This The Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 10 Episode 14
Carol is a woman who has gone through a lot in her life. Certainly during the apocalypse she’s lost even more than most, including her marriage to Ezekiel, the Kingdom itself, Henry her adopted son, Lizzie and Mika her adopted daughters, her actual daughter Sophia, and her husband Ed (Ed might not have been a big loss, but it was still a loss that really rattled Carol’s world).
And yet, with varying degrees of success, she’s kept going on The Walking Dead. Even now, as close to her wit’s end as anyone possibly could be outside of Beta, Carol’s kept going, and what she once might have been able to do via physical action now happens because of her subterfuge. Carol, the puppet master, unleashed Negan on Alpha to do what she couldn’t do via direct action. Carol, the mastermind, is angry that Negan took longer than she wanted to to get the job done.
Carol’s not the only one displeased with how long it takes Negan to accomplish his tasks. In what is a funny refrain throughout the episode, Carol’s first question upon receiving Alpha’s head is to ask Negan what took so long. Daryl, after ambushing Negan and putting him back in bondage before walking to the spike where Alpha’s head had been left, asks him what took him so long to get the job done, which allows Jeffrey Dean Morgan to give that great exasperated expression he’s been able to employ so ably when asked dumb questions by well-meaning squares like Daryl.
That’s the risk and reward when it comes to basing the bulk of the episode’s B and C plots around comedy characters. Negan, despite everything, is still funny. Eugene has never not been funny, particularly when Josh McDermitt starts motoring his mouth around that very thick dialogue provided by Channing Powell’s excellent script. Negan’s supposed to be scoffing and rolling his eyes, even when he’s being threatened, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan really leans into it when Negan is given a chance to be put in a position of power over Daryl again courtesy of the three Whisperers who catch him at the border with Daryl.
Generally all of Negan’s interactions with other characters are kind of funny, until they’re not, and this week, they were mostly funny, allowing Morgan to flex his charisma a little bit and giving Norman Reedus a chance to play into his strong straight man instincts as Negan’s sounding board. McDermitt, when traveling with Eleanor Matsuura’s Yumiko, exhibits some beautiful comic timing pretty much throughout Eugene’s story about the chocolate bunnies, and it’s nice to see Yumiko getting some time as something other than the more dynamic, action-oriented Magna’s girlfriend.
Balanced against this sense of fun are a few different minor plots, and a major one involving Carol and, of all people, Alpha. Carol might have let Negan off the leash to do her dirty work, but that won’t end Carol’s guilt, and the vision of Alpha she has in her head picks at her constantly throughout the episode, echoing both her own negative self image and the negative talk Carol no doubt received from Ed in her pre-apocalypse life. For Carol, Alpha is the perfect embodiment of all her failures, and a mirror version of who she could have become under different circumstances. Michonne had her drug trip, and Carol has the vision in her head to chastise her for all of her mistakes, selfishness, weakness, and general human failings.
These sequences are 100 percent in Carol’s head, and yet, thanks to great performances from Melissa McBride and Samantha Morton, they feel completely real. It’s easy to see why Carol would talk to herself in such a fashion, having internalized years of abuse prior to the outbreak, and why the many deaths and failures around her would cause her to look at the one common thread among all of these things—herself—as the reason why everything crumbles around her while she usually escapes unharmed. Particularly, when Carol and Alpha talk back and forth to each other, the cycle of mental self-abuse is palpable, especially when Carol accidentally causes a ceiling to collapse on her and get her trapped with at least one zombie coming to investigate the huge amount of noise created by that attempt to get a canoe down from the rafters of an old barn.
Another relatively simple task, another failure. Channing Powell makes sure that Samantha Morton gets the most brutal lines possible to use on Carol, not for the shock value of hearing someone be called “a stupid slit” on basic cable, but to put across that Carol has been beating herself up for years with this kind of talk. Every small failure brings about a heaping serving of abuse, to whittle her away to nothing every time she tries to build something new with someone new, be it a surrogate daughter like Lizzie or a relationship like with Ezekiel.
Carol isn’t able to look past her failures to see all of her success. And yet, rather than lay there and let the walker kill her, Carol struggles and struggles to fight her way free from the rubble pinning her to the ground and kills the walker, just the same. Carol survives despite Alpha. Beta, after recovering her head and going for a brief walkabout to see the remains of his previous life as a Kris Kristofferson-type country musician, is going to survive because of her voice in his head, and her face rebuilding his mask. Beta carries the physical reminder; she’s literally a part of who he is. Carol bears the emotional reminder; she’s always in her head, echoing Carol’s own worst self-talk.
Daisy Meyer does brilliant character work with all three characters that are haunted by Alpha in Beta, Carol, and Negan. She’s omnipresent in Carol’s scenes, from whispering in the rustle of leaves at her feet to standing over her, leering at her, or hovering behind her shoulder. She’s more a presence in Beta’s head, but Ryan Hurst does a solid job of portraying that as Beta destroys the things that remind him of his past at her command, then begins building the future of the Whisperers with her voice clearly in his ear. Negan, for all his bluster, just wants to be part of the community again, and having seen how Alpha did things, has figured out where his lines are firmly drawn. After all, he was the leader of the Saviors, not the Baby Murdering Psychopaths, and he seems to be leaning towards saving Alexandria and the rest to be reintegrated into a society, rather than remain a pariah or worse, a complete outcast.
None of the three wants to be alone. Carol says she does, but she keeps getting drawn back for one reason or another; she’s just afraid of what will happen to the people around her. Negan has always been a social animal, and he’s been starving for company and companionship while locked in the jail, finding succor only in fellow outcasts like Lydia and the open-minded Judith. Beta, well… he’s been alone, and now he’ll never have to be alone again.