The Walking Dead: We Meet Carol's Evil Twin in the Best Episode of the Season
Spoilers for The Walking Dead season six ahead!
The Walking Dead has had a few standout episodes this season, most notably "JSS" and last week's "Not Tomorrow Yet," but last night's "The Same Boat" was the best of the season so far. It was a tense, relentlessly grim episode that highlighted two of the show's best, most complex characters—Carol and Maggie—and featured an intense supporting turn from guest star Alicia Witt (Friday Night Lights, Justified). Witt's performance, and the writing of her character, Paula, was the most unusual part of the episode, since I can't remember the last time The Walking Dead introduced a well-rounded guest star that we actually cared about (at least one who didn't eventually become a regular). I'm disappointed that we won't see Paula again, as she would have been an interesting addition to the cast, but I'm impressed that The Walking Dead put so much effort into a one-off villain, since they've largely eschewed this kind of exploration of character and moral reasoning as of late.
Carol has largely taken a backseat this season, but the last couple of episodes have seen her happily back in the spotlight, and her face-off with Paula was chock-full of interesting character development. Since Sophia's death, Carol has evolved from a meek housewife into a bad-ass warrior, and has occasionally gone too far into cold-blooded killer territory. Paula was an obedient secretary before the zombie apocalypse, and like Carol (as well as several other characters on the show), she feels that she's been improved by her increased fortitude. "I'm still me, but better," she says, as she tells Carol that she stopped feeling guilty about killing humans once she hit double digits. As we saw last week, Carol has killed no less than 18 people, but she's starting to lose count, which scares her into feeling guilt. Paula is the nightmare version of what Carol could be (and arguably has been in the past): a violent, ruthless person who kills without remorse.
In this sense, "The Same Boat" was a perfect companion to last week's episode, since they both saw The Walking Dead bring back the emotional stakes to killing humans. The audience, like the characters themselves, has become completely desensitized to the constant killing, but the combination of seeing Glenn kill for the first time and ultra-professional killer Carol finally start to feel the weight of her actions has been extremely affecting. I would have liked to see a little more of a build-up to Carol's crisis of conscience, since it was only a few episodes ago that she was treating Morgan like a naive pansy, but it's nice to see The Walking Dead explore the consequences of characters' actions.
In the same vein, this episode continued to highlight that Rick's group can't be considered the "good guys" anymore. The Saviors, as we've seen, are hardly innocent victims, since that group of thugs tried to kill Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha on the road. But as Paula points out, all of those men were killed. For all the Rickettes knew, those guys' actions weren't even sanctioned (and the Saviors subtly hint that that might be the case). "Why didn't you just stop?" Yes, they knew that Negan was asking for Gregory's head, but they didn't even bother to ask why, and either way, they didn't have to seek out violence. They could have found food another way, and if the Rickettes hadn't found the Saviors' compound, there's every chance the Saviors never would have found out who killed those men, and they all could have gone their separate ways. But instead, they snuck into their compound and murdered them in their sleep, without any confirmation that these specific people were actually a threat to them.
And the Saviors aren't monsters, like the Termites or even the Governor. As we see in this episode, they're just more hardened and ruthless versions of the Rickettes (and even that would be a little questionable if we hadn't seen those Polaroids of bashed-in heads). It was a little annoying that there was so much talk about Maggie's pregnancy in this episode, especially since I doubt it would have been nearly as much of an issue if Paula and her crew were men, but their reactions did show that they had some compassion and humanity. And Paula may have lacked a conscience, but she didn't go out of her way to commit unnecessary violence. She stopped her boyfriend from hurting Carol, and she left Carol and Maggie tied up rather than kill them (which, incidentally, lead to Paula's own death, because our protagonists are sort of the villains). Considering that the Rickettes just murdered her friends and comrades in their sleep, she would have had much better reason to kill Carol and Maggie than they had to kill the Saviors. We all know that Negan is coming, and that he's one of the most evil villains we'll see on this show, but until then, the Saviors are proving to be quite complex and interesting.
Speaking of Negan, it was fascinating to see that the Saviors say "We are all Negan," as if Negan is a nebulous concept or idea rather than a person. Fans already know that Jeffrey Dean Morgan has been cast as Negan, so this unfortunately doesn't work as a misdirect, but it gives us more insight into their Spartan way of life. And now that Rick believes that the man he killed, Primo, was actually Negan, it will be all the more surprising for our survivors when Negan shows up with Lucille in the season finale.
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