“The Grove” begins with a shot tracking across a kitchen, an innocuous tea kettle whistling on a stove, and then turns its gaze out the kitchen window as a young girl plays tag in the yard with someone who we quickly realize is a zombie. The scene invokes a bygone era in which children could happily play outside unsupervised. The framing is overtly prescriptive, an image made to carry more than its maximum weight. When has freedom been undermined, and how? The image, as we’ll later see, works in triplicate, hammering in a conclusion more subtly drawn without a bandstand.
The episode cuts from this opening to our band of survivors on the road, following the train tracks to Terminus: Carol (Melissa McBride) and Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman), baby Judith in tow, along with the sisters Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) and Mika (Kyla Kennedy). Lizzie, the older one, asks Carol about her daughter, Sophie, who Lizzie knows died after the walkers took over. “She didn’t have a mean bone in her body,” says Carol, to which Lizzie responds, “Is that why she isn’t here now?”
Lizzie, we learn in a conversation between Carol and Tyreese, just sees the walkers as different. We see her empathic struggle most strongly when she chooses to let a walker live who’s fallen on the train tracks and rendered himself harmless due to immobility. But Mika, like Sophie, “doesn’t have a mean bone in her body,” according to Carol, a phrase which redundantly forecasts her feelings for Mika as an uncorrupted soul—children being the raison d’etre for the fight for the future. Mika feels sorry for the people who attacked the prison because “they probably weren’t like that before.” The world has changed; does that necessarily mean we have to change too? Carol can’t quite stamp out the optimistic worldview—can’t quite tell the truth.
Then we’re asked to revisit the opening pastoral scene, except this time without the music, without the distance: It’s Lizzie out there playing with a zombie, her life at stake during what’s essentially a children’s game. Carol intervenes, does what needs to be done with the zombie, and Lizzie is wracked with guilt and anger: “She was playing with me! She wanted a friend!” The tea kettle whistles its climax just as Tyreese glimpses the harrowing scene through the kitchen window, setting the tone for an episode which is ultimately about the horrible things that need to be done for the greater good. Tyreese’s privileged vantage point begs the obvious question: Will he realize that Carol is the one who killed his girlfriend, Karen, when she was sick and in danger of contaminating the healthy population of the prison?
Lizzie’s carelessness brings a horde of walkers upon the farmhouse and she ends up helping to eliminate the threat, demonstrating a remarkable leap forward in her psychological readiness. This is the problem with the containment of these arcs within single episodes of this season, with all the main players scattered across the countryside; each revelation is like having advanced through a 12-step program in a single evening.
The episode is designed to get Tyreece to understand the necessity of Karen’s murder. When they get back to the house from a brief hunt for a deer they saw earlier, Carol and Tyreese see Lizzie covered in blood, holding a knife, with Mika’s lifeless body sprawled on the ground. “Don’t worry,” says Lizzie. “She’ll come back. I didn’t hurt her brain.” And in one of the more subtle conversations the series has given us, Carol runs Tyreese through the possibilities available to them while Lizzie sleeps upstairs. Tyreese has already interrogated Lizzie and he’s discovered that she was the person feeding the walkers in the prison. Her diabolical influence, then, has been felt for much longer than “The Grove,” which leads Carol to the conclusion that “she can’t be around other people.” Tyreese’s complicity in Carol’s eventual execution of Lizzie is the lynchpin of the episode, the reversal it’s all been leading to, which prepares him for an appropriately pragmatic reaction to her admission that she killed Karen. She confesses while the duo begins to put together a jigsaw puzzle, which is a bit too telegraphic of the nature of the project of problem-solving, but still apt when we realize all the different ways the story could have gone. The confession is long overdue, but now it has legs. Tyreese’s forgiveness is basically a foregone conclusion. He’s as much implicated in the demise of Lizzie and Mika as Carol is, but she’s the one who took action.
Tellingly, Carol rejects an opportunity to kill a deer as she walks away from having just shot Lizzie. The zombie rendered immobile on the train tracks is allowed to keep fighting, too, even as we realize the fight’s futility. The episode ends with the same now-familiar shot from the kitchen window; the tea kettle has long since cooled, Mika’s doll has been abandoned on the floor, the yard is populated only by fresh graves. There’s an embarrassing retrospective voiceover, lines spoken earlier in the episode given apparently greater depth now, which serves only to undermine the implicit severity of the rather aggressively accelerated storyline we’ve just experienced. But the effect is lasting, even as its machinery is too easily articulated.
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