Melissa McBride on Becoming a Stronger Carol on ‘The Walking Dead’

Carol Walking Dead Scene Stealer
Courtesy of AMC

Few actors have been able to enjoy the kind of character evolution Melissa McBride has experienced in six seasons on “The Walking Dead.” She started as a timid, abused housewife, desperately in need of protection from her fellow zombie apocalypse survivors. These days she’s one of the strongest — physically and emotionally — characters on the show. A fan favorite who understands the harshest aspects of what it means to survive. In “The Same Boat,” Carol is taken prisoner by a rival group, and we begin to see cracks in her hardened exterior.

MELISSA MCBRIDE: “For that episode the script came pretty much as usual for the schedule we have, a week and half before we start. I thought it was just such a great script, it fascinated me.

“I was fascinated with the predicament they were in and Carol’s reaction. The hyperventilating — the question of where does [her] true reaction begin and where does the ruse start? It was a challenge to figure out how to play it.

“There were some things I thought I had figured out and then as we were doing the scenes some of that changed. That was very exciting to find, and very revealing to me about Carol. If I have all my ducks in a row in my mind when I get surprised like that it’s always exciting just to let it play out and see what happens.

“Something interesting happened, I don’t even know how to put into words — it was more an experiential thing — as Paula, Alicia Witt’s character, was pacing back and forth and talking about her life prior to the apocalypse. Just zoning in on her and listening, bouncing her life off of Carol’s life. It started to feel like a weird little melding of the two. I felt lightweight. It was kind of strange, it’s the first time anything like that has happened to me. It was a really cool connection, I enjoyed working with her so much, but that connection between those two characters was something interesting on a physiological level.

“What was great for the whole episode was we shot the whole thing chronologically as it appears in the script. That’s a luxury you don’t often have in television. To get into that ride and keep it there.”
Melissa McBride

“There was no rehearsal time, but I can’t imagine doing that with a whole lot of rehearsal, I liked the way it happened. What was great for the whole episode was we shot the whole thing chronologically as it appears in the script. That’s a luxury you don’t often have in television. To get into that ride and keep it there.

“It was all shot at our studio. It gave us the opportunity to really toss and turn these scenes, like turning every stone — play it this way, play it that way, go a little farther, play it straight, play it very emotional — it was a lot of fun to scope all these aspects out and see what really felt good.

“[Carol] has evolved to where she is because of all the experiences the writers have given her. I’ve grown with her. I don’t think specifically, ‘this happened to her and then this happened to her’ [in the past] — just like we approach our own day, I know where I am. There are some key things that I keep really close, one of those is [Carol’s daughter] Sophia, the memory of her, the children. There are very specific trigger points that I bring along that are never far.

“That’s what I like about the writing, everything is there. That’s indicative of good writing for an actor, you don’t have to scramble to know what the character is thinking or talking about, it’s just there, under the surface those little reminders. I remember saying that line out loud, ‘My faith got me through the death of my daughter.’ I was thinking, ‘No, that’s when you lost it.’ What that means to her, to know that she fell away, and feeling like she needs it now. All of this is playing into where does the ruse end and where does the truth, panic, anxiety and guilt begin?

“I’m grateful that people find her inspiring or they relate to her from season one and see how much she’s changed and become stronger. I look at her, I don’t feel badass when I’m playing her. I don’t feel like she feels like a badass. These are all just heat of the moment decisions. She’s not a puffer, she’s not puffing out. She’s just like, ‘Oh god what I am gonna do? I got an idea, I’ll do this.’ She’s just Carol to me, I just love it. I root for her, I adore her because of that.”

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  1. Sharron says:

    I think Carol is such a great character and watching her grow has been wonderful! She goes from very shy woman to a powerhouse. Love her humour……..when she was interviewed for Alexandria and said, ‘Oh, I’m like a den mother’. Hahahahahaha, WONDERFUL!! You rock Melissa!

  2. Mike says:

    I hope they do a character rehab for her this coming season. She was by far my favorite character for a long time, but last season they suddenly made her frail and weak with a questioning of faith. I’m fine with that angle, but it happened so suddenly that it made it not believable. It felt like it happened out of necessity of plot, not a natural development of character. I miss the old Carol and don’t buy the new one.

    • Terijoe says:

      As someone who has become deeply invested in this character and roots for both the character and the actress, I completely understand where you are coming from. Carol was entitled to a breakdown – more than any other character, I’d argue – but the trigger of her breakdown and the way in which it occurred didn’t make sense. why she suddenly is unable to kill even the most obvious of bad guys and why she is held to a higher moral standard than everyone else is a story that wasn’t told. She still very much my favorite but her development was incredibly ooc to me.

    • Mel says:

      if you think it was suddenly then you don’t understand her character at all

      • Grace says:

        I agree with you. She was running for her life and bad thing after bad thing happened. She went numb to do what she had to do. Then she had time to reflect at Alexandria. Her feelings made her miss killing one of the people who kidnapped Maggie and herself. Then she met the mirror image of herself in Paula. She didn’t like what she saw. They showed that it was really bothering Carol when she tried to count how many people she killed and wasn’t even sure. I am honestly surprised that people describe her evolution in simplistic terms like she was weak, then strong, then weak. First off, people have breaking points. They can happen slowly or suddenly. Secondly, it’s like certain people miss the fact that there is a constant internal struggle always happening inside the characters b/c of the external struggles that they continually face. I can completely understand why Carol feels guilt and overwhelming pain at feeling all the death’s she has caused or experienced. Of course she is still traumatized by seeing Lizzie killed Mika and then had to shoot a psychopathic child. This on top of the fact that she realizes that she made a very bad error in killing Karen and David. She blew up people at Terminus. Killed the Wolves. Killed Paula and set people on fire. I would think it is very personal how one feels about leaving a trail of death behind you. You may have had to do it to live, but why is it so hard to understand that it could also leave you feeling like you don’t deserve, or want, to live? Well, this is the way I see it. I read Mike’s post, and I wonder if I have made a case for him to see my point of view. Anyhow, I love Carol b/c she is so complex and is always evolving. I hope Morgan can help her metamorphose once again, healing her pain and returning truly stronger on all levels.

      • Mike says:

        Thanks for your thoughts, but obviously we disagree. But in a span of just a few episodes, she went from badass Carol who was on the verge of killing Morgan so she could kill one of the Wolves he had prisoner to crippled Carol who can no longer do what’s needed for the group so she left (which served plot and not character). She gradually went from docile Carol in the pilot to ruthless Carol over years. I don’t buy the flip to weak Carol — they didn’t build this storyline.

        And saying I don’t understand her character doesn’t make me wrong and you right. Disagree all you want, but you’re not making a case for me to think otherwise.

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