The greatest victories of The Walking Dead are its unanswerable questions. Is it right to sacrifice an individual (or two) for the sake of the community? Each side has been argued for by its own number of venerable schools of thought, and this will likely be the the issue faced on next week’s episode. We concluded last Sunday with the revelation that someone had killed and burned the bodies of infected prison residents Karen and David, presumably to keep the disease contained. Naturally, this sparked a variety of reactions, which we witness on this week’s episode “Isolation”:
Tyreese, Karen’s boyfriend, embodies the purely emotional response, going berserk over the murder of his lover and vowing to take down whoever committed such an atrocity.
The more stoic Daryl represents the humanistic standpoint, as he is wont to do. He seems to believe, albeit with far more patience than Tyreese, that such an act was criminal and not a measure that should have been taken.
Rick, as always, looks to be the one on the fence. He vocalizes his distaste for the tactic, but we can’t help but notice inside of him the appreciation for the hard necessities like these… maybe he’s just grateful he wasn’t the one who had to make the call.
And finally, Carol. Kind, sweet, matronly, compassionate Carol. She must think killing of any kind is wrong, right? Well… not quite. See… she’s the one who murdered Karen and David.
We learn that for certain in the final seconds of “Isolation,” when she comes out and admits her deed to Rick. And with conviction, too. It’s not as though the decision isn’t haunting her — earlier on in the episode, we see Carol breaking down, kicking over a tub of water, and reaching tears. She’s not a monster. It’s something she wrestled with. But ultimately, just as she decided it was necessary to teach the children how to fight, she decided it was necessary to kill two innocent people to keep them from infecting everyone else.
In using Carol as a vehicle for this particularly utilitarian ideology, Walking Dead actually makes a terrific choice. As creatures of sympathy and compassion, we’re inclined to side immediately with Tyreese and Daryl — but the show doesn’t want to present any of its arguments with a given winner or loser. It wants to challenge us with questions wherein we’d have to stray far and away from our comfort zones and societal constructs in order to even entertain an alternative viewpoint. Thus, it uses Carol, a fan favorite and someone who always acts selflessly, to represent the harder-to-swallow position in this argument. The Walking Dead wants us to think, “Maybe what she did was right.” And Carol, with her slow climb from battered wife to grieving mother of a zombified little girl to self-assured badass and moral compass of the camp, is probably the best venue for that challenge.
As it stands, we don’t know exactly what her fate will be — if Tyreese will find out and attempt to avenge his dead lover, if Rick will stand up for Carol’s actions, if she’ll lose the favor of her pal Daryl. But we’re setting up for one of the most interesting, potentially engaging moral debates The Walking Dead has shown us in quite some time.