The quiet (and strangely intense) bond between Daryl and Carol constitutes one of the most fascinating relationships on The Walking Dead, not least because it developed on the fringes of larger storylines. Lest we forget, young Mr Dixon approached the widow in “Cherokee Rose” out of concern for her daughter, whose disappearance drove most of the second season. By the same token, Carol only reciprocated in “Chupacabra” as a payoff to his subplot. For all intents and purposes, their arc was over, but for the sake of narrative consistency, the two have spent every episode since nodding to each other in the background, evoking the epic sentiments of fan fiction.
What’s more, our favourite hillbilly and widow have morphed into completely different characters between creative teams, so it comes as no surprise that The Walking Dead would finally give the pair a private caper to catch up on their new selves. Can a more sensitive and community-oriented Daryl maintain his friendship with the harsh loner Carol has become? “Consumed” provides as answer a resounding yes, but it largely achieves this by dodging the question, hinting that our heroes’ respective transformations are merely skin deep.
Daryl’s evolution from broken orphan to community pillar has been well documented on The Walking Dead. However, “Consumed” reveals that he remains deep down the same insecure loner as in “Chupacabra”. Consider the man’s Spartan answer when Carol asks whether he got to start over: “I’m trying.” Buddy, I hate to break it to you, but you’re the poster boy for success in this regard. Would the Hillbilly of old have sneaked into the night to dispose of two corpses just because a friend sees a bit of herself in them? You, sir, have turned into quite the zombie-killing gentleman!
In fairness, self-awareness isn’t a common virtue on The Walking Dead, which can prove misleading even to the audience. Like Carol, I assumed that the badass survivor who rescued everyone in “No Sanctuary” was born of the new world order, but some version of her appears to have existed before the undead apocalypse. After all, it takes considerable strength and cunning to snatch your daughter from an abusive parent and sneak off to a women’s shelter. I don’t suppose we’ll ever find out why she returned to Ed, not that their toxic relationship relates in any way to the hardened pragmatist we’ve come to know and love.
I find it ironic (and utterly fascinating) that Carol’s cryptic answer to the question, “Did you used to work here or something?” would reveal more about her journey than the opening flashback in “Consumed”. Did fans really need an explanation as to how the widow found Tyreese, Judith, and Lizzie in “Inmates”? Mind you, I like the contrast of these forest scenes with the city landscape. It accentuates how much effort the show runners have put this season in giving The Walking Dead diverse environments at last.
Still, “Consumed” could’ve thrown at us a hundred burning trees, zombie campers, and falling vans, and they still wouldn’t have held a candle to the power of Ms Peletier’s aforementioned reply: “Something”. A word can be worth a thousand pictures when mumbled by the likes of Carol and Daryl, who must have read David Mamet’s entire body of work before the episode. I stopped doing quotes sections for The Walking Dead a while back, but, come on, you’ve got to appreciate these complex gems of verbal non-communication:
Daryl: “You came here?”
Carol: “We didn’t stay.”
Carol: “I still don’t know.”
Daryl: “You don’t have to. You don’t.”
Carol: “Thank you.”
Carol: “How did we get here?”
Daryl: “We just did.”
Note: Noah’s in the episode too, sneaking around the city and causing trouble in the most apologetic way imaginable. I like him.