Carol Peletier

Written by @EllieDangerous
'The Walking Dead' is a gruesome American runner-abouter. You've probably seen it. Among the few poor sods to endure all the running about is Carol Peletier, played with awesome versatility by Melissa McBride. In a zombie apocalypse you have to adapt to survive, and no one has adapted more than Carol – which means no one deserves to survive as much as she does.

Spoiler Alert
At the beginning of the series she's one of the group's most fragile members. Meek and weak and really kinda lovely, she obeys her husband Ed’s every command. It’s a familiar dynamic. He’s an abusive lug, and we’re grimly satisfied when the undead start chomping on him. Yeah, eat his stupid face off.

But as with all zombie things, the dead can’t just be left to rot – you have to destroy the brain so they don’t rise again. With Ed, Carol does the honours. The gentle wife stabs her husband’s corpse in a mad fury, finally unleashing all the emotion he’d suppressed. We don't get a sense that it's bloodlust; it's frustration and revenge. It's her first “kill” of sorts, and by ending him she's ending the person he forced her to become. Old Carol dies and new Carol has a chance to rise at last.

But she's learning to be a new person in one hell of a hellish environment. We could actually compare her journey to that of Carl, who at the beginning of the series is 12 years old. The kid is finding his adult identity in these volatile surroundings, and in many ways so is Carol.

In 'The Walking Dead', characters are often punished for not adapting. Take Merle, a lone wolf banished for refusing to run with the pack. Or Shane, who never could get used to his rival/bestie Rick being back in the picture. Or Lizzie – yikes – who just couldn’t wrap her head around what was happening to the world.

Actually yeah, let’s talk about Lizzie, because although she has her own story she’s also a big part of Carol’s.

Back in season two, Carol’s only child Sophia got lost and was zombiefied. It was an upsetting subplot. It broke Carol, but her ability to keep her head is a testament to her inherent strength – she was always tougher than Ed let her be. By season three Carol is a warrior, teaching little girls to wield knives when previously she would’ve taught them how to wash shirts in a river. She takes Lizzie and Mika under her wing, and it’s obvious they remind her of Sophia.

So it comes as a groundbreaking shock in season four when Carol points a gun at Lizzie’s head and pulls the trigger.

See, Lizzie couldn't understand a vital fact about Walkers: that they retain none of their old identity. This led Lizzie to murdering her little sister Mika in the hope that she would reanimate as a zombie buddy. Lizzie’s failure to adapt made her creepily dangerous; she couldn’t survive like this. And that’s why Carol kills her. Carol understands entirely: if you don’t adapt, you don’t survive.

This particular survivor reads every situation and reacts accordingly; she can even pretend to adapt if it means survival for her and her friends. Just look at her in the recent season five, for instance, in the kindly town of Alexandria. For a moment she tricks even us into suspecting she’s reverted back to being a meek housewife, but we should know better. Carol has become sly, strategic – though still understands the value of a chocolate bar.

Carol has survived abuse, exile, horrifying moral dilemmas and the entire apocalypse so far. She’s also killed many people, from countless Terminus residents to the crying, unbitten Lizzie. It’s possible we could have feared and hated Carol like we did the Governor, but we’ve followed her through thick and thin. We’ve seen her power, her grit, and her humanising bond with Daryl. We remember her before her hands turned red, and armed with this familiarity we can understand and even appreciate everything she does.

One of the more interesting reactions to ‘The Walking Dead’ of late has been the audience’s gory desire to see Carol save the day in the most brutal ways possible. It’s understandable. We know she has it in her, we know it won't break her, and we know we'll probably end up liking her more for it. Thanks Carol, you've turned us all into frigging psychopaths.
If I’m going to hell, I’m making damn sure I’m holding it off as long as I can.
You fight it. You don't give up. And then one day you just… change. We all change.
Ellie Ball is the founder of Good Characters, and someone who enjoys coffee cake a great deal. She is a graduate of the Scriptwriting MA at Goldsmiths, University of London. For fun and respite, check out her TV analysis articles on Bang2Write or tweet coffee cake at her @EllieDangerous.
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Published on 2 July 2015

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