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WARNING: This contains SPOILERS
Since it’s return from the mid-season break, The Walking Dead has been firing on all cylinders, each episode an epic. One of the key factors to its success is now the survivors are split up and we can focus on their micro-journeys to find each other. One of the better episodes of season three was ‘Clear’, where the story shifted focus on just Rick, Carl and Michonne as they scout for supplies and Rick bumps into Morgan, making a return from the pilot episode, and that theme is continuing now.
Fear comes from seclusion, this is what works so well in building suspense. Focusing on a few people, not knowing what’s around the corner, be it friend or foe, it creates the tension. When there are dozens of characters all vying for a slice of the run-time things can get lost, glossed over and most importantly, the fear vanishes. There is safety in numbers.
In the latest episode ‘The Grove’, the story looks at Carole, Tyreese and the two girls, Lizzie and Mika. Lizzie has been losing the plot for a while, having developed a sympathy for walkers, believing them to still be people who just want the living to be like them. To prove herself right we are treated to one of the most morbid scenes in the show so far when Carole and Tyreese return to find a blood soaked Lizzie standing over her dead sister. “Don’t worry,” she says, “she’ll come back. I didn’t hurt the brain.”
The graphic novel that the show is based on has seen plenty of dark plot points, many of which haven’t made it into the TV show. For as gory as The Walking Dead is, there are some things that would really push the envelope and might never make the transition. One of those was the death of baby Judith that was hinted at in the mid-season break but never followed through. For whilst zombie biting and cold blooded murder are acceptable, the death of an innocent baby might shift the tone of the show completely.
Children have been killed and buried before, but never a baby that we’ve invested in. Having Judith turn or eaten alive would make most studio execs baulk. So ‘The Grove’ does its best to deal with something similar. The innocence of youth ripped away and blended with the moral ambiguity between living and dead. What Lizzie does is wrong but she doesn’t see it that way and in this post-apocalyptic world who is going to teach her, who is going to punish her?
Taking a page from Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice And Men’, it is a distraught Carole who takes the burden to reprimand Lizzie. Having taken both girls on as replacement daughters – even if she refused to let them call her “mom” – having to say goodbye to two of them can only serve to push Carole further over the edge.
Apart from not being afraid to go there, what this episode did was take four of the lesser characters from the show (yes, Carole is a B list player), and make a compelling and intensifying episode. If you didn’t before, you can be prepared to care about these characters. Despite being so close to other survivors – the smoke in the distance undoubtedly was from the shack that Daryl and Beth burnt down – the drill down to focus on smaller groups works brilliantly. Sanctuary could be around the corner but at this time, nothing else matters.