, tells Tyrese to chillax, stay awhile…
The peaceful family feeling is short-lived, because the next scene is daylight, through the kitchen window, with the whistling copper kettle and the macabre game of Walker Tag between Lizzy and her new bestie, Griselda Walker, which Carol spies, disbelieving, through the window. She rushes out, ordering Lizzy away from her grisly version of a newfound doll, Griselda Walker:
Carol, of course, must lay down the tough love, and the blade, into Griselda Walker’s skull, inciting a full-on-fucking-freakout by you-know-who…
Later, Carol and Mika go out together, Mika carrying a shotgun. They see the black plume of smoke over the treetops, and Mika says black smoke means the fire is still burning…she learned that in science class. “I miss science class,” she sighs, excepting when they made the students cut up planeria worms. What an adorable little nerd she is!
Carol tries to work the “toughen up” angle again with Mika, saying that these days, she’ll have to do a lot worse than cut up planeria worms. “I don’t gotta,” Mika replies. (Pretty much one of my favorite lines, ever.) Carol tells her that while Lizzy is bigger and stronger, Mika is smarter about things, that she understands about the walkers while Lizzy doesn’t. “Look out for her,” pleads Carol. Carol then spies a young deer in the glenn.
“Go on,” she urges Mika, trying to get her to bring down the deer. “Just like I showed you.” Mika raises the rifle and aims…
Later, Tyrese is pumping well water into a bucket, with Carol. He’s been thinking, tells Carol that maybe they don’t need to go to Terminus, that maybe they can make a life here, at this house. Tyrese is thinking maybe they should stay there.
“I know Lizzy and Mika…I know Judith…I know you, I trust you,” Tyrese says to Carol, who looks down for a moment at these words. Tyrese continues, “I don’t know if I can get that anywhere else.”
Tyrese continues to look at Carol with a sweet, open look. “We can stay here…we can live here.”
Meanwhile, back at the house, Mika is calling for Lizzy. She sees Lizzy slip off in the back, towards the stables. She follows Lizzy to the railroad tracks, walks up just after Lizzy pulls a mouse from a box and, holding it by the tail, hand-feeds it to the stuck railroad walker.
On the tracks, poor little Mika really tries to reason with her crazy sister, telling her straight up that the walkers are bad, that they want to kill her, that it’s time to stop pretending things aren’t as bad as they really are. Lizzy continues to tell her sister that nobody understands, that the walkers are talking to her, and she thinks they want her to be like them.
“Maybe I should become like them,” Lizzy muses as she holds her hand out to the stuck walker, who tries to chomp at her fingers. “I can make you all understand.”
Then, the rustle of nearby bushes heralds the coming of…The Char Walkers.
The Char Walkers come lurching down the tracks after the girls, who make it to the barbed-wire fence, screaming for Carol and Tyrese…Lizzy gets through, while poor Mika gets stuck in the wire. To her credit, Lizzy pulls Mika to safety after a close call with a particularly grabby walker.
The girls scramble to get their guns and help Tyrese and Carol shoot The Char Walkers in a great walker kill scene that had Jon Sanders, a WD effects specialist, grinning from ear to ear as he recounted the fun they creating the effects of the walker’s brains and bodies getting blown away in a pyrotechnic display of flaming bits of brain and brawn:
That night, as Tyrese dozes in the cozy armchair in front of the fireplace, Carol and Lizzy once again sit at the kitchen table together while Mika plays with her rag doll, Griselda Gunderson.
Lizzy is staring morosely, and breathing kind of funny, and Carol asks her gently if she is still upset. Lizzy chooses her words carefully, saying that she knows she needed to help with the walkers earlier. It seems Lizzy is upset about killing the walkers, but she also seems like she may be getting it, finally. It seems that way, anyhow…
Carol asks her if she understands now what they really are. Once again, Lizzy chooses her words carefully, saying that she knows now what she must do. Carol, of course, interprets this as Lizzy finally getting it, that the walkers are a threat and need to be dealt with as such, but Lizzy’s true meaning is much more sinister than that. Mika pipes up, saying she doesn’t want to kill, she doesn’t want to be mean…Lizzy turns to her sister and looks at her significantly, and says that you only need to be mean sometimes…nobody of course guesses the true import and meaning of her words.
In his armchair, Tyrese tosses and mumbles, in the grip of another bad dream.
The next morning, Carol and Tyrese are walking together. Carol turns to Tyrese, tells him that she’s on board with staying at the farm, of setting up a life there. Tyrese seems glad to hear this. He says that maybe someday they can continue on, to Terminus, but right now…right now, he is not sure he can be around other people, around strangers.
As he says this, Tyrese leans heavily on a tree…and begins to talk about Karen. He dreams about her every night, and even though the dreams change (in some they are just talking, and in some he actually sees someone kill her, some stranger.) Tyrese wakes, each time, with the feeling like he’s just lost her all over again.
Poor Carol’s face, as he talks! Melissa McBride delivers another amazing performance, as Carol’s face shows her conflict, and regret, and sorrow, at Tyrese’s words. At one point, she even turns to Tyrese, about to confess…but, thankfully, she cannot bring herself to do it.
My WD buddy said later, of this scene, that it was good that Carol waited to confess to Tyrese…we both agreed that the outcome would have been way different if she had told him then, in the grove.
Instead, sweet Tyrese tells Carol she shouldn’t be ashamed about who she is, and gives her a hug…damn, you know she’s feeling like shit right about now.
And then, it becomes…awful. Carol and Tyrese come back to the house to find Lizzy in the front yard, her hands covered in blood, holding a knife. Mika lay dead behind her, while Judith is having some tummy time on a blanket beside Mika’s body.
As Carol approaches, and reaches for the knife, Lizzy tells them to wait, she’ll change, that she, Lizzy, didn’t hurt Mika’s head or her brain. “Just wait, you’ll see, she’ll change,” Lizzy insists. This is what she has decided must be done to have them see, finally, what she sees about the walkers. When Carol reaches again, Lizzy pulls out her gun, to hold them off and give Mika a chance to “change.”
When Carol suggests to Lizzy that Tyrese take her and Judith inside, as being out there wouldn’t be safe for Judith, Lizzy tells them that she was about to…take care of Judith, so she could change, too.
“She can’t even walk yet,” points out Carol, who is somehow able to keep calm and talk quietly, and reasonably, to Lizzy without being too confrontational in this moment. Lizzy nods, understands, has an, “Ok, I’ll wait until she’s older” air about her.
Lizzy agrees to go inside with Tyrese and Judith only after Carol convinces her that she will stay outside to tie Mika up, you know, so she won’t go anywhere. “I’ll use her shoelaces,” suggests Carol, putting on a brave, bright smile and blinking back her tears.
A shaken Tyrese leads the girls inside, and Carol breaks down, crying over little Mika’s body. She pulls her knife out, tears running down her face.
Later, Carol sits at the kitchen table, staring ahead, while Tyrese tells her that he fed Lizzy and cleared her room of any knives or weapons. He found a box of mice in her room, and learned that she was the one feeding rats to the walkers at the prison, and that she was also the one that opened up the rabbit’s body and nailed it to the board. She told him was “having fun” with it.
Tyrese, who is looking majorly shell-shocked and creeped out at this point, wonders aloud if it was her that killed Karen and David…but how could she drag the bodies out?
Carol stares down at the table. “She would have let them turn,” she says. “It wasn’t her.” It’s like Carol really doesn’t even give a shit about that crap right now…she’s got other, more pressing things to worry about in the moment.
Carol tells Tyrese that Lizzy was like this before, that it was already there…she blames herself for not seeing it sooner. She offers to take Lizzy, herself, to keep her away from others. Carol says she won’t be able to sleep with Lizzy and Judith under the same roof. Lizzy is clearly a threat to Judith.
Tyrese tells Carol they’d never make it…he offers to take Judith, but Carol tells him the same thing, they’d never make it…they look at each other. Carol says, slowly and deliberately, “She can’t be around other people.” She looks at Tyrese, who looks back at her, pained. Carol wipes away tears.
There is nothing more to say.
Later, as Tyrese looks on, out the window, Carol and Lizzy walk together in the grove, away from the house. Lizzy looks happy and at ease, taking big, high steps over the wildflowers and looking up at Carol fondly. Carol is keeping it together, saying that they should pick wildflowers for Mika, for when she comes back. Lizzy agrees that Mika would love that. Carol soon after begins to break down, and Lizzy becomes upset, distressed at the thought of Carol being mad at her. Crying quietly, Carol tells Lizzy to “look at the flowers,” that she, Carol loves her.
And as Lizzy looks at the yellow flowers at her feet, crying, Carol, crying, lifts the gun and pulls the trigger.
As Carol walks back to the house, she sees a deer in the glenn. She looks at it for a moment, before continuing on to the house. The next shot is of Carol digging, with Tyrese carrying Lizzy’s shrouded body and placing it gently on the ground, beside the newly dug grave.
Later, sitting at the table with Tyrese, Carol has had enough. She confesses to Tyrese, “I killed Karen and David…it wasn’t Lizzy, it wasn’t a stranger…it was me.” She continues to tell a shellshocked Tyrese that he can do what he needs to, but she was only trying to stop the spread of the disease to the others at the prison. It takes Tyrese a moment to recover himself…
But, after he is assured that Karen didn’t know what was happening, or feel pain, or fear, he tells Carol he forgives her…he will never forget, but he does forgive, as he knows what she did is something she feels, and is a part of her, as it is a part of him. “I forgive you,” he says, and Carol quietly thanks him.
Tyrese says they can’t stay, not now. The parting shots of Episode 14 show the empty house, the kettle, the armchair, the ragdoll lying at the edge of the cold, ashened fireplace…Tyrese and Carol, with Judith on Tyrese’s back, walk through the grove, away from the home and life that seemed so promising, and down the tracks towards Terminus, as the voice over is of Carol and Lizzy’s conversation, back at the prison:
Lizzy: “I am not afraid to kill…I am just afraid.”
Carol: “You can’t be.”
Carol: “You fight it…you don’t give up, and then one day, you change…we all change.”
It’s been a crazy episode, and a crazy week, all around…so, for this week’s playlist, it seems fitting to feature songwriters who say it, and play it, in a way that nobody else can…enjoy!
Modest Mouse, “Dramamine”
Jose Gonzales, “Down the Line”
The White Stripes, “The Hardest Button to Button”
Iron and Wine, “Upward and Over the Mountain”