Just a few thoughts I had after watching last night's season 5 premiere of The Walking Dead. Specifically, we're talking about Carol (Melissa McBride) and why she might be the biggest badass on the show. Major SPOILER ALERT right here.
Of all the characters on the show, Carol has grown the most. All the characters have shown growth in various ways but no one has had an arc like Carol. In season 1 she was a mousy woman who would jump out of her shoes if someone nearby belched. Most of her submissive behavior came from her fear of her husband, Ed. Ed was a dick who beat her on a regular basis and (likely) molested their daughter, Sophia. In fact, during most of season 1 Carol is relegated the laundry duty:
It's pretty obvious she would not have survived if not for her husband. She simply doesn't display any of the skills one would expect of someone capable of surviving this long in a world populated by cannibalistic corpses. Once Ed has assumed room temperature, Carol gets a little revenge. She obliterates her husband's heads with a pic axe, ostensibly to assure he doesn't come back as a walker. But there's way more to it than that. We're seeing years of repressed rage spilling out of her. This is a woman who has probably wanted to do something like this for a long time but never had the nerve. Now that her husband is dead she can stand up to him. Still not the kind of person you want watching your back in a crisis situation.
Later, when the group is trying to escape the CDC before the whole facility is blown sky high, Carol saves the day. The doors are locked and the group can't get through the bulletproof glass. Carol begins rummaging around in her bag. Shane tells her, "I don't think a nail file is gonna do it, Carol." It's pretty clear what Shane thinks of her because we're thinking the same thing. Of all the heavy hitters present (Rick, Shane, T-Dog, Glenn, Daryl), the last person we're expecting to save the day is Carol. We probably had more faith in Lori at that point! Carol comes up with a grenade she had found while washing Rick's pants. And the group is saved.
Season 2 Carol isn't much different from Season 1 Carol. She spends the first half of the season worrying about her daughter who has become separated from the group. Granted, it's a pretty serious situation and I can't fault her for that. When she finds out her daughter is dead and has become a walker, Carol is devastated. She spends the rest of season 2 in mourning.
Season 3 Carol is where we see a different character emerging. We learn she's become a good shot with a rifle. She goads Daryl into either leaving with her or taking control of the group from Rick. She cares for baby Judith. She cuts open a dead walker to practice her C-section technique in case she has to deliver Lori's baby. Season 1 Carol could never have done that. No way, no how.
She even stands up to Merle, who seems genuinely surprised by her transformation. She responds to the Governor's attack on the prison first by using Axel's dead body as a bullet shield and then grabbing a weapon and firing back at the attackers. Season 1 Carol would have shit her pants and fainted. She is no longer that person. She even tells Andrea she needs to sleep with the Governor and then kill him in his sleep. This Carol thinks ahead.
Season 4 Carol is a mover and a shaker who looks like she could survive all by her lonesome if needs be. She kills Karen and David because they're sick and she's trying to stop the super virus from spreading. She admits to Rick that she was the killer and he leaves her on the road with some supplies and a car. Rick is confident she can survive on her own and so are we.
When the prison falls the characters are scattered. Tyrese ends up with Lizzy the psycho and Mika and baby Judith. We're worried. Tyrese is a strong man but he doesn't seem to have the killer instinct. He's too nice a guy to survive like this, much less to be in charge of small children. As Tyrese leaves the girls to help a family under attack in the woods, walkers begin closing in. Cut to Tyrese in full fighting mode as walkers tear that family apart. When the fight is over we hear a female voice call to him. He turns to see the girls standing there with Carol. And everybody loved it. The audience perception is very clear: Everything will be okay now. Their chances of survival have just quadrupled.
Wait, when did we get that impression of Carol? Up to this point we've relied on the usual characters like Rick and Glenn. When did Carol join that group? I think fans were surprised at their own reaction to her return. That's good writing, and it's awesome acting on McBride's part.
Later on Carol is faced with the toughest choice of her life. When little Lizzie turns total psycho and murders her own sister to prove she'll come back just the same as before, Carol has a decision to make. It guts her. We can see it in every move she makes. Lizzie's comfort ritual is to "look at the flowers." Carol tells her to do just that and then shoots her in the back of the head. It's a soul-crushing decision and there are very few characters on the show who could have made it. Not Tyrese or Sasha or Maggie or Glenn. Not Michonne or Daryl. That McBride didn't get an Emmy nom for that episode is a crime.
Which brings us to season 5. Everyone but Carol, Tyrese and Judith are being held in Terminus and are about to be killed and cooked up by the cannibals who live there. There's no way out. Glenn, Daryl and Rick are first up and seconds away from being murdered. Carol sees this and she goes into action. She blows up a propane tank as a herd of walkers descends on Terminus. Camouflaging herself in walker blood Carol strolls through the streets of Terminus with the walkers, picking off Termites when she can. Terminus Mary gets the drop on her, but please. Mary has no chance. Carol shoots her in the leg, interrogates her, and then lets a bunch of walkers into the building to eat Mary alive. The bitch had it coming.
The group escapes Terminus thanks to Carol's actions. They're reunited in the woods, much to Daryl and Rick's delight (and ours, too). When Rick and Carl see baby Judith for the first time since the fall of the prison, they're overjoyed. That's thanks largely to Carol and Rick knows it. I think everyone else does, too.
Sidenote: In the comics, Carol never made it out of the prison. After ostracizing herself from the group she simply gives up. She intentionally walks into a zombie and lets it rip her throat out. Suicide by walker. I was a little nervous during season 4 that something similar might occur. When Rick learns Carol is responsible for killing Karen and David, I thought she might take that way out. But this Carol is much different (read: stronger) than the one in the comic. And I couldn't be happier. I'm sure I'm not alone in this.
So now we have kickass Carol, a character who has become one of the big guns of the group. She's also the only female character from season 1 who is still alive. Think about that for a minute. We have varying degrees of faith in Rick, Daryl, Michonne and Glenn, and now I think Carol is on the same level in the eyes of the fans. In season 4, Beth tells Daryl he'll be the last man standing. That might be true. But does anyone doubt Carol will be standing right next to him? Don't bet against her.