In Defense of The Walking Dead's Carol

In Defense of The Walking Dead's Carol: Don't Be Hard on Her for Going Soft

If you’ve read any of the comments that accompanied TVLine’s recaps of The Walking Dead this past season, you’re well aware that reactions to Carol’s metamorphosis from take-no-prisoners ass-kicker to ponderous pacifist have been, at best, mixed. And you can’t blame a fan for wanting back the single-minded superheroine who killed Karen and David, survived banishment, blew up Terminus and told Lizzie to look at the flowers. But you also can’t — or at least shouldn’t — say that her change of heart means she’s lost her head.

Even as far back as “The Grove,” in which Carol confessed to Tyreese that she’d done away with his girlfriend, her pain was as plain as the stricken look on her face. “Do what you have to do,” she told him, in a way, asking to pay for what she herself saw as her sins. When, rather than shoot her, he forgave her, yes, she compartmentalized her guilt and carried on. However, she never shrugged off the weight of what she’d done — and she never would.

So, after taking out one Wolf after another in October’s “JSS,” the burden became too great for Carol to bear. Though she’d only done what she’d had to — and fought to bring Morgan around to her pragmatic point of view — that didn’t mean that she had to like it. And it certainly didn’t mean that her conscience wasn’t slowly eating her alive like a walker savoring its supper.

As Tobin noted in “Not Tomorrow Yet,” Carol is a mother (figure) to her fellow Alexandrians. As such, she’s able do the hard stuff, the messy stuff — “things that just terrify me,” he admitted. Trouble was, all the while that we were marveling at her strength, it was being sapped by the unrelenting horribleness of what she was being called upon (over and over again) to do.

By the time we reached “The Same Boat,” in which Carol was forced into a standoff with Paula, a Savior who reminded her entirely too much of herself, her evolution — at least for the moment — was complete. She could kill. She, we and everyone in between knew it. She just was no longer willing to. So the goodbye note that she left in “Twice as Far” — in which she wrote, “I love you all, I do… but I’d have to kill for you, and I can’t, I won’t” — didn’t come out of left field so much as necessity.

What do you think? Are you down with — or on — Carol 2.0? Maybe now that Morgan has taken a life, he’ll be able to lead her to some kind of balance? Hit the comments.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Whatevah says:

    Making Carol soft is a plot point and I hate plot points.

  2. N says:

    I mean I understand where she’s coming from but the time where she went soft it was too soon.

  3. A fan of TV says:

    Not hard on her at all, honestly, especially after she was basically the lone highlight in the finale. Getting shot by that guy and admitting she probably hadn’t gotten all the pain she deserved…Melissa McBride is amazing, and Carol is still far too intriguing a character to hate on for me.

    • Gracie says:

      Agreed. What makes the show fascinating is how the characters keep evolving. She is *the* reason I will be returning for Season 7. I am also looking forward to seeing the relationship between Carol and Morgan that seems to be developing.

  4. Seerlina says:

    Carol badass is the best!
    Too soft is not working to her and for the group eather.

  5. Cas says:

    I just thought the timing was odd. Feels like there could have been a million other times where she could have gone soft but didn’t.

    • Dysturbed says:

      I agree that there were other times, but figure that since people’s reactions to things can sometimes quickly change in real life and at weird or unpredictable times due to circumstances, finally processing things, etc. then it can certainly happen that way in a scripted reality.

    • Molly says:

      She was at her breaking point. Everybody has one. Even tv characters!

      • Gracie says:

        Exactly! When she saw herself in Alicia Witt’s character, it showed her what she was going to become or had become and she could no longer shove down the pain of having killed so many. Being a killer is not, or should not, be a natural state. There should be some middle ground between being ruthless but at the price of your humanity and being weak like Carol was in the beginning. I think Morgan in giving the man who shot Carol at the end a chance to surrender, and shooting him upon his refusal may be achieving a happy medium. It is also clear that Rick is meeting his potential future self in Neegan. These characters are all facing a reckoning. If they don’t change what makes them different from Neegan’s group? If you lose your humanity, is there anything worth fighting for? That said, I sure hope they don’t pull any stunts where they pulled the punch on who died at the end of the season. It was anticlimactic. I was also really turned off by Rick & Co. pre-emptive strike on Neegan’s group. It diminished the difference between the groups, and without a moral core, who do you root for? That our group are the moral group is the big draw of the show. I really enjoyed Carol’s arc from abused to tough, do whatever it takes to survive, but it came at a price. If it were not for Carol’s continuing evolution I’m not sure I’d tune in. I only hope she comes out of it making some peace with how she had to survive, but stronger b/c of it. I hope the writer’s on the show sharpen the writing and find all of the character’s, and the show’s moral core once again.

    • Tom says:

      I think what finally broke her was the fact that she could not remember how many people she had killed. When there is a reason for doing horrible things, she could accept that, but when she could not even remember how many horrible things she had done, it became too much.

  6. Tim says:

    It was bad writing.

    • Guest says:

      I agree. Even though I love the show as much as I do, it’s pretty clear when the writers have run out of ideas. Now that it’s going on its 7th year, these instances are happening more often.

      Fortunately those are still offset by the stellar writing that still emerges from time to time. I hope we still see a lot of those.

      • Gracie says:

        Have you noticed that many of those episodes of stellar writing involve Carol? As when she almost single handedly dispatched the Wolves. The episode she owned playing against Alicia Witt’s character. When she took off at the end of the show and shot an entire group of Neegan’s men with a AK-47 sewn in her sleeve. She is even brave and tough when she let’s the last of Neegan’s men shoot her several times in penance. She faced death willingly by choice, like a champion, not a victim. However, Morgan knew she shouldn’t die b/c she was in pain. A pain he is quite familiar with. Melissa McBride’s performances are never one note. There is so much going on inside, so much to the Carol character. She is smart, clever, strong, complex and continually evolving. Heck, she and Morgan should get their own spin-off! Like the Zombified “Dukes of Hazzard”. Though I guess that it would be a better fit for Rick and Daryl. Lol. I was also sad to see Merritt Weaver’s character die at this point. She was a breath of fresh air, and had the hope and all that potential development wasted. I also enjoy Enid’s character’s complexity and her JSS symbol and will to survive. I loved Eugene biting that guy’s crotch. Hopefully the writers will step up their game on character development and evolution for the rest of them. I feel it really started to slip when Fear the Walking Dead came on. Perhaps a lot of writers left to work on that show.

  7. Walkie says:

    Sorry. No go. It doesn’t work. Feels terribly forced.

  8. Spence says:

    Aside from the poor timing of Carol’s transition, I’ve loved everything about her storyline. If this story could’ve just been transplanted to season 5 immediately following The Grove to make it feel more organic I think I would’ve appreciated Carol’s arc more.

  9. webly3 says:

    Carol’s transition into softness was forced. I could see her actions as more plausible if this happened in late season 7, but it didn’t seem plausible in season 6.

  10. Brigid says:

    I 100% agree with you. This is what makes Carol human and gives her depth. I love that she got to a breaking point and in this hellish world it was only a matter of time. Totally love every facet of Carol!!! It makes total sense to me.

  11. Jane says:

    Didn’t like the timing of it and it did feel forced, however, “soft” Carol is still tougher than most of the other Alexandrians.

  12. Christopher says:

    Carol going soft is GARBAGE. The writer’s are ruining this awesome character. I would have rather seen her get killed in a hail of bullets then succumbing to the mopes. There is no room for anyone to collapse into absolute pacifism in the world of TWD and the character that I would believe this crap from the least is Carol. It’s horrible! There aren’t a lot of consistently interesting characters on this show, Carol is one of the few that always has gripping story lines, until this hamfisted, unbelievable, clustercuss of a character arc was foisted upon her. Way to go TWD, you’ve managed to neuter one of your few strengths. This is the worst thing that has happened on this show since the “Search For Sofia.” But really, it might be even worse than that because I’m not sure how the writers would come back from this slide into mediocrity even if they were so motivated (and it doesn’t seem like they are). No, this arc wasn’t interesting. This arc was the WORST and does not bode well for the future of the show. Thanks for taking the hear, balls, and soul away from the best character on TWD! This post was nearly impossible to write without a hundred f-bombs.

  13. Sandy Duncan's Eye on Network TV says:

    The character of Carol is the best written and most fully realized one on the show and the performance by Melissa McBride rivals all of the recent emmy nominated actresses that come to mind. I do accept Carol transformation..what person of any character and heart wouldn’t have conflict with the things she has done? Could the change been a little more subtle? Sure…but I can overlook that given the huge number of actors that the producers and writers have to support in 40some minutes each week.

    To me, the two more important questions are: 1) why are there no such compelling characters on Fear the Walking Dead and 2) why hasn’t McBride been emmy nominated?

  14. Sarah96 says:

    Man..some people really don’t get her character at all lol and I 100%agree with tv line explanation of the way her character was feeling since episode 2!! the guilt that was eating her up and made her think she was becoming like Paula.
    Seems like fans only like her when she’s killing people or beings badass but when she’s showing some softness and more emotion they complain. She kills if she has to too, she isn’t letting that got but she doesn’t want to be a killer machine anymore and fight more wars. I hope this season we see her recover from her injuries and try to let herself see she can be amazing and when fighting is needed she can still fight but have a more defensive role in the battles and try to see she can help others and still be herself.

    • Gracie says:

      Thank you for seeing the nuance. I also find that too many seem to be uncomfortable with any vulnerable emotions, mostly aimed toward the female characters. It has been shocking the type of comments made about “Laurie”, “Andrea” and others. I don’t see the comments directed at the male characters whenever they break down. These posters don’t seem to understand that what is compelling is the emotional drama, rather than just being one dimensional like Rambo. It is their wide emotional range that makes us care if they live or die. A full range of emotions is what makes them like real human beings. If they were superheroes they would be cartoonish and uninteresting.

  15. patrickmaloney33 says:

    How did she go soft?! She killed a handful of people in the last two episodes alone! The only way she went soft was that she forced Morgan to do her dirty work with that final episode. In fact, Morgan is the one who truly went soft because he broke his vow never to kill anyone! Carol never had a code to begin with, she just killed whoever got in her way, so I can’t really see how she went soft…

    • Gracie says:

      Carol doesn’t kill who gets in her way. She has killed to survive and to save her loved ones in the group. She killed Karen & David at the Prison (wrongly) b/c she thought she was protecting the entire group from dying from illness. She killed Lizzie b/c she was crazy and killed her sister, for the protection of Judith and anyone else. She gave Paula a chance to live, and only killed her in self defense. She killed the other one to save Maggie. She killed the Termites to save her friends from Cannibals. She saved Alexandria from the Wolves. Carol has often had to kill people b/c she is under attack to survive, just as they all have. You make her out to be this random killing machine, but clearly that is not the case. Secondly, can we drop the macho, simplistic, black and white, terminology of referring to people as “Soft”/”Hard”. It precludes real analysis of the complexity of what is happening. Morgan, as every character does, has chosen how they will live in this new reality. He didn’t used to have this chosen view, and he can choose to change this view if his beliefs changed or the situation changes. Clearly, saving Carol required Morgan to reevaluate what was right. Rigid morals usually don’t make good morals b/c they don’t work in every situation. For example, Morgan used to kill EVERYBODY, good or bad, which we can agree was not good. Then he adopted a moral stance of killing NO ONE. Clearly, was not good either. He let Wolves go that later tried to kill Rick without cause. Your chosen path is not working if it would allow you to let a killer without a conscience survive (Neegan’s man toward end of Season 6) and let him kill Carol whom he can see still has a conscience left. Carol had a code from the very beginning, before anyone else had it, which was to survive whatever way she could. WIth her husband she was submissive, which is actually kind of cunning. In this post-apocalyptic world her talents of hiding in plain sight were put to good use. In both situations you have to have an inner core of toughness to survive a brutal, unforgiving situation. Frankly, it is amazing that she has been strong enough to emotionally survive everything, before and after. However, all the pain from before the apocalypse and after built up and no one can run away from the bad feelings forever. Or you lose your conscience, your humanity and become like Paula or Neegan. She has to deal with the pain, anger and shame that has reached a breaking point and find a way to survive that she can actually live with. At least I can agree with you that Carol will never be weak. In pain yes, but she has proven she is a survivor to the core. The only way she could die is if she decided to.

  16. Ed says:

    It just happened so fast. When we first met Carol, she was a battered housewife. She was docile. Over seasons she hardened and turned into this badass. This was undone in literally a matter of a couple of episodes. I’m fine with her questioning herself and faith…characters evolve…but it wasn’t earned. It was to serve the plot of her needing to be rescued at the end of the season.

    And for a show that sometimes moves at a glacial pace, this “character development” was poorly handled.

    • Ferid says:

      Entire sixth season showed us that Carol was transforming from the moment Morgan told her that she doesn’t like to kill, and we’ve seen that she isn’t happy with killing since Grove. So Morgan’s words just made her realize that she really doesn’t want to kill anymore and all those feelings became stronger when she killed that Wolf who was trying to save Denise somehow and when she saw Paula in The same boat because she knew that she crossed the line and that she was one step away from becoming monster like Paula. So I think it is stupid to complain about this as poorly written because you just had to pay attention to details and you could see that coming

  17. Daniel snow says:

    I had a problem with Carol since she killed those sick people in season four. I’ve been hard on her since then and will continue to be suspicious of her.

    • Mag8695 says:

      Suspicious in what way? Not trying to be challenging but I’m always curious about why this sticks out to some people, especially when you consider the similar actions of others and the circumstances in which she made the choice to kill those two.

  18. Mo says:

    Like your analysis but will add that it has been going for a long time and there are many other behaviors of hers that illustrate it. Next binge watch notice how almost all her behavior is about avoiding situations where she may have to kill. before rick banished her she did not want to have to take on the 2 weak survivors, wanting to stay with the girls at the cove, in atlanta with Daryl preventing him from shooting noah, her undercover in alexandria greatly reduced her chances of having to kill(at least until the wolves). In “the same boat” she pushed to stay with maggie so she did not have to go in and kill. What is going to be interesting is Morgan’s pointing out there are choices where Carol has been seeing it as she had to kill to protect the ones she loved. Morgan is about making it the last choice which makes the irony of his kill to save her so poignant. They have been dropping hints on this change from the point she killed karen and david.

  19. Bebe says:

    The crazy thing is that she’s probably killed just as many people since she became a pacifist. She just really feels bad about it now.

  20. Mag8695 says:

    As a big fan of the character, I don’t mind her “going soft” (anyone else hate that expression?) but the circumstances that caused her to stop being a willing participant in even self defense was maddening, and seemed to service Morgan’s story more than anything else. Its also jarring when you compare carol having so much grief over killing even the most clear cut bad guys when certain others in the group have given it zero thought. I don’t think Morgan needs to “lead” her anywhere though. He’s not in a position to be guiding her in any way.

    • Jax&Juice's Girl says:

      I get that strong characters will go soft and be vulnerable at times but in the world that they’re in and situations that’s going on right now with Negan and The Saviors in the picture…..her timing going through this is BAD!!!! Now look at her she’s beaten and shot at. Even tho. Morgan is with her idk maybe he can help and balance her out.

  21. Sheila Leys-Garcia says:

    I want Carol to “get back in the game” and help the Alexandrians beat the Saviors. She and Daryl are my FAVS and I hate to see her suffer like this. What will it take to unite her with Rick and the group again? Interesting question.