Last week brought us our most female-centric episode of The Walking Dead to date. There was barely a male presence the entire episode. Rick’s voice was heard a few times over the radio trying to negotiate with Maggie and Carol’s captors, and the one male captor dies halfway through the episode after bleeding out from a gunshot wound to the arm inflicted by Carol. Any other male characters only come in briefly at the end.
Melissa McBride, who plays Carol, and Alicia Witt, guest staring as Paula (the lead Savior/captor), both delivered Emmy worthy performances, especially McBride. It’s unfortunate we are unlikely to see either actress nominated considering the Emmys tend to shut out The Walking Dead despite it being the number one show on television and transforming the predictable horror/zombie genre into a compelling character based drama.
Both Carol and Paula are scary AF, and I would not want to be on the wrong side of either of them when it comes time for the Walker Apocalypse. They both do whatever it takes to survive, but if you start to dig deeper into the psyche of these two women, you will begin to see the drastic difference between the two. And as for the Saviors and the Alexandrians—both groups are killers, so what is the difference? Perhaps what separates Paula and Carol is what separates the two groups on a larger scale.
Upon capturing Maggie and Carol, Paula gets on the radio with Rick and the two begin to negotiate. Rick’s approach is forceful. It’s a, “You give us our people and we’ll give you yours and we won’t kill you,” kind of thing. Paula was a little more strategic. She knows she holds the ball in her court for now. Instead of agreeing to Rick’s terms, she tells him she’ll get back to him. She knows this group isn’t to be messed with, at least not yet. At the same time, she doesn’t seem frightened by the threat. She and her group take Carol and Maggie to a “safe house” and call for backup. It is clear at this point there are more Saviors than were at the compound Rick and his people just attacked, giving us a hint of the consequences the group might soon face for their actions. By their tactics and language, we can tell that the Saviors are very militaristic in nature. To the audience, this means danger. Even if the group was caught off guard this time, they are well organized and won’t be easy to defeat next time around.
The safe house Carol and Maggie are brought to has an forbidding feel to it. The floors and walls are marked with signs reading, “Kill Floor.” It’s a slaughterhouse. This certainly doesn’t bode well for the two captives. Carol has gone into survival mode. We know Carol to be a chameleon, becoming whatever the situation calls for her to be. She knows she can’t let her captors know she is dangerous. She makes them believe she is weak and not a threat to be too concerned about. At one point she feigns hyperventilation, and even Maggie is fooled for a moment. The captors are quick to label Carol as a “nervous little bird.” She clutches at a crucifix to add to the illusion (Side Note: Interestingly, this crucifix, seen as a symbol of weakness by the Saviors, ends up being a symbol of strength when used by Carol. This symbol of faith and strength is used by Carol as her means of escape. She sharpens the end of the cross and uses it to cut herself free from her bonds. She’s also seen clutching it so tightly that she bleeds. Perhaps this is also a symbol that she is holding onto her humanity, while the Saviors seem to have lost theirs. End side note). Hoping to appeal to the sympathies of their captors, Carol lets slip Maggie is pregnant and begs them not to hurt Maggie or the baby. This is done out of genuine concern for Maggie. We’ve seen that Carol has been trying to protect Maggie and the baby since this whole ordeal began.
The majority of the episode is a dance between Carol and Paula, Paula just doesn’t know it. She believes she’s leading the show. We learn that Paula’s origins are not far off from Carol’s. She doesn’t seem to be the victim of an abusive marriage, but she was alone—hopeless and powerless and having lost her children to this new world. But where Carol and Paula set out on a similar path, they take different journey’s when the road forks. Paula confesses she stopped caring when her body count reached double digits. Carol, on the other hand, is barely holding it together knowing she has taken so many lives. In fact, we start to suspect Carol isn’t completely faking her behavior for the sake of her captors. She is beginning to unravel at the seams as she succumbs to the emotional consequences of her actions. And, as mentioned before, perhaps this is where the Saviors and the Alexandrians differ. Where the Alexandrians seem to feel a weight from the actions they take to survive, we haven’t seen that from the Saviors. And where we see emotional bonds between the members of the Alexandrians, we’ve seen little to none of these kinds if ties in the relationships between the Saviors.
Maggie, meanwhile, seems to have taken on a new fierceness in her motherhood. When being interrogated by Chelle, one of their captors whose boyfriend happened to be in the group Daryl blew up, Maggie refuses to give up any information. She warns Chelle this will not end well if the Saviors don’t give in to Rick’s offer of exchange. When Maggie and Carol both escape their bonds and plan to make a run for it, it is Maggie who has to convince Carol they must kill all their captors to put an end to it. This is exactly what they do. One by one they take out their captors, ending with Paula. Carol gives Paula a chance to run, and Paula realizes she has had Carol measured wrong right from the beginning. Carol expresses this is exactly what she feared, having to kill Paula. Paula doesn’t run, and she becomes a walker victim as a result. When the backup called for earlier in the episode arrives, Maggie and Carol lure them into a room they’ve soaked with gasoline, light it on fire, and lock the Saviors in to die. At this point, Carol confesses to Maggie she has killed at least 20 people. Maggie urges Carol not to this about it, but Carol admits she can’t.
Maggie and Carol meet Rick, Glenn, Daryl, and the rest at the door. Maggie breaks down to Glenn and says she can’t do this anymore. Daryl rushes to Carol and asks her if she’s okay. When she replies, “No,” with a blank stare on her face, he pulls her in and holds her. Carol may not have admitted to anyone else, other than Maggie, that she is not okay. Daryl is the only one who truly knows and understands Carol, and she can’t put on her mask in front of him. Finally, Rick turns to the Savior they are holding captive, a man we’ve heard referred to as Primo. Rick demands to know if Negan was among the men they killed. “I’m Negan,” Primo says. Before shooting Primo point-blank in the head, Rick says, “I’m sorry it had to come to this.”
For the first time, we are faced with the idea that our group of survivors may not be the good guys anymore. When being interrogated, Chelle tells Maggie, “You’re not the good guys. You should know that.” Our group has been the good guys the majority of the series—only killing in self-defense, only taking what belongs to them and not stealing, always giving people a chance to be good. Are they cautious? Of course. However, they have never been this preemptively brutal. What is this line they’ve crossed? They have been through a lot and can’t take chances anymore, but they also just slaughtered a whole group of sleeping people. Bad people from what we’ve been told, but still it makes us question things. Even if we take actions we think are just or necessary to survive, at what point are we no longer good?
The closer we get to the season finale, the closer we are to learning some of the consequences of Rick and his group’s actions. It also means we are getting closer to meeting Negan. For a man we have yet to come face to face with, we spend an awful lot of time hearing his naming and discussing his character. Despite Primo declaring, “I’m Negan,” the audience knows this is not true. It’s also not the first time we’ve heard someone claim to be Negan. In fact, when being held prisoner, Maggie and Carol’s captors claim, “We are all Negan.” What does this mean? With each mention of his name, the ominous mystery surrounding Negan grows.
*Images courtesy of AMC