“And at the prison I got to be who I always thought I should be, thought I should have been. And then she got burned away. Everything now just consumes you.”–Carol
“We ain’t ashes.”–Darryl
Who would have thought in its fifth season that The Walking Dead would arguably be the best show on television? At this point in most series’ runs, writers are more or less out of ideas, the fires of their imaginations fueled solely by embers. But with “Consumed”, The Walking Dead seems to be burning brighter than ever.
I use that analogy because “Consumed” was largely about fire and how it consumes and changes whatever it comes into contact with. It doesn’t have to be a literal fire (though flames are a recurring motif throughout); instead, in Carol’s (Melissa McBride) case, fire represents a cleansing of sorts, in ways both good and bad.
As she and Darryl (Norman Reedus) search for Beth, Carol reminisces about her life, first as a battered wife unwilling to change her lot in life in a more permanent manner, then as someone who struggled to adapt to ever changing situations. Every incarnation of her has been “burned away” thus far to the point where she isn’t even certain as to her identity any longer (another important theme in the fifth season which I’ll get back to later).
“Consumed”, like “Self-Help“, is peppered with brief flashbacks, this time centering on Carol. We see what happened to her after Rick (Andrew Lincoln) cast her out of the group, that she hadn’t gone far and was drawn back by the black smoke billowing up from the prison. That’s followed up with Carol burning the bodies of those she killed at the prison, Carol and Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) burying the girls, and her approaching Terminus prior to freeing Rick and the rest of the group. All of these serve to illuminate how much Carol has changed since she was the timid wife of an abusive man, that she’s willing to do what needs to be done in order to survive.
The main plot of “Consumed” is a rather simple one: Carol and Darryl search for Beth (Emily Kinney), overcoming walkers, injuries, and assorted hurdles in their journey*. Their discussions revolve around how life in the post-apocalyptic world has irrevocably altered them and will continue to do so with every new threat they face while struggling to survive. Eventually, they are stalked by a mystery man that turns out to be Noah (Tyler James Williams), the man Beth aided in escaping the hospital back in “Slabtown“. He tells them about Beth shortly before Carol is struck by one of the hospital’s cars**.
*In a particularly well executed scene, Carol and Darryl are trapped inside a hospital van teetering over a bridge and besieged by walkers with only one way out. Though the crash stretched a little credibility (in that it most likely would have landed on its roof), the writers and director wisely chose to insert dark humor featuring walkers plopping down onto the roof one by one in a welcome moment of levity.
**Usually, running into a character who’s only appeared once on a series that ends up providing valuable information at an opportune moment would seem a little forced and hokey but since The Walking Dead has brilliantly crafted the episodes out of sequence yet following a strict timeline, it works beautifully.
The most intriguing aspect of both “Consumed” and season five in general is the search for identity both as an individual and in regard to how successfully one fits within the dynamic of “society” (or at least whatever version of it exists for these people). It’s very smart of showrunner Scott Gimple to introduce something like this thematically to rejuvenate the series because by allowing us to get to know the characters better (and even tying in to the history of the show), we’re now more invested as viewers. We’re coming to know the characters as people rather than stereotypes and that’s served the overall story well.
In an already strong season, “Consumed” might just have set the bar for the finest hour thus far, not only for the season, but also the series as a whole. Thanks to an Emmy worthy performance by Melissa McBride (and strong work from Reedus as well), a sparse, yet meaningful script by Matthew Negrete & Corey Reed and tight direction from Seith Mann, The Walking Dead has become nothing short of brilliant, engrossing television.
The Walking Dead – “Consumed” grade: A+