Review: The Walking Dead - "The Grove"

By: Heather Seebach

**Warning: The following contains spoilers about S4E14**

Well, it finally happened. What I have been asking for since Sophia stepped out of that barn: The Walking Dead grew a pair. No, I'm not some dead kid enthusiast, okay? Every character death and "shocking" moment in the last two seasons has been safe. Sure, some were kind of brutal but ultimately none of them felt very daring to me. A few replicated shocking scenes from the comics but somehow they managed to always water them down...until now.

Before I get to all that, let's start from the beginning. I knew I was going to like this episode right from that fantastic cold open. That gorgeous shot panning across the kitchen with glimpses of Lizzie "playing" in the yard was perfectly eerie. I love the way it appears sweet at first - must be Lizzie and Mika - but as the kettle screeches increasingly louder, her undead playmate is revealed. The use of The Ink Spots' "Maybe" is spot-on. This sequence has got to be in my top 5 favorite TWD shots already and I think DP-turned-director Michael E. Satrazemis has a knack for horror.

While the climax of this episode is what people will remember most, "The Grove" also succeeds at holding slow-building tension. Young actress Brighton Sharbino reaches maximum creepiness even before shit hits the fan. She was uncomfortably attached to Carol ("Would you miss me?") yet called her "Ma'am" frequently this episode which kind of creeped me out though it probably was not intentional. That moment when Carol saves her from her "playmate" and Lizzie melts down on her - "WHAT IF I KILLED YOU?!" - was downright disturbing. It satisfies on both a horror level and a more realistic one, having to witness a mother struggle helplessly with a disturbed child.

Melissa McBride is fantastic as well. In the aforementioned Lizzie meltdown scene, there is a moment when Carol seems to consider killing the girl. Her eyes almost dart around like, "Is Tyreese watching?" and a look of guilt spreads across her face that told me she was very much considering putting the threat down right there and then. And who could blame her? Honestly, that girl is a way better contender for a barbecue than Karen was! Anyway, McBride and Sharbino were both great in that disturbing little scene.

"The Grove" gave viewers some answers to lingering questions, but frankly I think those answers were obvious all along. Ooooh, Lizzie was giving the zombies rats! Duhhh. That girl has been crazy-pants since day 1 - she was playing in Glenn's blood for fuck's sake! I predicted the big "shock" of this episode last October in my review of "Infected."

There's the face of a totally normal, not-insane child...

I also hoped this scene would happen when I wrote my 10 Shocking Plots from the Walking Dead Comics That I Want to See on AMC! article. Back then, I was not sure the show-runners had the guts but as Lizzie's character became increasingly more insane this season, I suspected more and more that this shocker pulled right from the comics might be coming. Still, despite knowing what would happen, I was pleasantly surprised it did, and without punches pulled.

If you have not read Robert Kirkman's comics, I am about to go into spoilers about the part that is comparable to Lizzie and Mika from Issue #61 so read at your own risk if you don't want to know anything about the books!

In the comics, Billy and Ben are 4-year-old twins. They do not play much of a role in the story but they are surrounded by death (including that of their parents). Dale and Andrea unofficially adopt the boys, but Ben has a thing for killing animals and it does not end there. In issue #61, he slaughters his brother with a knife and says, "Don't worry, he's going to come back. I didn't hurt his brains." The group locks Ben up until they decide how to handle the situation. During the night, Carl - still very young himself - sneaks in and executes Ben himself.

"I didn't hurt his brains."

The series of events is very powerful in a different way in the books. For one thing, Billy and Ben are SO young. Because of that, Ben's "He's going to come back" plays more like childhood naivete than the words of a psychopath. It tackled the issue of how you explain this sick new world to a young child. It also saw, for the first time, Carl stepping up and doing what had to be done when the adults could not bring themselves to do it. Carl is a product of this new world and therefore uniquely equipped to survive in it.

These are all reasons I loved the Billy/Ben stuff in the comics, but don't get me wrong, the Lizzie/Mika sequence works great in its own way. Since Lizzie is older, I believe she represents mental illness more than childhood innocence. This is another topic that has not really been touched upon in the zombie apocalypse yet. Typically, if one of your co-survivors falls off the rocker, you lock them up or take them out, but a child is a whole other issue. Fortunately, Carol excels at do-what-must-be-done situations. While Carl killing Ben in the books was a poignant moment in Carl's story, this was like a sort of bookend to one of Carol's arcs.

  **End of Comic Book Spoilers** 

Carol began on The Walking Dead as a victim and as such her daughter too became a victim. "She didn't have a mean bone in her body" she says this episode. Since then, she has striven to make these children killers rather than victims, and in "The Grove" she saw the worst possible consequences of that. Mika is compared to Sophia this episode, so in a way, her fate was sealed. Both were sweet children clinging to morality and both suffered for it - one by zombie; one by human hand.

Just look at her fucking face!!

After Carol puts Lizzie down, there is a moment where she looks at the deer Mika could not kill. Perhaps for the first time, she saw what Mika was saying - that you don't always have to kill. Perhaps she wonders if she is as bad as the threats she keeps taking out. Or maybe she's mentally screaming STOP JUDGING ME, DEER! Her difficult decision to kill Lizzie, combined with her confession to Tyreese about Karen, showed how much Carol is struggling with her moral choices. In the end, she even sees herself as a threat when she hands Ty the gun and says, "Do what you have to do to." Carol has changed so much since Sophia and this episode felt like the peak of that character arc.

In addition to the fantastic character development, "The Grove" is downright creepy at times. In addition to that opening scene, the charred walkers and the climactic scene with Lizzie are both horrific. Firstly, those burned walkers looked awesome! We got a taste of that before with the pit zombies but in motion they looked even better! And is it me, or did some of them have a Tarman vibe going on? I guess the Reddit joke about the survivors dealing the an uncontrollable wildfire thanks to Daryl and Beth actually came true haha!

When we finally get to that infamous scene from the comics, it was every bit as unnerving as it should have been. The bonus of Lizzie pulling a gun on them and "Judith can change, too. I was just about to..." were great additions. This scene was handled far darker than I ever anticipated and for that I am thankful. Shocking is not what I am after, but I do want this show to explore increasingly darker territory. To not do so, the show just betrays itself.

While I secretly hoped Carol would do what she does best and bust out a flamethrower the second Lizzie handed over that gun, the final Old Yeller scene was quite poignant. I love the way Lizzie apologizes for "pointing a gun at" Carol. She still has no idea she has murdered her sister, or that it's wrong, and simply thinks she made Carol mad with the gun. It's tragic and yet all the more affirmation that she must be destroyed. "Just look at the flowers, Lizzie" is of course a throwback to "Infected" when Carol killed the girls' father.

Needless to say, I loved this episode and it's probably the best of season 4. Considering it's entirely without Rick, Michonne, and Carl again, that's all the more surprising. The whole Lizzie story has perhaps been dragged out too far but, much like with Sophia, the payoff was fantastic. "The Grove" is a great balance of visceral horror and soul-crushing drama. Plus, it restores my faith in Scott Gimple (who wrote this episode) as the new show-runner. I don't need the series to follow every one of Kirkman's footsteps, but the show is at its best when it takes those comic book ideas and expands upon them in new, daring ways.

Finally, as always, here are some amusing thoughts from Reddit fans:

Not funny but a very good catch by one viewer:

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