* ALL THE DEVASTATING SPOILERS IN THE WORLD AHEAD*
The post-apocalyptic world of The Walking Dead just got a whole lot darker in “The Grove”.
You may wonder how a nightmarish existence blighted by the loss of loved ones, deprivations without number, and the ever present threat of dismemberment and death could get any more distressing but showrunner Scott Gimple’s tautly written tale of the perfect house with imperfect temporary tenants found shockingly profound ways to do just that.
And the beauty, if such a word can even be used in an episode of such brutally realistic emotional and physical violence, of “The Grove” is that it began in much the same way as all the other post-prison dispersal episodes with Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman), Carol (Melissa McBride), Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino), sister Mika (Kyla Kenedy) and the L’Il Asskicker Judith coming across a picture perfect place to call home.
“The whole world is haunted now. There’s no getting out of that. Not until we’re dead.” (Tyreese)
It might have been sensibly surrounded by barbed wire but was otherwise straight out of Home Sweet Some Central Casting with dolls to play with, the gas in the kitchen still working, pecans to shell and cook, and a jigsaw puzzle to collectively re-assemble.
In fact, it was so Hallmark Home on the Range meets Barbie’s Dream House-like that Mika, rushing in with a doll she had found and happily named Grezelda Gundersen – witnessing that kind of childish joy, which you might have understandably thought was vanquished by the soul-scarring events of the apocalypse, was a delight (even as it triggered an ominous sinking feeling) – proclaimed that she never wanted to leave the house.
Similar sentiments were expressed by both Tyreese and Carol at various times, both of whom began to feel that settling down here, and forgoing the further danger of reached Terminus, an unknown quantity and possibly full of strangers Tyreese didn’t feel he could face, was the right move.
And who can blame them?
They had food (hot and cold running deer!), shelter, and easily defendable approaches, and though the great secret still loomed between Tyreese (blissfully unaware) and Carol (wracked with brooding anxiety), there was a real sense that this could be home.
Yes there were threats as you’d expect and some frightening near misses, including what turned out to be a red herring of a threat to both Mika and Lizzie’s lives when BBQ’d and blackened zombies came stumbling out of the forest, and catching the two girls unawares, almost caught them and did their undead thing.
But thanks to some energetic running, the very thing Mika, who showed a marked reluctance to kill anything, assured Carol would save her in lieu of the swordplay or shooting she couldn’t countenance, and the timely arrival of Carol and Tyreese, the threat was vanquished and the simple pastoral routine of hangin’ ’round the homestead resumed as if nothing had ever happened.
But of course something had, with Mika discovering Lizzie was feeding the zombies nearby rats and mice – yes she was the sicko leaving them at the fence of the prison – convinced they were still people, just very, VERY differently abled.
“You killed her! You KILLED her! She was my friend and you KILLED her! She was my friend!” (Lizzie after Carol dispatches a walker that the disturbed young girl was “playing” with)
Mika, squeamish though she might have been about killing them, knew they weren’t people anymore, but Lizzie, always dancing on the edge of the gaga precipice, was finally and agonisingly slowly tumbling into it, with nothing anyone could do, and god knows Carol tried, to stop it happening.
What no one suspected, least of all Carol, the Queen of Tough Shell Self-Preparedness, who up until the terrible events at the end of “The Grove” was still admonishing Mika to get tougher and do what she must – Mika for her part, and my undying admiration, held firm to her refusal to go down the road of the ends justifying the means – was who would go falling into that endless hole with Lizzie.
The reveal, when it came following a heart to heart conversation where Tyreese, cradling a gun, talked with exquisite sadness of how much he missed Karen (Melissa Ponzio) and looked for all the world like he had somehow psychically divined it was Carol’s fault and he was about to take his vengeance then and there, was heart-stoppingly shocking.
To their ever living horror, Tyreese and Carol wandering back slowly in the introspective reverie of deepest, darkest emotions brought to light, came upon Lizzie, knife in blood-soaked hands, standing next to the body of an inert and clearly dead Mika.
Without blinking and convinced she had just done them all a favour, Lizzie assured a speechless Carol, who by some miracle managed to keep herself composed in the face of this terrible scene, that “Don’t worry, she’ll come back. I didn’t hurt her brain”.
The long time budding, and now fully realised psychopath, had killed her own sister, and was about to dispatch Judith, all with the twisted idea that she was doing them a favour, giving them a chance to be something else, something, in her darkly addled mind, wonderfully different, and yes, loveable.
“Everything works out that way it’s supposed to.”
(Mika, echoing something her mum had told her once)
Of course they would be nothing of the sort, and Carol, knowing she had to act fast but calmly, talked Lizzie down from her psychotic madness, assuring her that she would watch over Mika if she would just go in with Tyreese and Judith into the house.
It was tense, emotionally excoriating and one of the darkest scenes that The Walking Dead, a series full to bursting with them, has ever featured.
But if that wasn’t scarring enough, it was soon followed by another emotionally graphic scene in which Carol, with the desperately reluctant assent of Tyreese, took Lizzie out into the yard and executed her with a single gunshot to her head (which mercifully we weren’t shown).
It was proceeded by the heartbreaking scene of Lizzie, who didn’t suspect what was about to follow, convinced that Carol was angry with her, pleasing through an unceasing torrent of tears that she was sorry, so very sorry.
Urging Lizzie to “look at the flowers”, Mika’s usual trick for distracting her during one of her sister’s frequent asthma attacks, Carol, no doubt wondering where it had all gone wrong, and grieving the loss of her adopted daughters (neither of whom it turns out were suited to this new cruel age, for entirely different reasons), did what she had to, reasoning that you couldn’t leave Lizzie around normal people anymore.
It was true but made what Carol had to do no less desperately sad and painful, a scene so unexpected that it was almost beyond processing.
With these terrible events played out, Carol, at the very end of her emotional rope and clearly wondering if she should go on, sat with Tyreese around the kitchen table and finally confessed that it was she who had killed Karen, and that he should do whatever he needed to do.
To her surprise, and frankly everyone watching, Tyreese forgave her, stressing he would never forget but that he forgave her and that they should leave this place, no longer home away from home, and find Terminus.
“And then one day you just change. You will change.”
(Carol in a harrowing voiceover as she and Tyreese and Judith walk away from their little house of horrors)
In its own way, it was as powerful a moment as any that had proceeded it, marking “The Grove” as one of Scott Gimple’s finest writing efforts (and this from a man with many already in his script writing quiver such as “Save the Last One” and “Clear”), and more than worthy piece of direction by Michael Satrazemis, and one of the most searing episodes in The Walking Dead series.
It brought alive once again the daily horrors of the zombie apocalypse, with first rate performances from both Melissa McBride and Brighton Sharbino, who invested Lizzie with as much as pathos and sadness as psychopathy, making you ache for her even as you recoiled in revulsion at the dark deeds she had done.
It is not an easy episode to process or recover from, which of course makes it the perfect episode for a series set at the very end of civilisation, and makes you wonder what horrors await in the final two episodes of the fourth season.
*Read this interview with Melissa McBride reflecting on “The Grove” via BlogZap2It.
Here’s the trailer for next week’s episode “Us” …