Spoiler Warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “The Walking Dead” season five, episode six, titled “Consumed.”
After taking an unnecessary detour towards D.C. with Abraham’s gang last week, “Consumed” was a welcome return to two of the show’s most compelling characters, turning the focus onto Daryl and Carol for an hour that crackled with tension and finally gave two of our least talkative survivors a chance to speak their minds.
While the hard-won relationship between Daryl and Carol has grown more fascinating every season (whether you interpret it as platonic or something more), it’s rare to see the reticent pair ever truly open up, even to each other — they seem to prefer to let their actions speak for them. They’re arguably the two survivors who have the most in common, keeping their emotions hidden and pretending not to let the horrors of the world affect them, and “Consumed” perfectly illustrated how well they complement each other, from the efficient way they covered each other’s backs to Daryl’s unspoken decision to try and protect Carol from further trauma by dispatching a mother and child who had become walkers in the temporary housing shelter where Carol and Sophia once took refuge from Ed. Instead of simply leaving the bodies to rot as they ordinarily would, Daryl even wrapped the abused mother and child in sheets and burned them, a sign of respect for Carol’s past and for what those nameless victims had endured before the virus took hold. For two people who try so desperately to hide their humanity, “Consumed” was a welcome reminder of just how noble Carol and Daryl still are, despite their efforts to prove otherwise.
Although last week’s episode had plenty of momentum, keeping the action moving along with our heroes — at least until Eugene’s revelation stopped them in their tracks — we haven’t yet spent enough time with Abraham’s group to truly feel the desired emotional impact of Eugene’s betrayal (especially since many of us were likely skeptical about his promise of a cure in the first place). Conversely, “Consumed” was a much slower (and more satisfying) burn, preferring to focus on character beats and building tension than on rushing to get Carol into the hospital to rescue Beth, where we thought we’d found her at the end of “Slabtown.” The journey was the destination this week, giving Carol and Daryl some much-needed breathing room to examine how much they’ve both changed and to renegotiate their relationship after so long spent apart.
The episode spent plenty of time flashing back to various points in Carol’s journey so far — each one framed with the image of her spotting smoke in the sky, something that has likely become a trigger for Carol since the events of “The Grove,” since Mika was the one who taught her what the color of the plumes signify. The flashbacks first took us back to the point when Rick left Carol alone, ending with her discovery of the prison on fire after the Governor’s attack; then we jumped to the more recent past with Carol digging graves for Mika and Lizzie as Tyreese carried their sheet-covered bodies to the holes; then further back to the prison after Carol burned the bodies of Karen and David; then more recently to Carol seeing smoke rising from Terminus. It was also smoke that led her outside to see Daryl burning the bodies of the woman and child from the refuge, allowing her a chance to lay some of her own ghosts to rest; she later opened up to Daryl that she and Sophia had spent a day and a half at the shelter before she went running back to Ed:
“I got beat up, life went on and I kept praying for something to happen, but I didn’t do anything, not a damn thing,” she admitted. “Who I was with him, she got burned away, and I was happy about that. Not happy, but… at the prison, I got to be who I always thought I should be, thought I should’ve been. And then she got burned away. Everything now just consumes you.” Her words served as a stark reminder that happiness is fleeting in the world they now inhabit (nothing gold can stay, after all), but Daryl still took the opportunity to point out that they’re not ashes yet. Earlier, Carol had noted that she wasn’t sure whether she believed in God or heaven anymore, but that she was in no rush to go to hell (clearly believing that she’d damned herself by killing Lizzie), and perhaps she sees the recurring fire imagery that seems to plague her as some kind of sign that the devil is breathing down her neck. But she’s not a monster, and all the fire in the world can’t burn away her humanity and leave her numb — that was obvious in the subtle, gut-wrenching way she flinched when she saw that the walker trapped behind a door in the shelter had a child with her; and in her instinct to save Noah from being killed by another walker even after the Grady escapee robbed them of their weapons earlier in the episode, which certainly tempted Daryl to leave him for dead.
Despite previously telling Daryl that she didn’t want to talk about what had transpired with the girls, a compulsion to confess took hold of Carol this week, as if she hoped that Daryl could absolve her of the sin. But Daryl didn’t want or need to hear — “I know what happened; they ain’t here” — and even after Carol told him “it was worse than that,” he still wasn’t interested in hearing the details. He knows Carol is a good person and that she will always do what is necessary, and he clearly has no desire to judge her, no matter how much it might satisfy her need for self-flagellation to hear him tear her down or question her choices.
They both have demons in their pasts (Daryl took a book on how to treat survivors of childhood abuse from the shelter, which he pointedly refused to acknowledge after it fell from his bag) and in a world where God appears to have left the building (four walls and a roof, remember?) they’ll have to exorcize them for themselves. Just as Carol found the strength to become self-sufficient after escaping Ed, she now needs to find the means to forgive her own sins. Earlier in the episode, she told Daryl “I don’t think we get to save people anymore,” but it clearly won’t stop either of them trying, whether it’s with Noah or Beth or any other vulnerable survivor they come across.
I especially appreciated Daryl’s response to Carol’s question about whether he saved Beth early in the hour: “She’s tough, she saved herself.” (I’d love to see Beth follow the same trajectory towards empowerment that Carol has traversed, given the meek beginnings of both characters.) While the episode was undeniably driven by Carol’s inner turmoil, it still offered fascinating insight into Daryl’s growth as a character too — from Carol’s astute observation that he’s changed from a kid into a man, to his empathetic responses to the shelter walkers and Noah, we’re seeing a Daryl Dixon who truly is trying to start over, who doesn’t simply see people as burdens to slow him down. While Daryl began as a lone wolf, his relationships have helped to ground him as the series has progressed, while Carol has gone the other way over the past couple of seasons; she admitted that if Daryl hadn’t found her by the car, she wasn’t sure where she would’ve ended up, since being around others (and waiting for them to die) has become too painful for her to bear.
Their inherent goodness stood in contrast to the cruelties they witnessed in Atlanta — at one point, they came across a corridor where a number of survivors were apparently living, finding zombies trapped in sleeping bags and tents that were riddled with bullet holes. We’ll never know if it was the work of the military personnel who bombed the city or the Grady cops after the fact, but Daryl was rightly appalled by it. Just the sight of the burned out remnants of Atlanta appeared to affect Carol, a potent reminder that humans can and will do far more damage to each other than the walkers. That reaction was further cemented when they finally found out where Noah had escaped from (especially after learning Beth was still being held there), and the panic in Daryl’s eyes after Carol was run down by the cops and taken to the hospital was viscerally affecting.
The episode’s final moments saw Daryl and Noah tearing back towards the church to load up on guns and people (the one part of the hour that felt unnecessarily rushed), so it looks like the corrupt inhabitants of Grady Memorial are in for a rude awakening. I just hope both Carol and Beth survive the rescue attempt — something about Carol’s poignant trip down memory lane (and her insistence to Daryl that she didn’t want to die or lose any more friends) seemed to possess an ominous air of foreboding. The body count has been fairly low so far this season, so when the other shoe drops, I hope it hits someone else — Carol has suffered enough. (But perhaps that’s the point?)
“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
Were you glad to see Daryl and Carol back in action together? Who do you think will be the next survivor to bite the dust? Share your reactions and predictions below.
Correction: An earlier version of this post attributed the book on childhood abuse to Carol’s bag, not Daryl’s.