We Ain’t Ashes
First off I must tell you, without hesitation, that Carol & Daryl are my favorite characters on The Walking Dead and that I used to want, more than anything, for them to be together romantically. I’d been rooting for them ever since he gave her that Cherokee rose as a token of hope for Sophia. I giggled nervously when she, in what I now realize was only a joking manner, asked him to screw around. I cried when he found her in the tombs of the prison and brought her back to safety. Finally, the time she called him “pookie”, though it wouldn’t have been my choice of nickname, made me squeal with delight! Every part of me wanted to see them get down and dirty, or at least kiss each other!
That version of Carol and Daryl seems like another lifetime. Now I just want to see the two of them on screen together because for a while there, I thought it might never happen again. During their long and painful separation throughout season 4, I was preparing myself for the worst. When Carol told Tyrese about Karen & David, that could have been sayonara for her and when Joe’s group (the claimers) got the jump on Daryl I was quite worried for him. Then there was Terminus, who knew it would be just outside its gates where the two would reunite. When they did, I lost my shit! It was all I could think about for days! The way Daryl ran to her, that hug, the smiles, the way he drops his head to her shoulder, this still plays in a loop in my head sometimes. I was more than satisfied with this, I never dreamed of asking The Walking Dead Gods for an entire episode dedicated to these two!
So, there was a lot riding on this episode for me and for others who love these characters and thankfully, it didn’t even come close to letting me down. The shared history between Carol and Daryl – remember they’ve each been around since season one with the Atlanta survivors – is evident on the screen. One line of dialogue shared between these two can have 4 seasons of meaning behind it. The writers don’t need to worry about filling in the backstory, it’s already there, making their conversations much more impactful. Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride have immeasurable chemistry to lend their characters and they were fully in-sync for the hour, except for maybe their taste in art!
Let’s start with the flashbacks…
I actually screamed “YES!” at my TV when the cold open started and it was a flashback to Rick’s exile of Carol, it was the first of many rewarding moments. I loved seeing how smart she was using all the survival skills she had acquired. She was planning on setting up camp, evidenced by the rainwater catcher she was fashioning, but the moment she saw the smoke coming from the prison she didn’t think twice about getting in her car to go and help her friends. This reaction combined with the scene of her crying in the car gave me a new perspective on who Carol is. Last year I had assumed that she was too hard, too tough to let being ousted from the group get to her but clearly she was distraught, consumed with grief. In the end though it didn’t cloud her judgment and she still went to the prison to help. I appreciated this new awareness into her character.
The remaining flashbacks give us further insight into certain moments from the last couple weeks in Carol’s life. We see her looking mournfully at Karen and David’s bodies, the burying of Lizzie and Mika, and how she got so clean for her reunion with Daryl after storming Terminus. While these scenes didn’t necessarily give us any vital information, they undeniably gave us a better understanding of Carol and provided the fire and smoke imagery so fundamental to this episode. Should she die, whether sooner or later, this episode will serve as a well-earned tribute to her.
On to the rest of the episode…
With the exception of a few quick glimpses in the Bethisode from this season, we haven’t seen what’s going on in Atlanta since the very beginnings of the show. Season one had an entirely different feel; there was a greater sense of urgency and terror to everything because it was all so new and unknown. This episode was successful in conjuring those feelings from so long ago and being back in the city gave it some serious edge. Sure, an abandoned house in the countryside has a significant creep factor but it doesn’t come close to the eeriness of an entire city – one that used to contain hundreds of thousands of people – being utterly abandoned, complete with discarded vehicles and severely burnt buildings. Just the shot of them driving towards the bridge on the highway, with everything so dark, desolate, and foreboding, that in itself was enough to instantly encourage anxiety.
Episodes such as this one tend to divide The Walking Dead fans and I have seen a variety of reactions to it. We all tend to love the fast-paced action-packed episodes like “No Sanctuary” when our entire group is together, fighting the bad guys and saving the day. But when it comes to episodes like these where we see only some members of our group and the story is character rather than plot driven, as a fan base, we’re separated. Some of us feel that it was boring and slow, while some of us (myself included) loved it for its subtleties and character development. For some people the quiet ambience was boring, for some it was stressful and nerve-racking. My palms were sweaty as I waited for someone – walker or otherwise – to pop out from around the corner, I almost wished for it so some of my tension could be relieved.
One of my favorite aspects of this episode was how Daryl tried to drive home the point to Carol that she can have a fresh start. He wouldn’t allow her to dispatch the walkers in the temporary housing, insisting that she doesn’t always have to be the one to do those deeds. He stops her from shooting Noah, which could potentially have been another dead body on her hands. Even though she believes that you can’t save people anymore, Daryl continues to remind her that, “you’re here and you’re trying.”
There’s a brief moment when Daryl decides to leave Noah for dead and maybe he thinks Carol’s plan to shoot him wasn’t so terrible and yet, in the end he kills the walker and saves Noah. Who would have guessed that hardcore, backwoods Daryl Dixon would become one of the most admirable and loyal people in the world? I was a little teary-eyed when the book about surviving childhood abuse fell out of his bag; his character arc has been so enjoyable to watch.
As for Noah, some folks may have thought that him being able to ambush two bad-asses like Carol and Daryl was not plausible and while it did feel predictable in the way it was shot – Carol putting the gun out of the door first without checking – I didn’t think it was unreasonable. In fact, I thought it was a nice way to establish that Noah is a smarter, tougher character than we all assumed.
Yeah, let’s talk about that damn van…
The scene with the van falling off the bridge has, most likely, an impossible outcome. When the van starts to fall it looks as though it will rotate and fall on the roof, the quick scene we get inside the van makes it look as though it’s going to land on the front end, and yet, in the end, the van lands upright on its wheels. Ok, I’m calling bullshit. BULLSHIT! There I did it, I hated it and, I wish I didn’t have to but it’s a glaring problem that I just can’t look away from.
In a show about zombies, which probably don’t and will never exist – probably – there are certain merits to making everything else in the story hold up factually. As an audience we’re asked to suspend our disbelief in order to trust the main narrative that this is a post-apocalyptic world where people who die reanimate and eat the flesh of the living. So, in my opinion, it would be beneficial to have more than just a shred of truth to the stories being told.
With that said, and remember I gave in and called bullshit, in the end I think that more good than bad came from this scene and I can therefore give it a pass. I could have done without the first instance of them being in the front on the van together. I assumed that when Daryl went to the front to look for clues, Carol would act as a weight at the other end, *sigh*, alas no, she walks to the front as well. That part was indeed useless and rather senseless. But when the two of them buckle up and prepare themselves for the fall, I was a mess of feelings. My stomach dropped to my knees when Carol grabbed Daryl’s hand and he told her to just hang on. I was nervous, sad, scared, even angry, and I felt the bond between them in that moment was stronger than it ever had been. Plus, who could deny that the walker smashing into the windshield and then the subsequent ones who rained down on the van’s roof wasn’t cool? No one could because it was fucking awesome! Even Daryl later admits to how stupid it was when Carol shows him the damage to her collarbone. Oh well, they survived and it only added more fuel to their badass fires!
Speaking of fires…
The Walking Dead has seen its fair share; this episode though, had a very evident focus on it. Not only were there literal occurrences of fire, 7 to be exact, the dialogue contained some very figurative language and the title of the episode itself, Consumed, is rather suggestive. This was by far the most perplexing and yet stimulating facet of the episode. What did it all mean? There are so many things that fire could represent ranging from death and disintegration to life and regeneration. Though fire can be destructive it can also bring about renewal, like in a controlled forest fire, which at first glance would seem damaging but ultimately results in purification and the stimulation of new growth.
The more I pondered all this imagery the more I realized that there simply wasn’t one interpretation to take away from it all. A particular concept that kept coming back to me though, was the idea of this comparison between the fire and Carol’s personal evolution. There are several instances in her past where she could have been consumed, whether it was by grief, hatred, or the total bleakness of this world, and yet she wasn’t. She continued to rekindle herself by burning away the old versions of her.
The episode provided glimpses into the many different sides to Carol that we’ve come to know. There’s the cold and calculated Carol who killed Karen and David and who might have killed Noah. The pre-apocalypse Carol, embodied by the mother and daughter walkers at the temporary housing. The softer side of Carol who wants to save Noah and who cries alone after being exiled. Finally, there’s strong and determined Carol who somehow finds hope after the deaths of Lizzie and Mika and goes on to obliterate Terminus. She’s constantly reinventing herself, just as a fire helps to reinvent the forest.
Carol and Daryl’s dialogue about who they once were, who they are now, and about how they can start over, also further demonstrates this idea of the evolution. Fire was the symbol of how Carol, time and time again, has risen from the ashes to reclaim her new self. As Daryl, rather appropriately, reminds her “we ain’t ashes.”
Overall I think this episode was important to Carol’s evolution, we gained new insight into her motivations and the emotions she portrayed offered so much depth to the character. I think it was imperative for us to know that what happened with Sophia, Karen, David, Lizzie, and Mika, doesn’t sit lightly with her, she’s shackled to these memories and will carry them with her forever. Literal proof of this is shown when we get a glimpse into her backpack and see that she’s still holding on to Lizzie’s copy of Tom Sawyer.
I’m going to go on record saying that this is, hands-down, my favorite episode ever of The Walking Dead, which truthfully, makes me really concerned for the future of both Carol & Daryl. I think those hospital jerks hit her on purpose, similarly to how they “saved” Beth from walkers. Daryl keeps losing people; will he sacrifice himself for the ones he loves? Or will Carol, as a final step in her transformation, be the one to lay down her life for others? Here’s hoping they both stay alive…and then make sweet, fiery, nasty love in the streets of Atlanta!