She has seen the worst of human nature. She has survived heartache, chronic abuse and the spiritual cost of living a life dominated by fear—and that was before the zombipocalypse hit. After all the horror Carol Peletier remains capable not only of love, but of taking emotional risks to express that affection. Carol is a survivor in so many ways that have nothing to do with putting a dent into a zombie’s skull.
Who is Carol Peletier? She is a character from The Walking Dead—a series of graphic novels by Robert Kirkman turned into one of the world’s hottest cable television shows by AMC and an insanely talented production crew. They have created cast of characters I have expressed a great deal of love for:
- the tormented former lawman Shane Walsh,
- a squirrel-tossing badass Daryl Dixon,
- the honorable Glenn,
- an elder statesman, Dale,
- a woman on the hunt, Andrea,
- the man with a mission, former lawman Rick Grimes, and
- the odd couple, Merle Dixon and Theodore “T-Dog” Douglas.
If you aren’t watching the show you should be. From the moment the show begins viewers are taken on the undead ride of a lifetime, watching a cast of beleaguered humans fight not only to survive, but to retain that which makes us most human.
Carol—played with stunningly intricate nuances by Melissa McBride—is the main survivor group’s mother figure. She, more than any of the other females, is able to consistently put aside her own hurts and doubts, to reach out and nurture those around her. In this regard Carol represents the best in human nature, a truly pure spirit we should all be so lucky to have in our lives.
[***WARNING: Spoilers ahead***]
From the get-go viewers could look at Carol and say, “This is a woman who has seen hell.” The way that Melissa McBride handles such a delicate character is brilliant—the little subtleties during her interactions around any man that told more about the extent of the abuse the character suffered than the one instance of on-screen abuse at the hands of her husband Ed in season one were chilling.
But it was also apparent right away she was a survivor. Whether for herself or the child she loves, Carol would find a way to persevere. And Carol’s true beauty was that her strength of spirit was there all along. We just couldn’t quite see it clearly behind the thick veil of abuse.
Carol is the epitome if motherhood on the show. She’s always there for the children. Teaches them in makeshift class rooms. Heck, she’ll even do a stranger’s laundry. She shows appreciation by taking care of others. No one forces Carol to do laundry. Unlike Andrea, who very much wants to throw off the restrictions she feels her gender ties her down with.
Carol sees suffering and reaches out, even at the risk of getting slapped for it. No other character on the show could have told Daryl what he so desperately needed to hear out loud—that while he may not have the education, experience or training of men like Rick and Shane, he is every bit as good as they are. While others like Dale may have seen or felt instinctually that Daryl needed this to help further the evolution he is experiencing, it was Carol that had the right combination of courage and empathy to deliver.
And then…there was Sophia.
Sophia was the light in Carol’s darkness. A child that, no matter what, brought joy and love into her life when an abusive husband sought to rob her of her dignity. In the aftermath of Sophia’s disappearance we saw both Carol’s finest and weakest moments.
Anyone who knows the pain of losing a child was physically shaking during Carol’s interaction with Daryl in the horse stable. What kind of strength does it take to tell someone that the search is over? To admit that you have to let go of your only child? Good grief, just writing that gives me goosebumps. Nothing, absolutely nothing, in this world compares to losing a child…the pain is physical, a paralyzing terror. And yet, somehow Carol has the strength of spirit to embrace a mother’s worst nightmare in an attempt to save the life of another.
My one big issue with the Sophia situation was that Carol took a back seat in the search for her child. Intellectually I understand this might have been the result of years of abuse and being pushed to the background until you yourself believe you have no contribution to make, and again McBride’s portrayal was brilliant. But everything in my core bucked against it, and I found myself itching to drive down to Georgia and start searching for a fictional character myself. That could have been difficult to explain later on….
But the real question now is—can Carol continue to survive?
We saw the battle Andrea fought after losing her sister Amy. Andrea and Carol have different kinds of strength, and Andrea appears to have found a way to pull through. Carol has now lost her source of joy, her anchor. Will that be it….the event that finally breaks her beautiful spirit?
With special thanks to R.C. Murphy