(Warning: The Walking Dead spoilers will obviously be found below.)
A major storyline in this week’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Ghosts,” concerns Carol and the hallucinations she is having because of lack of sleep. I should note, first off, that it is true that sleep deprivation can lead to hallucinations. There’s a lot of science behind it. It’s happened to me on a few occasions, including one very embarrassing incident a few years ago in which I watched a screener for the series premiere of FX’s Atlanta late at night during a week in which I had slept very little. I appeared on a podcast that week with my colleague here, Josh Kurp, and Vanity Fair‘s Joanna Robinson, to discuss my thoughts on the series. I noted during the podcast that I really liked the pilot episode, except that I didn’t care for the either the aliens or the time travel elements in the episode.
A week later, I watched the pilot episode again to write about it, and in watching it a second time, I awkwardly realized that there were no aliens in the pilot, nor any time travel elements. I rewound it a number of times trying to find the aliens before realizing I had hallucinated them, and those hallucinations were so real that I had incorporated them into my podcast review, much to my embarrassment.
That’s the thing about those sleep-deprived hallucinations: Those who experience them have a very difficult time making the distinction between what is real and what is a hallucination. In this week’s episode, The Walking Dead took us through Carol’s sleep-deprived hallucinations. She refuses to go to sleep because she has nightmares about her dead son, Henry, who was killed by The Whisperers. She pops Adderall and refuses suggestions that she get some rest. At one point during the episode, she has an entire conversation with Daryl about hallucinations from sleep deprivation only to realize that the conversation itself is a hallucination, as is the image of a home economics textbook with Carol on the cover along with the various children who she has treated as her own, like Lizzie, Henry, and even her biological daughter, Sophia.
Later in the episode while patrolling a school where several other Alexandrians are sleeping, Carol is caught in a booby trap and attacked by a small horde of walkers. While she’s hanging upside down by her feet, she fights several walkers off, including what she believes is a Whisperer dodging and weaving her knife thrusts. Eventually, Carol shoots the Whisperer before freeing herself from the booby trap and killing the rest of the walkers.
After Carol is stitched up by Siddiq, she finally falls asleep and experiences another nightmare involving Henry. When she finally awakens for real, Carol has a conversation with Michonne and tells her that she did see a Whisperer. “I know,” Michonne says, “but only you did.” Michonne doesn’t believe Carol actually saw a Whisperer. Carol goes outside to talk to Daryl on the porch and insists to him that she did see a Whisperer. Daryl says he believes her, but he doesn’t look convinced. Did a Whisperer actually invade the Alexandrians’ territory and lead a horde of walkers to Carol?
Apparently, yes. In the episode’s final scene, the camera cuts back to the school where Carol put down the walkers. The camera pans through the school and out into the school yard, where we see the Whisperer that Carol shot awaken as a zombie. In other words, Carol did see a Whisperer, despite what Michonne may think. Everything else might have been a hallucination, but seeing that Whisperer was not. Alpha was getting her revenge on Carol for shooting at her earlier in the episode, and the death of that Whisperer may provoke more bloodshed in the weeks to come.