“Consumed” is an episode where nothing happens, and yet you cannot take your eyes off of the screen. The action is in the chemistry between Melissa McBride (Carol) and Norman Reedus (Daryl) and their inner thoughts. What matters is what is unsaid.
We don’t often see Carol cry, not post-Sophia Carol. We don’t see her feeling vulnerable. We get glimpses of that fragility in the brief flashbacks to her time in exile that are sprinkled throughout this episode. The opening scene of “Consumed” is of her sitting in her car sobbing while a zombie pounds on her door.
Nothing of note happens to her in these flashbacks, nothing except that she’s alone and surviving. Surviving alone and not giving up takes a strength of character that she has always had, she just doesn’t realize it.
After the opening, we return to the present where Daryl and Carol chase after Beth’s captors. What happens on their journey to rescue Beth isn’t as important as how the characters feel during their search.
All of the credit goes to the actors here. Melissa McBride and Norman Reedus make this episode more about what is unsaid than what is said. Everything hinges on the looks the actors give each other and yes, on their ability to stare far into the distance without looking melodramatic. That’s not easy. Even the profound words that are in the script would fall flat if spoken by lesser actors.
This episode would have been a joke without McBride and Reedus. They are the only two actors who could have made the writer’s vision come to life so perfectly.
As with many episodes of The Walking Dead, everything is one giant pep-talk for surviving our world and wading through the zombie of depression. They take shelter at an abandoned temporary housing facility, a place where Carol and Sophia went for a night when she ran away from her abusive husband.
It’s the perfect backdrop for a conversation about starting over and saving the world. Starting over isn’t as easy as complicated as Carol wants it to be. She wants a trial by far – she wants to be consumed and then born anew. That’s not how it works. Daryl tells her as much when she asks him if he’s started over. He tells her, “I’m trying.”
You don’t wake up one day a new person. We are constantly becoming. Starting over never ends. We must always try.
Likewise, we cannot save everyone. Carol comments that she doesn’t think she can save anyone anymore. Daryl wonders why she’s tracking Beth if that’s the case. She tells him she has to try.
Somehow, these two get each other. They have that relationship that all of us want. We want someone who understands without explanation. We want someone who accepts us, even our darkest self. We want a soulmate who loves us unconditionally. That is what they have.
During their search for Beth, they run into Noah. He is on his own mission, with every intention of rescuing Beth. He steals their weapons at gun point and then unleashes a few zombies that had been trapped inside of a tent.
Too bad for him that he didn’t get all of their weapons and Carol tries to kill him. Daryl stops her because he doesn’t want her to kill a kid and he thinks they can survive without their other weapons.
Carol is right, of course. They needed those weapons to fight off the dozens of zombies who come after them when they leave their hideout. The two franticly make their way to an abandoned hospital van that’s precariously perched on top of an overpass. With nothing to lose, they buckle up and take the vehicle over the edge. The drop isn’t that far, relatively. It crashes front first but then lands upright. Both are shaken, but alive, and they hobble away.
They take shelter in another building to recuperate. It’s another moment for them to talk about who they were and who they are.
Daryl asks her to tell him who she thinks he used to be and who she thinks he is now.
“I think you were a kid. Now you’re a man.”
We know Daryl’s past is worse than he lets on – this episodes alludes to that, as we see Daryl pick up and carry around a book about surviving child abuse. An abusive past and a horrifying present could have made him more guarded, but it’s done the opposite. He realizes something that perhaps Carol doesn’t: they’ve helped each other develop those parts of themselves that went unnurtured for so long. Thanks to Carol he’s more thoughtful and introspective. He’s a leader, not a boy who blindly follows his brother around. Thanks to him, she’s also a brave leader and no longer questions her worth as a person.
He asks her who she was. She responds that the person she was before her husband and daughter died as a person who prayed for things to happen, but never did anything to make them happen.
“What I was, she got burned away. At the prison, I got to be who I always thought I should be and then she got burned away.”
She believes that who we are is temporary. This world burns you and your sense of self into oblivion until you have no choice but to become something new.
“Everything now just consumes you.”
She’s wrong though. She hasn’t become anyone new. She is not burned away. She is who she has always been. She is Carol. Who Carol is, who we all are, is a process – we are always trying to become.
As her wise archer tells her,
“We ain’t ashes.”
The writers of this show always give us lessons for living. This is their most important one yet. When you feel consumed by your life, when you feel there is nothing left, remember that you are not an empty shell. You are not ash. Get up and keep trying. You are something worth trying for.
In the next scene, they again cross paths with Noah as he’s trying to move a bookcase in front of a door to keep the zombies out. Daryl rams into him, knocking over the bookcase and trapping the Noah underneath. They take back their guns. Things have flipped now and Carol is the one who doesn’t want to leave Noah for dead.
Daryl pretends he’s in a Dirty Harry movie, as he lights a cigarette he says “leave him” and then he walks away.
This scene should be ridiculous. It’s so over the top, but Reedus sells it and it’s awesome.
As zombie is about to bite Noah, Daryl shoots it in the head. Then they both lift the bookcase off of the teenager.
Noah is mumbling that the people at the hospital will find him now that they’ve heard the gunfire. At the word “hospital,” Daryl immediately questions Noah as to whether or not there was a blonde girl there. They all realize they have the same goal and team up.
Carol runs out of the building first and the cops from the hospital run her over with their car. Daryl wants to run out to save her, but Noah holds him back. Noah knows they heal her before they do anything to her. This gives them time to rescue her before she is in any real danger.
We’ll find out what happens next in the seventh episode, “Crossed.” Watch a sneak peek below:
There are only two episodes left in this season. What do you think will happen? Will anyone die? Who do you want to die? Tell us in the comments.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 on AMC.