​The Walking Dead trades cheap scares for a brutal, gut-wrenching shock

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Holy hell. We all know The Walking Dead can be a violent show; we know zombies can appear from behind any corner; we even expect major characters to die at any moment. But last night, "The Grove" gave us a shocker that rivaled both the fate of Sofia and Carl having to shoot his dead mom in the head. Except it was worse.

Obviously, do NOT read this recap if you haven't seen last night's TWD. Why did you even click on it? What is wrong with you?!

"The Grove" focuses on Tyreese, Carol, Lizzie, Mica, and the wee baby Judith. To catch up: Tyreese is wounded from the prison fight and still upset about someone killing his sick semi-girlfriend Karen; Carol is trying to train the kids to be able to make the hard choices needed to survive in this world, and was also the person who killed Karen although Tyreese doesn't know it; Lizzie is a fucking psychopath; Mica is really young and not absorbing Carol's lessons on needing to be able to kill people/things when necessary; and Judith is a screaming, pooping ball that needs constant food and care in a world where 90% of the world's population wants to eat her.


On their way to Terminus, the group discovers a cabin in the woods where they can rest for a bit. The cabin is both idyllic and picturesque, with a big chair for dad Tyreese, a quaint kitchen for mom Carol, and a big yard for their 2.3 kids to play in, namely Lizzie, Mica and Judith. The show is not even slightly subtle in the way it presents this place as a chance for normalcy, as a bubble of nostalgia for a time gone by that none of them probably ever even knew. There's even a doll for Mica! Tyreese wants to stay, at least for a while, and Carol agrees.

So this happy home is where we learn that both Lizzie and Mica are fucked up. Lizzie, of course, has had no problem killing humans or animals, but now she's gotten it in her head that the zombies are people. Meanwhile, Mica makes it abundantly clear throughout the episode, she can't take a life, whether it be a human or a deer that they're hunting for supper. To be fair, Mica is not as fucked up as Lizzie, but Carol knows Mica is doomed. Early in the episode, Lizzie asks Carol about her daughter, and she says, "There wasn't a mean bone in her body." Later, she says the same thing about Mica, and the implication is clear — Mica cannot survive in this new world, and it's chilling. As Carol repeats over and over to the girls, you do what you have to do.


As time goes on, Mica does manage to come to terms with at least shooting zombies, which is useful when a group of burned zombies shamble into the yard. But she's still adamant about not killing the living: "I don't even wish I could," she tells Carol matter-of-factly, and it genuinely makes Carol sad.

And as time goes on, Lizzie's insanity begins to intensify. It starts subtly, when she prevents Tyreese from needlessly "killing" an immobile zombie on the railroad tracks. Then she starts talking like the walkers are still people. She feeds the zombie on the tracks a live mouse, dropping it into its mouth, and almost purposefully allows herself to get bitten. Later, Carol actually catches her "playing" with a zombie in the yard (oh, zombie suburbia!). Carol immediately destroys it before it can bite Lizzie, but Lizzie COMPLETELY FREAKS OUT, screaming about how it was her friend, they were just playing and how she should probably kill Carol.


That's pretty fucked up, right? Right. But it's nothing compared to when Tyreese and Carol return from a heart-to-heart out in the woods, to find Lizzie standing over her dead sister, with a knife in her hand and covered in blood.

Yes, Lizzie murders Mica, her own sister. She's not upset at all a what's she's done, and she clearly doesn't think it's wrong. She's genuinely excited to have Mica come back as a zombie — and actually, Carol and Tyreese caught her just before she was going to "help" baby Judith the same way. When Carol approaches her, Lizzie even pulls a gun on her until Carol promises to let Mica change first. Eventually, Carol and Tyreese manage to get the gun and get her inside.


Lizzie gets sent to her room (well, a room) while Tyreese and Carol try to absorb what's happened. Tyreese is defeated, but Carol… she knows. They can't travel with Lizzie, because Judith would be in danger every minute (which the show took pains to prove to us a few weeks ago, when Lizzie nearly smothered the baby). Even if they could keep Judith safe, what help could they give Lizzie? What help could anyone give? Lizzie is broken, and Carol knows what she has to do.


She does it. She takes the 12-year-old girl to the yard, while she's crying for making Carol mad at her, and then forces herself to shoots the child in the head.

It's brutal, and TWD neither flinches from it nor sensationalizes it. It is just a stark, gut-wrenching moment that offers no visceral entertainment, just a horrible feeling in the pit in your stomach that forces you to wonder how this awfulness could have been avoided, and whether it could be at all. Carol certainly wonders; it's obvious, because while she's been a hard pragmatist since her daughter Sofia's death, making horrible choices with hesitation for the good of the group, and prepping kids for the harsh reality of the world no matter the cost… but this decision costs her. She breaks down crying, finally committing an act so horrible that its necessity gives her no comfort.


It's a turning point for Carol, who has steeled herself against feeling anything. Maybe like Rick, she's returning from the brink to regain her humanity, maybe she realizes that surviving at all costs has a cost of her own. Because as she and Tyreese sit numbly at the table after burying Lizzie and Mica, she admits to Tyreese that she's the one who killed Karen and whatshisname and burned their bodies, in hopes of stopping the plague. And Tyreese forgives her — not easily, not without obvious conflicted feelings — but after the inhumanity they've just seen and been forced to be party to, they both need this small act of humanity, I think. And they walk on.

So let's take one moment to add Chad Coleman and Melissa McBride to The Walking Dead actors who are knocking it out of the goddamn park the second half of this season. Carol's tough exterior cracks and breaks down as Lizzie gets more and more fucked up; and the scene where Tyreese forgives Carol is, by itself, as good as any performance on the show. And let's give it up for the girls, too — they're weren't exactly Meryl Streep, but they're young, and the way Lizzie's Brighton Sharbino casually said she was about to "help" Judith was so genuinely disturbing that I think she's going to be a major actress one day (or an actual serial killer).


There wasn't much subtlety in "The Grove," and I don't think the writing was as top-notch as the best episodes of season 4.5 has been, despite being written by showrunner Scott Gimple. It could have probably explained Lizzie's craziness more clearly, that by turning Mica into a zombie, Lizzie thought she was freeing Mica for the horrors of everyday life — like getting it over with — or by explaining that Lizzie saw so much death that she decided zombies are still people as a coping mechanism. As it is, Lizzie is obviously crazy, but we don't really have any reason why.

But "The Grove" worked, and I think it worked well. I expect to see several million articles asking whether The Walking Dead has gone too far, and several million other articles decrying the show for portraying such a horrible act on television. I think it's all kind of bullshit, because Law Order: Special Victims Unit murders kids all the time, usually after a lot worse has been done to them. Sure, in TWD a main character committed this act, but the show didn't let her or the audience off the hook — the show built up this whole storyarc long enough that the shock felt earned, and it clearly wants the viewers to feel massively uncomfortable with the scene, to be upset, to know that the characters are upset.


It's brutal, yes, and likely the most awful thing that The Walking Dead has ever portrayed. But the question isn't whether The Walking Dead has gone too far, it's whether Carol and Tyreese and everyone living in this world have gone too far, and whether the world creates their behavior, modifies their behavior, or simply allows them to justify their behavior — if Carol's decision to kill Lizzie was the right one, the wrong one, the easy one, or the difficult one. Maybe it was all of them at once.

The Walking Dead doesn't presume to give us the answer, or even pretend it knows. But I'll give it credit for asking such a difficult question in the first place.


Assorted Musings:

• So lots of mysteries were solved last night, but I'm genuinely glad Carol was the one who killed Karen and whatshisname, because I don't think it would have made any sense for Carol to cover for Lizzie. The whole deal with Carol this season is that's she does what she has to do, and letting a little psychopath run around with no one the wiser would not have been in the group's best interest. Also, Rick would not have kicked Carol or Lizzie out if Carol told him Lizzie murdered those people, so there was no reason to cover for her.


• To be fair, playing "I Spy" in the zombie apocalypse may be a fate worse than death.

• Mica names her doll "Gurunda Gunderson." See? She's weird too.

• When the burned zombies approach, almost no one makes a headshot on the first try. It's actually kind of refreshing.


• Carol and crew see smoke, which I assumed was the shithole Daryl and Beth burned. Then the burned zombies stop by. Did they actually wander into the fire to because they were attracted to it and thought food might be in there? Or was something else going on?

• Carol's shitty husband can rest in peace knowing that Carol will continue to tell his shitty hunting jokes.


• I'm just going to assume the group got out the puzzle and put it on the living room table before shit went down, because if Carol and Tyreese came back after burying two children and started doing a puzzle that would be supremely fucked up.

• Holy shit The Walking Dead hates little girls. Seriously. The zombie girl Rick has to kill at the very beginning. The infinitely long saga of Sofia, whom Rick also shoots. Tonight, it was Lizzie and Mica, a.k.a. the Carol Corps. It's like someone was buried alive in Babysitters Club books, and was rescued but scarred forever by the experience. Judith is so doomed, you guys.