In the second half of its fourth season, The Walking Dead seems to have come to a creative dead end. The collapse of the prison could have heralded an exciting new direction for the show, but instead, it’s simply split up the survivors from the prison and put them all on paths to Terminus, the mysterious new sanctuary advertised on empty train tracks. They are all headed towards the same place, but coming from different directions, and it hasn’t really worked, because people walking isn’t that interesting, and most of the groups have characters that simply haven’t been well developed enough to be interesting, or to allow the audience to become emotionally invested in their survival.
So in theory, ‘The Grove’ offering up something very different to what we’ve seen so far in the second half of the season should result in an episode that serves as a reminder of how good the show has been in the past. ‘The Grove’ wants to be a shocking hour of television, an episode of The Walking Dead that really hammers home the point that the characters are living in a cold, dangerous world, but it is an episode riddled with flaws, some of which are a result of that lack of character development, and some that simply don’t make sense.
‘The Grove’ focuses on the group of Carol, Tyreese, Lizzie, Mika and baby Judith. Carol returned to save Lizzie and Mika in ‘Inmates’ and this group is now also heading towards Terminus, only to stop for a while when they find an abandoned house (there suddenly seems to be plenty of abandoned buildings with supplies inside for the prison survivors to find). While Tyreese and Carol are used to killing walkers and understand how dangerous the world now is, Lizzie and Mika don’t yet fully comprehend what makes walkers different from them, with Lizzie in particular still believing that walkers don’t want to hurt them and are safe to be around. She gets upset when Carol or Tyreese want to stop them, and enjoys being chased by walkers, telling Carol that she thinks they are just playing, rather than the walker desperately trying to bite her.
What the episode is desperately trying to do is make the viewer believe that Lizzie has gone beyond merely failing to understand what walkers are, but is actually dangerously unhinged, and this is hammered home when Carol and Tyreese return from a scouting trip to see that Lizzie has stabbed Mika to death, and is planning to do the same to Judith. It’s supposed to be a horrifying moment, but actually comes across as absurd instead. First of all, are we really supposed to believe that Carol and Tyreese would go off and leave Lizzie, Mika an a baby alone at a house with no fences? They’ve only been there a matter of hours, maybe a couple of days, Lizzie and Mika have problems with killing walkers, and Carol knows extremely well what can happen to young children when they are left alone, so why would Carol and Tyreese leave them behind? And how did Lizzie manage to attack Mika so easily? We’ve seen Mika, albeit clumsily, shooting walkers earlier in the episode, and she has a gun, so how did Lizzie manage to kill her with such apparent ease?
It’s a huge flaw in the logic of the episode, and although Lizzie’s inability to understand what walkers are has been covered in previous episodes, it’s a massive step up to make her dangerously insane, capable of murdering children without remorse. It would be a difficult sell if it was an adult committing such heinous acts, but Lizzie is a character who has done so little in the show that it just doesn’t add up for her to suddenly be deranged. The episode is only saved from utter disaster by Melissa McBride’s performance, as Carol is forced to kill Lizzie, because she’s too dangerous to be around other people, and could harm Judith at a moment’s notice. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that Carol has gone from being one of the show’s worst characters to one of its best, and that Melissa McBride has really grown into the role, making Carol being written temporarily out of the series even more bizarre. She also does a great job in the final scene of the episode, when she confesses to Tyreese that she killed Karen and David (incidentally, at this point I have no memory at all of either of those characters being on the show, even if Tyreese was apparently in love with Karen).
If The Walking Dead was producing consistently good episodes, and doing a much better job with its character development, ‘The Grove’ could have been brilliant. But instead, it’s an unconvincing attempt to shock the series back to life, and only leaves me wondering if the people in the writers room really know what they’re doing. The Walking Dead continues to limp along the road to Terminus, and it’s getting ever more desperate in its attempts to stay alive.