The Walking Dead season 4 episode 14 review: The Grove

Melissa McBride shines in this week's stellar episode of The Walking Dead...

This review contains spoilers.

4.14 The Grove

The one constant in life is change. Everything changes, no matter how hard you might want to lock in a moment, it’s just not going to work. The world moves on, gunslinger. If they’re lucky, kids grow up and become survivors. If you’re not lucky, they grow up to become zombie chow in The Walking Dead universe. Or, perhaps, they become irredeemably broken and have to be put down like Old Yeller.

I think that the Lizzie storyline has been one of the most obvious in the show’s long time line of obviousness. We all knew along the line that Lizzie was going to be the person responsible for feeding the zombies rats, making rat artwork in the tombs, and generally behaving like a little monster in the making. In fact, I thought they were pushing that plot so heavily that they’d twist it around and give us some sort of sleeper agent for the Governor or some other reason behind the walker feeding, but it’s been Lizzie this whole time, and strangely, I’m not unhappy with that decision, because it pays off so well during this week’s episode.

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It seems like that the more The Walking Dead teases an angle or drags out a plot line, the better the payoff is. The search for Sophia took up a crazy amount of episodes, but the payoff and the barn massacre was spectacular. Lori’s pregnancy was another huge thing that the show held onto forever, but the final ending for that awful Lady Macbeth made it all worthwhile. And now, the whole plot line with Lizzie and Mika, one too sweet for the world and the other too damaged for any world, gets a stellar payoff in the end, courtesy of the only person on the show capable of giving that storyline a proper ending. Even Carol’s mercy-killing of David and Karen gets a great resolution.

If any character in the show has made meaningful changes, it’s definitely Carol. If any character can make the hardest choices and execute them despite how upset it makes her, it’s Carol. If any character can face up to what she’s done and be up front about her behaviour, it’s also Carol. She’s the tough one of the bunch, and no leather vest or cowboy hat is going to make a difference there. It’s amazing that Melissa McBride has stuck around this long and has helped to shape such a great character with her acting ability, because Carol started out as someone who wanted the women to do the laundry and has become the show’s preeminent maker of hard decisions. Carol has lost a lot during the apocalypse, and, like Daryl, she has come from an awful beginning to shine after the world has ended.

Melissa McBride does some brilliant work this episode, and it’s to her credit that this episode works as well as it does and has the impact that it carries. When Carol has to teach the girls her lesson, or when she talks to them about their role in the new world, it carries the weight of not a parent talking to a child, but someone who has chosen to live talking to someone yet to make that decision. When Carol and Tyreese talk about his nightmares, it’s clear on Carol’s face that A) she feels awful about how Tyreese feels and B) she feels like she needs to make right by Tyreese and tell him exactly what happened to Karen and David. She doesn’t, but the way she says his name and the way that silence lingers on, where you can tell she’s wavering on whether or not to tell him right then. It’s a beautiful moment, and McBride does so much with her expressions to really sell Carol’s thought process without saying a word.

I’m not sure if this week’s director, Michael Satrazemis, has directed anything before. A quick IMDB search reveals that he’s been one of the show’s camera operators (also a cameraman on Teen Wolf) and this season’s director of photography, so it’s pretty clear that he knows how to point the camera and how to make his visuals pop. However, judging by the way this week’s episode looks, he has a budding career as a director. Much like Greg Nicotero made the jump from special effects to director, he might just make a similar leap. The crispy walker assault on the farm was awesome to behold, and the way he framed the shot where Mika is tangled in barbed wire while Lizzie is on one side trying to free her and a zombie is on the other side trying to wrench her in the other direction was awesomely composed, with Mika’s panicked, screaming face the centre of attention the entire time. The other really top-notch shot was the scene where Lizzie is standing over Mika’s body, and we get an extreme close-up of her blood-soaked knife, the very knife given to her by Carol (if I’m not mistaken). The cold opening, with the Ink Spots singing and the kettle whistling, could have easily been the opening video for a Fallout game, except replace Lizzie and the zombie with a guy in power armour and a super mutant.

I have to give all the credit in the world to Scott Gimple, who has been running the show this season and who wrote tonight’s episode. One of the big arcs early in the comic is the two twin boys, one of whom kills the other only for the murderer to be killed by Carl. Even with Lizzie being a dangerous maniac who seems to think walkers just want to be friendly, I never assumed that the show would go as far as it did or as dark as it did. Lizzie killing her sister is one of the darkest things the show has ever done—the only thing that would’ve made it darker is if Lizzie had finished her work with the baby, like she told Carol she had planned on. It’s a bit speechy (though Carol is trying to teach the girls how to survive in this world), but there’s enough really dark stuff in there to make up for the learning of life lessons aspect.

For the most part, the last few episodes have done a good job of establishing just how lost everyone has become. The show has been a bit directionless because the characters have been directionless. There’s Terminus and all its promise, but that seems like the distant future (even though we know it’s not). These are people who are shell-shocked, wandering the roads like Bob Stookey in the beginning of last week’s episode. With the drip of a bloody knife, a giant puzzle, and the smoke from a burning moonshiner’s shack in the distance, Carol and Tyreese might have found direction, or at least a push away from a comfortable live with a propane stove and infinite pecans into the same unknown everyone else is headed for.

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As Bob would tell you, not knowing what’s next is nothing compared to the pain of being alone.

Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Alone, here.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan would be willing to drink moonshine with Daryl Dixon, but only if there were no zombies trying to kill us. Then again, if there were, I wouldn’t be any safer with anyone else. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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