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“You know you do a lot for us. For the kids. You sacrifice a lot. Is there anything you wouldn’t do for the people here?” - Rick to Carol

Rick’s quote seemed to sum up the theme of this week’s episode of The Walking Dead, as the show took a step back from the suspenseful pace of the outbreak making it's way inside the prison walls, but instead focused on the choices individuals made following that outbreak.

Choices of two characters in particular were in focus and stood as a contrast to each other: Carol, at present the only mother figure in the group, and Hershel, the wise elder of the group. Both would do anything for the group, but both responded to the outbreak in very different ways.

Carol

I had suggested in last week’s review that Mika’s quote, “She’s messed up. She’s not weak,” fit the old Carol. In light of recent events, it appears that the quote applies to the new Carol even better. In a revelation that I certainly didn’t see coming, we learned that Carol was the person who had killed and burned Karen and David, presumably to try to stem the flu before it became an epidemic. She admitted as much when Rick asked her.

In Carol, we’ve seen a woman pushed to her limits - one who has been hardened not just by the zombie outbreak, but by the death of her daughter, and the years of abuse prior to that. She is a woman who cares deeply for the group and has become a sort of mother figure.  She will do whatever it takes to help the group survive without flinching. She’s not without guilt for what she feels she’s had to do. When Tyreese thanked her for caring for Sasha and the group, Carol breaks down. But at the same time, when Rick asks her if she killed Karen and David, she doesn’t hesitate in saying she did. I think we first saw a glimpse of this cold streak in Carol last season when she advised Andrea to have sex with the Governor and then kill him in his sleep.

Carol has in the past questioned Rick’s leadership during the times he seemed indecisive and the group was in danger. In the season 2 finale, she urged Daryl to step up as a new leader in Rick’s place. Carol is a leader now too as part of the council, and Rick’s and Carol’s leadership decisions were again in conflict in this episode, as Rick still hesitates in taking back his gun and facing danger. Whereas Carol, the pragmatist, wanted to deal with clearing the water lines outside the fences right away, knowing they might be too sick for it tomorrow, Rick wanted to avoid it. In the end, instead of following Rick’s lead, Carol went out on her own and seemed unfazed by the danger she had put herself in as zombies wandered around her.

In a way, the new Carol is reminding me a bit of Shane – both felt they needed to make the hard decisions that Rick was unwilling to make.

Hershel

Hershel has held on to his principals longer than most in the group – except for maybe Dale and Andrea - and has lately become a sort of spiritual elder of the group who is there to offer wisdom and counsel to others when they reach the point of breaking. He’s served in this role multiple times for Rick, and in this episode we saw him doing the same with Carl and Glenn, as well as again for Rick.

With Carl, we had a nice scene between Hershel and Carl as their roles of elder and child were reestablished. Carl, the little man-child who has grown up far too fast, tells Hershel he can’t let Hershel go outside the fences. “Let me?” Hershel responds, reminding us that Hershel is in fact the elder of these two. When they’re out in the woods, they come across a couple of walkers that are slow and not much of a threat. As Carl is about to shoot, Hershel cautions him on restraint: “Don’t, you don’t need to.”

With Glenn, Hershel stays with his son-in-law and comforts him as Glenn is at the point of losing hope. Hershel tells him, “We got this far somehow. You can believe somehow. We all have jobs here. That one’s yours.”

And finally, when Rick admits reluctance to go to a council meeting for fear of doing more damage, Hershel appeals to his sense of duty as he tells him that when he fell off the wagon, he got back right back because he had “people to keep safe.”

Unlike Carol, who responded to the outbreak with murder, Hershel responds by sacrificing himself to extend the lives of others, including his daughter’s husband, and to give comfort to the sick.

He tells Rick and Maggie: “There’s so many times we haven’t been able to do anything to change what was happening, what was happening to us. We wished we could, but we couldn’t. This time I can. I know I can, so I have to … You step outside, you risk your life. You take a drink of water, you risk your life. And now-a-days, you breath, you risk your life. Every moment now, you don’t have a choice. The only thing you can choose is what you’re risking it for. Now I can make these people feel better, and hang on a little longer. I can save lives. That’s reason enough to risk mine. And you know that.”

Other thoughts:

 - Rick will be torn between his former role as a sheriff and his desire to protect his friend, Carol. Tyreese played on Rick’s identity as a “cop” as Tyreese, Rick and Carol were standing over the burned bodies of Karen and David. Tyreese demands that Rick find the person responsible and bring them – not to justice – but “to me.” Tyreese’s interesting word choice raises the question what role justice plays in the new world they live in. Is Rick still expected to act as a sheriff if the society he served no longer functions?
- The show opens with Glenn and Maggie digging graves. How many scenes are we going to see of someone digging graves? The scene sets the tone for what will be a heartwrenching episode.
- Responding to a comment that the flu kills you, Hershel says: “The illness doesn’t, the symptoms do.” This seems like a microcosm of the larger zombie epidemic and the dangers from other men the survivors now face.
- Hershel: “Everything we’ve been working so hard to keep out, it found its way in.” Rick: “No, it’s always there.”
- A painting behind Hershel in the office reads, “Smooth seas do not make good sailors.” Appropriate for an episode in which the group is tested again.

So what do you think will happen with Carol? Do you think the rest of the group will learn what she did, or will Rick and Carol both stay silent? I hate to say it, but this felt like an ending episode for Hershel. Do you think we’ll lose Hershel soon too?

Just a note – I’m not sure if I will be able to do a review for next week. If I do, it may be very late.

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