Never a show known for subtlety, “The Grove” openly telegraphs its “shocking” resolution from the opening scene (where a tea kettle comes to boil in the foreground, while Lizzie frolics outside with a zombie), and pauses numerous times throughout to contemplate the inevitable, often in hilariously overt fashion. “The Grove” doesn’t drop symbolic clues or clever hints at the audience on what’s to come in the climatic moments; it screams it from the mountain tops in every scene, the inevitability of what’s to come ultimately erasing any potential emotional impact of the story’s resolution.
From the beginning, the sheer amount of narrative construction in “The Grove” makes everything feel stiff, like when Lizzie gets visibly upset over Carol killing a walker, and Mika tells her to “just look at the flowers like you’re supposed to.” Instead of focusing on performers and characters with much larger range, Scott Gimple’s second script of the season relies too heavily on simple characters and performances where more nuance was needed – not to mention that every single character trait for the two children this season has been explicitly constructed for the purposes of this episode, another reminder of how cruel and pointless the world of The Walking Dead could be.
At least when Carol gets past her inevitable “Tell me about the rabbits, George” moment of the episode (after Lizzie kills her sister, a “surprise” ruined by Mika’s repeated insistence that she’d rather die than hurt a human being), “The Grove” can take a minute to address the big elephant in Carol and Tyreese’s living room: Carol’s murders of Karen and David, one of the season’s more interesting explorations of how this world changes and screws up people: as I mentioned in my mid-season wishlist, Carol’s transformation over four seasons is the embodiment of The Walking Dead‘s philosophies, that there’s no hope for anyone trying to cling on their humanity and “who they were” – and though everyone will die a gruesome death at some point, those who refuse to change and adapt will always die first.
Lizzie and Mika were clearly unstable children, traumatized by all the death around them over the past year-plus since the attack; and though it doesn’t make much sense that they’d be able to survive this long (given their outlook on the world and zombies), “The Grove” doesn’t even try to present a reason why they should. There really isn’t any debate to whether Lizzie or Mika will make it out of the episode; the way their characters are represented (both here, and throughout the season), there’s no way they were going to survive. It was merely a matter of when and how – once a character establishes they can’t take a human life or feel they “understand” the zombies, they’ve exposed themselves as extraneous plot points, creations that only exist to manipulate audiences into an emotional response.
And without any real attempt to make Lizzie and Mika characters as simple-minded and separated from reality, the only moments of “The Grove” that have any suspense or meaning come when their inevitable story line is completed, buried in the yard next to the other dead child the two girls stared at earlier in the episode (seriously: the amount of foreshadowing that exists to pad the emotional impact of the closing moments is hilarious). The tea pot is no longer heating up, and Tyreese and Carol can share an honest moment about carol’s death, a rare example of The Walking Dead’s humans speaking like humans to each other, dealing with difficult decisions and truths that may not foster a deeper friendship between the two, but at least a better understanding of who they are (as well as an opportunity to remember who they were before the walkers arrived, when forgiveness and honesty wouldn’t get you killed by a random psychopath).
However, that scene is but two minutes of “The Grove” – and with too much focus on the inevitable ending of a story, the episode pays no mind to making Lizzie and Mika interesting characters. Think about it: on a different, subtler show, Lizzie and Mika could’ve been embodiments of evil and good (respectively), a look at what comes out in children when they’re forced to deal with realities most adults couldn’t handle. Instead, we get two characters who The Walking Dead refuses to let acknowledge reality, asking us to cry along with Carol and Tyreese when Carol has to make the “tough” decision to eliminate the girl who’d not only let an infection loose in the prison, invited a massive horde to gather at the prison fence, but murdered her sister to prove a point to Carol (who she hugs for the first time earlier in the episode, another obvious attempt to compound the “difficulty” of Carol’s “decision”). It makes for a laughably bad episode – easily the worst of the season, a disappointing step back after a strong star to the post-prison world.
– more telegraphs: Carol points out Sophie was a sweet girl, and Mika insists she’s “not a mean person” over and over; the fire burning in the background of the entire episode, the fire that wouldn’t go out until Carol shot it in the back of the head; Mika says “I can’t kill people”; Carol talks about how people have to change, which the girls reject (except when they do in some random places)… it’s all over the place, to the point of over saturation.
– the single most interesting moment of the episode is when Carol noticeably pulls away from Lizzie’s attempts to bond with her and establish her as a paternal presence.
– Tyreese spends the majority of this episode sleeping or making a horrified face, another frustrating example of Chad Coleman’s acting talents being wasted on this show.
– So Lizzie won’t kill walkers… but then she does… and then she doesn’t again. What the what?
– Yes, two female children holding a gun like that would not only be sharpshooters, but wouldn’t be affected by the recoil on either handgun in the slightest.
[Photo via Gene Page/AMC]