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‘The Walking Dead’: Melissa McBride Talks Carol’s Struggles, Daryl Reunion and Negan

The following interview includes spoilers from “The Walking Dead” season 6, episode 13, titled “The Same Boat.”

Carol Peletier is having a crisis of conscience on “The Walking Dead.” The normally steadfast soldier, played since the show’s first season by Melissa McBride, is starting to wonder if killing first and asking questions later (or never) is really the best way to operate in the zombie apocalypse.

In last week’s episode, Carol stayed back with Maggie (Lauren Cohan) while the rest of the group slaughtered multiple members of Negan’s gang, the Saviors. And this week both women were taken captive by four other Saviors, including ruthless ringleader Paula (Alicia Witt).

Of course, both Carol and Maggie made it out alive this week (Paula wasn’t so lucky), but the experience is sure to weigh on their souls as Rick’s group comes closer and closer to meeting Negan himself.

Variety spoke with McBride about Carol’s struggle to do the right thing, the common ground she shares with Paula, reuniting with Daryl and why — in McBride’s words — “there’s much more story to be told” in the final three episodes of season six.

This was an incredible episode, but what’s going on with Carol?

Which part? There’s a lot going on!

Its been a long time since weve seen her reluctant to kill, but at the start of this episode she shoots Donnie in the arm. Was that a deliberate choice not to kill someone who looked like a threat?

I believe so. It was a deliberate move.

She expresses regret about that choice later, but was it the right move for her?

That’s what the struggle is. She’s really struggling with what is the right thing to do. With Paula she waited as long as she could to see how it was going to go. That was very different for Carol. Usually she doesn’t hesitate and just eliminates the threat right away. Even at the beginning — they were clearly outnumbered — but she just laid her weapon down. However, she was thinking… [Laughs.] What’s great about playing Carol is that even though she’s struggling, she’s still got this pragmatic side.

What do you think is prompting that struggle for her?

I think it’s a multitude of things. What Morgan has put on the plate in Alexandria is something. From that whole Wolf attack going all the way back to losing her daughter, it has been non-stop for them. [Carol] has sort of shoved everything back and not dealt with it in order to do what she had to do. I think all these experiences are coming to a head in the quiet time, the time to reflect. She’s reconsidering things about herself and this world.

You mentioned Carol’s pragmatic side — should we view her panic attack and pulling out the rosary as ploys to make herself look more vulnerable to her captors, or is there something genuine to either of those?

What’s wonderful is it makes us question: is this for real or to create a plan? The rosary was helpful obviously, but it also could have been a big reminder to help her with this struggle. She looks up at Paula with tears in her eyes and says, “My faith helped me through the death of my daughter.” No, it didn’t. I think that’s when she lost her faith. This episode is awesome for bringing up all these questions, which is one of the reasons I love watching “The Walking Dead” as a viewer.

The more we find out about Paula, the more she seems to have in common with Carol. Does Carol see her as a funhouse mirror version of herself?

That’s exactly right, she sees her as a mirror reflection, except there’s one difference. Through the course of the conversation it’s apparent that they’re in the same boat — Chelle and Maggie, Paula and Carol, Donnie and Molly were all in the same boat — just trying to survive another day. We are beholden to that, it’s made us different from who we used to be. [Paula] was just trying to do everything right [before the apocalypse]. In the end she says, “You were a scared little bird. Me too.” It makes us different. But what is so different now about that other woman is she says she stopped keeping count of how many people she’s killed. She stopped feeling and stopped caring. When you think about that these people are willing to kill another human being when we’re fighting for essentially the same thing, it’s tragic. That’s the tragedy of everything. You’re just one elusive thing away from not caring.

Is that why Carol is willing to let Paula go? She tells her to run, which is not something she would’ve done with a Wolf.

She’s holding out as long as she possibly can, exploring that grey area. “As long as I don’t have to, then I won’t. Let me see if this works.” But Rick’s right, they always come back.

On a relatively happier note, Carol and Daryl finally have a scene together. I don’t believe you’ve been on screen with Norman Reedus all season, right?

Yeah, and I imagine it’s been difficult for both [Carol and Daryl]. If Carol is trying to create this happy homemaker image with the sweaters — I’m certain that they’re still bonded at the hip, because they’ve been through so much together and they have a common history — but it’s hard for him to see her like that. And it’s hard for her to be like that with him looking. I can’t speak for Daryl but I would imagine it’s very difficult, and yet they’ve always had an unspoken understanding and it’s still there for sure.

When Maggie reunites with Glenn she tells him, “I can’t do this any more.” Could Carol ever feel that same way or is she too committed to the cause of keeping everyone safe?

That’s precisely the conflict, trying to keep everyone safe and knowing what that could entail at any given minute. You feel like you don’t want to do it any more, but you have to. Sometimes we have to. Then there’s this question of, “When do we have to?” Did we have to go in there and kill [the Saviors] while they were sleeping? Is it so inevitable that these people are going to die and they need to be dead so we can prevent something from happening? These are tough, tough questions and the answers are even tougher.

In the previous episode it looked like Carol had found a kind of peace in Alexandria. Is it conceivable she would ever just stay behind and let the rest of the group do the “dirty work”?

I don’t know. I kind of think it would drive her nuts. If there’s a fight to be had… It goes back to the struggle. There was a part of her that maybe didn’t want to go into the compound to find the armory and kill all of those people because of the thoughts and feelings she’s been having. But I don’t know, it might drive her bananas to [stay behind]. Is that really her? These are all facets of her but … then she’s thinking, “These guys are out there, maybe I can help.” She would never sleep. She has a hard enough time sleeping.

At the end of the episode Primo tells Rick that he’s Negan, and Rick shoots him point blank. Carol does not look happy about that. What’s going through her mind?

I think after everything that’s happened in the episode with these women and the revelations Carol’s had, the struggles she’s had, and having just thrown that lit cigarette to burn those guys alive — I think she’s stunned. To see Rick shoot the guy is — I don’t even have the words for it — more stunning? When Chelle says to Maggie, “You’re not the good guys,” that’s huge. We’re not. That’s what [Carol] is looking at. We’re not.

And she’s already heard the Saviors claim “We’re all Negan.” Is she thinking about that too?

[She wonders] what does it mean? Is it a philosophy? What are we dealing with? Are there more of them? But it’s also like, “What have we become?” As she’s squeezing that crucifix in her hand she inadvertently cuts herself with it — something’s going on and there’s much more story to be told. I can’t say too much.

“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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