It’s not easy to find things to grumble about in an episode that’s basically 60 minutes of Carol Peletier kicking ass and taking names, but I’m going to try. That’s my guarantee to you, the reader. Day or night, spring, summer, winter, or fall, I’m here working hard to find things to whine about in America’s favorite TV show.
The only people, fictional or otherwise, who would prefer drama queen Rick Grimes as their leader to Cool Hand Carol are the dopes who actually make up the Grimes gang. Carol’s everything you’d want in a post-apocalyptic warlord: Brave, cunning, ruthless, and highly deceptive. Last night’s episode had lots of fun with the last point, introducing her as the happy middle-aged homemaker picking out ingredients for a casserole, then having her spring into action-hero mode when the Wolves descend on Alexandria — finishing them off right in time for her casserole to come out of the oven. There’s a Keyser Soze element to her character insofar as she’s the member of the gang you’d worry about least when meeting her when really she’s the member you should worry about most. The only nit I’d pick, and it’s a nit that’s been picked before, is that there wasn’t a whiff of real danger to her last night, an (almost) unforgivable sin in a show whose premise is that mortal peril lies in every shadow and behind every corner. You knew she was going to kick ass and she kicked it and kicked it and kicked it. Lots of fun to watch, but clearly she’s been elevated now with Rick and Daryl into the pantheon of superheroes whom the writers don’t dare kill off for fear of a fan revolt. In fact, I’ll predict that when AMC finally gets tired of milking its cash cow a few years from now and decides to wind down the show, Carol, not Rick, will be the last person standing. (Daryl will die a hero’s death during one of the final episodes sacrificing himself for the others. Not a shred of doubt about it.) She’s more likable, her character arc has been more interesting, and it’d be novel to see a middle-age woman forge on after even the toughest warriors, like Daryl and Rick, have finally succumbed. She’s a Ripley for our times. She’ll walk off into the sunset. And Rick’s daughter, Judith, will be with her.
I don’t want to grouse much about Carol being a superhero, though, because her style is a welcome change from Rick’s. Where Rick seems forever perched on the brink of a meltdown, she’s more like Strand (an extreme example) from “Fear the Walking Dead” in that she never really loses her cool. The more the series rolls on, the more realistic I find that attitude compared to Rick’s mode of perpetual crisis. At some point, after enduring endless death and terror and misery, you’d adjust. That’s the vibe I get from Carol — not that she’s not afraid but that, after so many months of surviving horror after horror, there’s a “let’s just get on with it” attitude in her approach to confronting threats. The way she dispatched the Wolves last night was businesslike. You never get that from Rick, who’s usually either enraged or panicked. I’ll leave it to veterans to say whether Rick’s or Carol’s attitude is more common among soldiers after many months of combat, but I know how I’d bet.
One thing I didn’t understand about the siege of Alexandria: Why were the Wolves armed only with knives and machetes? That was awfully stupid, no? I have to believe it was by conscious choice. There’s no way they’ve failed to stumble across some guns after surviving and scavenging for so many months, and even if they thought the Alexandrians were soft and wouldn’t be a match for them in hand-to-hand combat, there was a good chance that they had guns inside and would simply mow the Wolves down as they advanced. (And that’s basically what happened, thanks to Carol.) What exactly was the strategy here? Why not bring firearms? And what’s Morgan’s damage in not wanting to kill the living? The more barbaric the Wolves behaved, the harder his attitude was to take. These people were hacking up the bodies of their victims for the sheer pleasure of it, apparently. They weren’t stealing or raping or looking to take over the town, to all appearances. They just wanted to kill and mutilate defenseless people. Morgan, who himself is poised for superhero status on the show given his kendo skills, was made to follow a pious ethic of not wanting to kill because, I guess, the writers thought it would lend him a certain nobility vis-a-vis the rest. He’s basically Rick but at a far earlier stage of deterioration, not having learned yet that pity on the enemy leads to ruin. And of course he finally gave in and bashed in the skull of one of the Wolves once he realized, after everyone else already had, that the Wolves are irredeemable. I can sort of understand letting a man live after defeating him in a one-on-one battle in the woods, but the logic of leaving a gang of marauders to regroup and fight another day after they’ve already invaded your camp and butchered your friends escapes me. Maybe it’s as simple as the writers not being able to let go of their favorite “good man forced to go bad by a brutal world” storyline. They’ve had five years to flesh that out in the person of Rick. Evidently that’s not enough.
Two questions for next week’s episode. What was that enigmatic bit that one of the Wolves said to Morgan before Carol jumped in and put him down? Something about how they’d come to “free” the Alexandrians? I don’t know what that means. Maybe they’re an insane death cult, “freeing” the living from the horror of the zombie apocalypse by mercy-killing them? In that case, though, what’s with hacking up the bodies? Second question: How did the Wolves know that Rick’s gang had left Alexandria for the day and that the town would be (relatively) undefended if they struck? At first I thought it was as simple as them having staked out the town and watched as the Grimes gang went off to put their little zombie diversion scheme into practice last week, but this post at Forbes makes a lot of sense in hindsight. Enid, the “JSS” girl at the beginning of the episode, is pretty obviously a double agent for the Wolves. That’s the only reason to open last night’s episode with her origin story. It would also explain her farewell note to Carl. The Wolves probably rescued her after she lost her parents and then sent her into Alexandria to scout the place and let them know when it was undefended. Makes perfect sense. Except … for the fact that Alexandria has an armory and Enid probably took care to find that out. In which case, again, why did the Wolves attack without guns? They had every reason to expect they’d be met with superior firepower.