Plenty of tough moments to go around on this week's episode of "The Walking Dead," titled "The Grove."
The parallels to John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" were pretty explicit in this episode, in which we learned that sweet-faced Lizzie Samuels, one of the sisters who helped save baby Judith from the bloodbath at the prison, was secretly quite nuts. How nuts? She was the unseen person secretly feeding the walkers back at the prison and her sympathies to the undead eventually led her to murder her own sister in order to watch her come back as a walker.
If Lizzie was this episode's Lennie, then Carol was the George. We knew she had enough inner steel to take down critically ill adults who posed a threat to the well-being of the group, but would she handle one extremely mentally ill preteen? Oh yes, absolutely. Faced with the prospect of traveling with the murderous Lizzie and the innocent baby Judith, Carol did what she had to do. She took Lizzie out, asked her to look at some flowers for her dead sister, and then shot her in the head. "Look at the flowers," is destined to become "Tell me about the rabbits" for this generation. Come to think of it, that Steinbeck might have had an even bigger career if he'd replaced itinerant workers with zombies.
Rather than go for thrills, this episode written by showrunner Scott Gimple was extremely somber. The death of two young girls in one episode will put a damper on any "fun" one may derive from the series. And though the scenes were as emotional and affecting as ever, it should be noted that "The Walking Dead" sure does seem to have it out for little girls. Lizzie and her sister, Mika, were preceded in explicit death by Carol's daughter, Sophia; the Governor's daughter, Penny (technically, already a walker when we met her); and little Meghan Chambler. Meanwhile, Carl just keeps on truckin'.
This was the third week in a row in which the show's ostensible star, Rick, was nowhere to be seen. That's a gutsy move on the writers' part, but it is serving to highlight the individual character stories and not have us anxious to get the plot moving forward. In fact, when it was revealed late in the episode that Lizzie was the one who had been secretly feeding mice to the walkers, causing them to bunch up against the prison fences, it felt almost like an afterthought -- one mystery we the viewers didn't seem too concerned about getting solved.
In this episode, Carol also revealed to Tyreese that she was the person who had murdered his ladylove Karen and friend, David. She did it with the best of intentions, but she did indeed do it. And that death continues to haunt Tyreese, even after he's witnessed so many other comrades from the prison die.
All things considered, Tyreese handled this revelation fairly well. He didn't whack Carol in the head, for starters. He even said he forgave her, something he might not have done before he witnessed the bleak reality of a sister killing a sister. For once, events worked in favor of the group's unity (or at least the Carol-Tyreese offshoot). And though Tyreese's revenge on Carol might eventually come, I suspect the trials they went through in this episode are enough to bond them for a long time to come.
But hats off to the guts it took to conceive this storyline and stick with it through the end. It's one thing to dangle characters in front of the walkers in order to elicit audience thrills and chills. It's quite another to confront us with the stark reality of mental illness and ask us to consider the consequences of what it would mean.
That said, here's hoping next week's episode is a slapstick riot. I think we all need the relief.