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How Carol Evolved From Outcast To Unkillable Badass In ‘The Walking Dead’ Season 5

Spoiler Alert: If you aren’t caught up on The Walking Dead, and if you don’t want to know about Carol in the comic book, read no further.

No character on The Walking Dead has experienced a more interesting transformation than Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride), and no season has meant more to her transformation than Season 5. With that in mind, we looked at some of Carol’s defining moments from this past season and make the case for why she is — like Daryl, Michonne, and Rick — unkillable.

Someone who does what needs to be done. 

Slowed and gutted by the death of Lizzie and Mika at the close of Season 4, Carol somehow became a fearless one-woman invading force in the season premiere, setting off a domino effect with an explosion and some sharpshooting that helped Rick, Bob, Daryl, and Glenn escape the slaughterhouse and get to the others on the freight car.

By the episode’s end, Carol had reunited with Daryl and the group in a heavy moment that finally stitched her wound (she had been exiled from the group by Rick for exterminating Karen and David in the early days of the flu outbreak). It was an instance where Carol did something extreme that no one else was willing to do, and she had to do the same when she executed Lizzie beside the flowers after the girl had killed her sister Mika.

Since Season 4, Carol has been willing to do the dirty work that must be done. She will cover herself in zombie guts to blend in with the dead for the good of her friends, and she’ll cover herself in the clothes and persona of the fakely smiling victim she used to be to blend into Alexandria. Carol is the group’s protector, but she’s also someone with a lot of pain who feels as though she has to atone for her failure to protect Sophia, both from the presence of her abusive husband Ed and the viciousness of the new world.

“We ain’t ashes.” 

In the sixth episode of Season 5, we got to know a bit about Carol’s journey, both before the post-apocalypse and during her exile. She learned that there is no time to feel sorry for herself when a walker violently makes its presence known. Carol stoically looked at Karen and David’s bodies and later dug a grave for Lizzie, and she collapsed while shedding her zombie-gut covered cloak in the woods outside of Terminus. The actress inside of Carol, Melissa McBride, is ceaseless in her ability to amaze, but she takes it to another level in that episode, specifically at the battered women’s shelter where we learn a little more about her relationship with Ed, and later when she confesses to Daryl that she feels as though the old version of her — both from her past life and the person she was at the prison — have burned away. To which he replies, “We ain’t ashes.”

Seeing ghosts.

So often, Scott Gimple and the show’s writers give a physical presence to the ghosts that their characters fear the most. How many walkers seem to look ever-so-slightly like recently departed characters? It’s something that was repeated twice with Maggie in the mid-season premiere, when the walker in the trunk and at the barn slightly resembled Beth’s physical characteristics, but with Carol at the shelter, it’s more heartbreaking. Behind frosted glass, a mother and a child moan and scratch to get out, the embodiment of what Carol and Sophia were. She wants to free them, but Daryl dissuades her. He knows what she sees, but he knows that it won’t help her open that door.

The walking dead.

The dynamic between Carol and Daryl is vital to the show. These characters have transcended trivial will-they/won’t-they bullsh*t to forge something real. They know each other, even though they’ve both experienced wholesale change since the start of the show. In a way, they’re like siblings who grew up together. When Carol sees that Daryl — the show’s resident badass — is hurting over the loss of Beth, and she gives him permission to grieve, it’s as powerful as it is sad when Carol confesses that she can’t allow it for herself, too. That’s how she gets by. That’s how she can kill a monster in a child’s clothing, that’s how she can go toward the smoke at the prison and the danger in Terminus, and that’s how she can smile and talk about missing Ed — “that stupid, wonderful man” — in Alexandria. Emotionally, Carol is the walking dead.

Alexandria

Carol’s continuing existence is in direct defiance of the comic canon of The Walking Dead, but in many ways, Carol’s second life — which began at the prison where the comic version of the character killed herself and left her daughter behind — makes her as useful to the writers as Daryl (a wholly original character) is when they need to differentiate between the two worlds. Specifically in Alexandria, where so much has seemingly followed the breadcrumbs left by the book.

An amalgamation of lost characters (there’s a bit of Andrea in Carol), violence, and scar tissue, Carol is perfect as the devil in Rick’s ear, reinforcing the view that the people in Alexandria are “children,” and that no one can defend Alexandria like their group can. Carol’s existence in that role tethers Rick to the group when he goes insane, even though Carol pushes him there (partly because she wants to inflict bloody justice on Pete, as well as save Jesse and her kids from what she and Sophia endured with Ed), and she keeps him focused when he comes back off the ledge.

One season after banishing her from the prison because he felt unsafe with her presence around him and his family, Carol is Rick’s chief lieutenant because Carol “gets” Rick’s line of thought, or because Rick finally gets Carol. Is there be any doubt that Rick, as presently constituted, would have helped light Carol’s match at the prison when Karen and David got sick?

Carol isn’t just a goon and support structure for Rick, though. She’s a powerful asset in the writer’s effort to sell the possibility that Rick’s group is dangerous, and that they might just snap and take all that they want. Is it a little over-the-top when Carol coldly threatens a child after the loss of Sophia, Lizzie, and Mika? I think so, but it’s still effective, just like when she put a knife to Pete’s throat and served as the catalyst for his self-destructive confrontation with Deanna and Rick, which she also did for Deanna’s embrace of Rick’s view of justice and the new world order.

Once again, Carol is knocking down dominoes.

It’s hard to know what Carol’s role will be going forward because we don’t know what’s on the horizon. Will she find a reason to feel something again? Will she clash with the zen-like Morgan over Rick’s soul? Will she be a vital cog if “All Out War” (and Negan) made its way to Alexandria’s gate? Time will tell, but after this past season, it’s clear that Carol is as vital to The Walking Dead as Daryl, Michonne, and Rick, and so much more than a mere supporting character. If they kill Daryl, we riot. If they kill Carol, we should just turn the channel.

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