This review contains spoilers.
If you give me an episode with Carol and Daryl on a mission, I’m pretty much guaranteed to enjoy it. When the episode opens with a montage of Carol’s life since she left the group and little bits and pieces of her activities since reuniting with her old friends, that’s the sort of beginning that pulls me in immediately. Carol is the strongest character on the show, she’s the most interesting character on the show, and she’s the phoenix that has risen from the most ashes without becoming a caricature tough girl. And when you team her with Daryl, she’s got someone just as strong and capable at her side, which is all she needs to do great things with a showcase episode.
Consumed is a surprisingly compact episode. There’s very little flash, all things considered, aside from the standard zombie hack and slash stuff. It’s more a mystery story peppered with lots of little flashbacks about what Carol’s been doing and how Carol has been adapting to her new world. We see her racing back from exile to check on the gang at the prison when she sees those telltale flames, which matches one of writer Matthew Negrete’s big ideas in this episode: the old ways, the old Carol, the old Daryl, the old life keeps getting burned away and replaced with something different.
Carol has lived multiple lives since the outbreak of the zombie apocalypse, and with each death, we get a resurrection—a different, stronger, perhaps better Carol. The prison fire is the first big signifier, but we also see her and Tyreese burying Lizzie and Mika, Carol driving away from Rick, Carol burning the bodies of Karen and the other guy in the prison, and Carol watching Terminus burn due to her actions. She moves slowly from passive witness to active participant, and with each fiery end comes a new Carol and a new direction for The Walking Dead (every season ends with something massive on fire, typically the showrunner’s contract).
Fire cleans, but fire also scars, and no two characters are as heat-tempered or as emotionally dysfunctional as Caryl. That’s why they’re such a phenomenal team; they’ve both completely dropped the old ways, and they did it well before everyone else around them, meaning they’re very well adapted to the after-zombie life, and they’re especially good at this skulking and stabbing act in this episode. They move from building to building, tracking the mysterious car with the crosses in the windows through a bombed-out, zombie-invested Atlanta. Along the way, in between stabbings, they discuss what they’ve been through, where they’re going, and just why they continue to keep doing what they’re doing. It works in a way the show’s talkier scenes have rarely worked, if only due to strong characters and strong performances. It also helps that it makes sense in the structure of the plot, since hunting—be it human or otherwise—is time-consuming, boring work punctuated by intense periods of action.
The action, as always, is top-notch. Not only do we get a horde of zombies fought off with knives, we also get one of the show’s funnest/funniest moments, when Daryl and Carol crawl into a teetering van and take the quick way down off the interstate. The fight itself, a claustrophobic montage of zombie hands and feet and bodies and noise, is really well done by Seith Mann, the episode’s director. Mann wrings a lot of tension out of the search and the trip between buildings, and when it’s time to execute something action-related, it explodes rather than trickles. Then he throws a van off a bridge into a vacant lot, and we get a great shot from the inside of the vehicle as it falls and lands, more than worth the cost of destroying an old Ford, a GoPro, and the seriousness of the episode via falling zombie meat-bag rain (I laughed out loud like a maniac as the bodies splattered all around them).
The inevitable meeting with Noah (Tyler James Williams) works out about as expected. I wasn’t terribly surprised when he got the drop on Carol and Daryl and took their weapons (even though he already had two guns, but they may have been empty), nor was I all that surprised when they all came together at the end of the episode as a team. I had Noah pegged as the guy Daryl had when he came back to camp all along, but I was surprised to see Carol get hit by a car, and I was a bit surprised that Noah was an antagonist, even if only because he’s scared. Bonus points for having Noah become the voice of reason as the Grady cops steal away with Carol in the back of their station wagon to talk Daryl out of doing something stupid.
The end result of this episode will be some sort of big, bloody showdown between the Grady folks and Rick’s gang, and given the way the show has been speeding through plots this season, I imagine we’ll see that as the half-season “finale” leading into the traditional holiday break. Of course, there’s always the chance for a surprise to happen between now and then, and given just how strong the show’s been this season, whatever choice they make is probably going to be an entertaining one.
Even this episode, which The Walking Dead would have made a hash of in the beginning of season 2, ended up being entertaining television in spite of its more meditative pace. Scott Gimple’s gambles seem to be mostly paying off, and The Walking Dead hasn’t been this consistently good, well, ever. I look forward to seeing where this ends up going, and I have no doubt it will be awesome.
Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Self-Help, here.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan knows that there’s nothing more dangerous than a half-dead Carol, unless it’s Daryl trying to fight his way back to Carol. Either way, Grady Memorial Hospital done messed up now. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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