Given that the last few weeks of this character-focused second half of season 4 of The Walking Dead have ended episodes with the notion of hope being the take away for most of the characters, it is of little surprise that “Grove” places everyone’s spirits right back down into the pit of cynical despair. It was a dark episode this week and we were given a lot of notice. Leading up to this episode, plenty of annoying articles, posts, and tweets from The Walking Dead camp came out saying that “Grove” was not to be missed. While that practically implies that the previous episodes were bad compared to this one, it also basically spells out that someone “important” would likely be dying this week. Even if one was not aware of the commotion coming out before “Grove” aired, it still stands to reason that the show was so unsubtle about everything that you knew at least 1 out of 3 youngsters would not be making it out of this episode alive. Regardless, The Walking Dead continued to explore its characters this week and added a dose of taboo killings for good measure.
After a particularly creepy cold open relying on purely imagery and a nice choice of song, the episode picks up with Carol, Tyreese, Lizzie, Mika, and baby Judith. It is a motley crew for sure, but if there was one group I was curious about, it was this one, given events that have occurred previously in this season that could create tension between these people. I will get back to my Carol theory and how I was disappointed that it did not come to pass later, but for now, I can just say that this episode could have ideally found even better ways to go about dealing with who killed who, beyond just the shock of one person killing another.
Anyway, the group has been content with walking along the railroad tracks towards Terminus, but they eventually come across a deserted home in a fairly open area of land, complete with a barbed wire fence and a working water pump. The rest of the episode is focused on this location, with lots of consideration given to whether or not everyone should just live here for a while, rather than attempt to commune with strangers and risk joining up with more potentially dangerous people again. This seems like a decent idea, but even though Mika quotes her mother by stating how things always work out, things that are too good to be true in The Walking Dead usually are.
Lizzie is an obvious problem, as far as what these characters are going through is concerned. Along with trying to survive in a world where the dead have come back to life, dealing with a psychotic, cycloptic Governor, and having just lost the semblance of family and home, dealing with a little girl who has found the worst way to cope with this living dead situation creates a problem that can only be solved in a certain number of ways. I only wish that this episode did not lay it all on so strong, as far as spelling out exactly what the issues were so plainly, but I will say that the shock factor worked for me.
Sure, The Walking Dead has not been shy about killing off kids in the past (Rick is still in the lead with 2 at this point) and I was fairly certain that either Lizzie or Mika were not going to make it out of this episode alive, but Mika dying at the hands of Lizzie was something I was not prepared for. The idea of this is not a bad one, if these characters work for you. I have not really had an issue with these particular kids in the previous episodes of the season and enough work had been done to make Lizzie’s mental issues not seem like something out of the blue. As a result, I did feel pretty horrible about what I was seeing. A breaking point was reached and one death led to another. It is the kind of scenario where only a show like The Walking Dead could make it seem like this is a part of status quo, regardless of how dark other shows currently on TV may be (with Game of Thrones as the one exception).
There are positives and negatives with how to take this big WTF aspect of the episode. While the kids played by Brighton Sharbino and Kyla Kenedy are surely doing their best, this is really Melissa McBride’s time to shine as Carol. If Lawrence Gillard Jr.’s work last week on the show made him stand out as MVP for the episode with what he provided for the mysterious Bob character, then McBride surely stands out as really delving into how far the Carol character has come at this point in the series. Carol has gone from a T-Dog level side character to one of the best and most consistently well-acted members of the cast. When “Grove” is not focused on crazy Lizzie, it basically amounts to Carol walking around with various characters and delivering some decent dialogue (more on this in a bit) made better by how she acts it out.
It helps that McBride has done a fine job with rounding out who Carol is, as my previous theory that Carol was not in fact responsible for Karen and David’s murder was completely shot down tonight. To recap, I was convinced that she was covering for the fact that Lizzie did the deed and Carol only moved and burned the bodies afterward. The fact that Carol is responsible now leaves me annoyed with certain shortcuts taken to get us to the great episode where she and Rick discuss this matter, but I am at least accepting of it, given that her scene with Tyreese at the end of this episode was another well-acted scene. I only wish there was not a big puzzle on the table with them.
As I said, there are positives and negatives, and while “Grove” has its shock value and a terrific central performance from Melissa McBride, it still falls into the usual Walking Dead trap of punching us in the face with exposition and obvious motifs. Sure, at this point it is to be expected that The Walking Dead has a big issue with trusting the audience to understand major plot points, while playing quiet character moments with a little more grace, but did the writers really need to force Tyreese to explain everything involving Lizzie and the rats? This is an easy part of the episode to focus on, but a lot of “Grove” is filled with these kinds of notions. An innocent deer is spared, only to have it pop back up again later, puzzling situations feature actual puzzles visible on a table, and we even get voiceover at the end end to hammer home what we already knew. I would love to just embrace the sadness and effectiveness that are scenes like Carol doing her best to keep it together, while stopping crazy Lizzie, but things do not always work out like that, contrary to the words of Mika’s mom.
I could go on about the oddness of Tyreese and Carol leaving Lizzie, Mika, and Judith on their own, in favor of a friendly chat, but it does not matter much. This is another episode that does not quite signify that our heroes are all getting closer to meeting back up with each other, but there has been enough done to shed a little light on who the people that matter are, while keeping up some kind of momentum, as far as moving these characters forward in some sense. “Grove” is also a fine episode of television overall, despite some of the issues I found with it.
I did not say much about Tyreese, as it was not quite as important (though Chad Coleman did a good job matching McBride in their scenes together), but I am pleased that he and Carol have essentially wrapped up the story arcs that connected them for the time being. Overall, we are now short a couple more characters, but the cast is large enough as it is, even if that has not led to taking out members of the core group in a while (in true Walking Dead fashion). Whether or not everyone reaches Terminus next week or in the finale remains to be seen, but grey skies may or may not been seen by all, if the show wants to keep traveling down this dark path. I would like to bet on hope, but I am sure the show will spell it out for me, one way or another.
- Zombie Kill of the Week: The Kentucky Fried Zombie Shooting Spree was fun.
- Other titles for this episode: “Of Mice and Mika” or “Flowers for Lizzienon”
- For comic fans, I am aware that some of you had an idea of where the Mika and Lizzie storyline could be headed and kudos for seeing that connection. I never try to focus on how close to the comics this show tries to be on occasion, but it is hard to miss sometimes, such as the mid-season finale and mid-season opener. That said, I guess the Carol/Tyreese romance is looking less and less likely, right?
- “Don’t shoot guns next to babies” should be a new group rule.
- Lizzie was playing her version of “Tag” with a zombie, which I am sure is called “Bite”.
- I’m sure we have seen Tyreese without his beanie on before, but when he took it off tonight, I exclaimed, “It comes off?!”
- Now Griselda Gunderson has no one to take care of her…
- Thanks for reading and feel free to hear what myself and a few other fans of the show have to say about the series on the The Walking Dead TV Podcast.