AMC’s The Walking Dead has always worked best when it really digs deeply into its characters, focusing less on the destination and more on the journey. Sometimes, the best episodes are the ones where the characters are allowed to simply be, and the larger plot is simply a framework within which they can work. “Consumed,” the sixth episode of season five, was one such episode, and easily one of the most engaging and emotionally resonant of not just this season, but of the whole series.
But then again, this should come as no surprise because let’s be honest — if you gave me the option of watching the fractured goings-on of the group at-large, or killing them all and giving us the Carol & Daryl Show week after week, I’d take the latter in a heartbeat (maybe throw Michonne into the mix and I’d be perfectly content). “Consumed” was about the quest to find Beth, sure. But what it really was about was the chance to see the two of them interact without any other restrictions, to learn about each other and themselves while still trying to survive the hell that they’ve inherited. To those ends, Melissa McBride and Norman Reedus were absolute joys to watch.
There are several things about this episode that worked, but what really made it was the chemistry between them and the strength of the writing that supported it. Perhaps one of the best decisions that the showrunners made was (at least to this point) not to let them succumb to romantic entanglements. I’m not saying it should never happen, but the development of their relationship without forcing them to couple up has made both characters stronger as a result. What we instead see are two severely damaged people, beaten and broken literally and figuratively by the life they led before, changing and evolving into who they are and perhaps even who they were always meant to be.
Setting the bulk of the episode in a place familiar to Carol was an interesting and certainly different idea. Holing up in a decrepit corner of Carol’s past, we’re allowed to see her history while bypassing too many tired and obvious flashbacks. That’s important because that past matters only tangentially — it’s what they’ve become that’s important. They are survivors now, through and through, and in more ways than one. Survivors of abuse, survivors of neglect. Survivors of their own decisions, for better or worse. They have both grown into killers and thinkers protectors and people who act. If the episode had a weak spot, it was the weird moment of backsliding for Daryl. Smoking a cigarette and leaving the young and foolish and scared Noah to die felt a little bit lazy and unnecessary. It’s not just that Daryl’s past that — that kind of callous disregard has never been a part of his makeup and it served only to take us out of the moment that had been so carefully crafted prior to that.
Yet what bolstered it was also the sheer, relentless violence that surrounded them. Because while emotionally they’re still fragile despite their tough exteriors, together, working in tandem, they are a well-oiled, finely tuned machine that is absolutely brilliant to watch as they carve through whatever gets in their way. There’s genius in their continued ingenuity (I’ve mentioned before how one of the show’s strengths is showing how the survivors have learned to survive) and a breathtaking exhilaration to their gifts for improvisation and decisive mayhem.
What made “Consumed” work was allowing them to also demonstrate a certain vulnerability behind it all. Whether it was the flashbacks to Carol when she was on her own, or each telling the other about how they’ve seen each other change over time, there was an almost gentleness to their interplay. That’s been the soul of their relationship, though — a strange, uncertain, cautious tenderness — two survivors gingerly exploring the idea of genuine friendship and caring. Yet even more remarkably, it’s done without tearful breakdowns or overwrought dramatics — even at their most vulnerable, there’s iron within them. The rapport between Daryl and Carol is perhaps the best relationship on the show, and this episode served only to strengthen it. And while the future is uncertain for them now, as Carol is brought to the hospital and Daryl returns with Noah, they will be stronger than ever, always moving forward, never looking back.