This The Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 10 Episode 9
Carol isn’t a loose cannon. A loose cannon is someone who bends the rules to get the job done; I’ve watched plenty of ’80s cop movies and all of them featured at least one loose cannon, sometimes several, based on whether it was based off an individual cop or a squad of them. Carol doesn’t get the job done, because Carol can’t be trusted not to throw the task she’s given away to chase after Alpha on a one-woman mission of vengeance.
After all, she’s the reason why Daryl, Jerry, and the rest find themselves trapped below ground in a cave system filled to the brim with walkers, the secret source (possibly) of Alpha’s promised golden horde. Not only does she continue to put herself at risk, the puts the survival of civilization at risk with her continued reckless actions.
Carol’s recklessness continues to run unbound throughout “Squeeze,” as she proves herself to be completely incapable of making the logical short-term decision in pursuit of a longer-term goal. Simply put, Carol is going to keep screwing around until she gets everyone killed, and this isn’t the Carol that fans have come to know and love. Carol, my Carol at least, is the one-woman bad-ass who used a horde of walkers as camouflage while assaulting a fortified city full of cannibals with an assault rifle, not a Carol who lunges after Alpha without a plan.
That said, the Carol who planned things has long since disappeared. In a world in which everyone has PTSD, Carol seems to have the most PTSD of anyone. As the Kingdom struggled along and Alexandria blossomed, Carol has continued to have to bury people she loves time and time again, to a degree that no one else seems to. Everyone still above ground has a loved one below ground, but Carol’s dead loved ones have formed their own cave system.
If something bad is going to happen, it’s going to happen to Carol it seems, and that trend continues into the new season. Survivor’s guilt seems determined to wring all of the life out of Carol. She’s outlived Ed and Sophia, Lizzy and Mika, Tobin and Henry, and the fall of several safe, stable communities, multiple wars with enemy factions, divorce, and pretty much everything else imaginable in this world, and she’s far past her breaking point (a few days below ground without food and water isn’t all that great for a claustrophobic’s mental health, either).
It’s painful to watch a strong character go through so much, but in the hands of Melissa McBride, that emotion is carefully marshaled. McBride holds back when Carol would hold back, and by the end of the episode, she’s exploded with unchecked anguish, pushing hard against Daryl to make him turn against her and leave her to her own devices; Norman Reedus does a solid job driving the episode as the group’s leader, and Daryl’s quiet moments with Carol resonate well because he’s been a lot like her at times, albeit not as publicly prone to making huge emotionally-charged errors in a confined space.
In Michael Satrazemis’s hands, that sense of confinement comes across well. It’s a large cave and a large system, but at the same time, due to the crowd of walkers taking up most of the floor space, the actual places that Carol and the others can stand on safely is limited. The sheer number is difficult to see on the screen most of the time—the zombies just look like a mass, more heard than seen—until the characters try to use convenient rock formations to hop from one side of the open cavern to the other. That’s when the full mass of walkers is shown most effectively; Daryl hops from safety to the first rock and is immediately surrounded by what looks like hundreds of futile grasping hands from out of the darkness. It’s an immediate visual echo of Captain Rhodes’ final moments in Day of the Dead, and an efficient way to show the masses waiting for them to slip up without actually spending a lot of money on hundreds of extras in walker makeup.
That openness is contrasted by a pretty efficient set-up involving the stranded survivors forced to wriggle through small gaps and holes in the cave in the direction of light; a shot of poor, sweaty Jerry stuffed in a crevasse immediately gave me sympathy for the lovable lug. A similar visual, albeit less sympathetic, is a shot of Negan, shoved down in an open-air latrine after having his scrotal integrity threatened by Alpha. Both invoke strong sense memories; one of the time in Mammoth Cave National Park I tried to squeeze between two narrow outcroppings and one of changing out a litter box after a 10-day vacation.
It’s a solid divide between the two plotlines of the episode, both featuring strongly on the show’s two female leads, Carol and Alpha. David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick gives them both solid moments, with Carol’s breakdown coming after a series of brief, but meaningful discussions with Daryl and friction with Magna and Alpha’s reward coming after a couple of awkwardly tense, funny moments with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan again does great work in what’s a pretty thankless role these days as the closest thing to comic relief on The Walking Dead).
Carol pushes her allies away. Negan draws his prospective allies nearer to him in his usual provocative way. Both are characters who have lost everything, repeatedly, but they’re processing it in entirely different ways. Negan is a conman at heart, ingratiating himself into the power structure before he finds himself on the wrong side of it again, and Carol simply wants to push everyone away before any more of her friends get killed as a result of her actions. She’s had ten seasons of watching the people she loves die in front of her; clearly, she’s willing to do anything to get Daryl to abandon her and he’s unwilling to walk away from someone who had been there when he needed her. So she pushes. And pushes. And in “Squeeze,” she might have finally pushed hard enough to ground the good ship Caryl on the rocks.