In this week’s episode of The Walking Dead, we are treated to our favorite duo (at least mine.) (Sorry Glenn and Maggie!) An exiled, past-season Carol is squatting at an office for the night when the next morning, she sees smoke billowing into the air. What she doesn’t know is that it’s the Governor and his followers wreaking havoc on Rick and company back when they were making a life behind prison walls. Carol had been banished by then, but decided to race back to help—which is telling, in case you hadn’t put her together yet. I look at Carol as a survivor—not a victim, not a woman who was weak and is now strong, but a Phoenix rising from the ashes. So, what else is this Phoenix supposed to do whenever she sees smoke rising?
In the next scene, Carol and Daryl are synced up and we’re brought back to near-present time when they high-tailed it out of the woods in the hopes of finding Beth, or at the very least, catching up with the white-crossed car to find out what these people want. They head north on I-85. As reference, that freeway in Georgia runs northeast-southwest, from the Alabama border, running straight through Atlanta proper, and into South Carolina, across the Savannah River, up through North Carolina and Virginia. If Carol and Daryl didn’t have this mission to find Beth, they could easily take the road clear through the city, and put action to their declarations about starting over.
It’s nighttime and the white-crossed car stops ahead of them. A guy gets out and clears a driveway, but why? Carol asks if the guy who got out of the car is a police officer. We already know the situation here and what’s taking place back at Grady Memorial Hospital. A walker is intent on getting Carol’s attention and Carol’s like, “Bitch, don’t kill my vibe!” They don’t want this dude to spot them, and hey, maybe he does and pretends otherwise, because he definitely gives their whip the one-two before getting back in his ride and leaving the scene. Carol and Daryl’s getaway car is out of steam, so they get out on foot and find their way into a tall building that Carol seems a little bit familiarized by. Still, it’s business as usual: blocking doors, securing the area so they can get a little sleep and wait this mission out until morning. But something is blocking Carol, and Daryl knows it. In between all this talk of “you take bottom bunk, I’ll take top bunk” Carol admits without much dialogue that she’s been here once before. This place is a women’s shelter. For Carol, this place was a possibility, a choice, a haven, a hiding spot, a rescue site, her moment of reckoning and calm from the storm—and there were no walkers then, no cannibals or post-world Southern men with guns and bad attitudes, no zombie daughters, no killer children—just abusive husbands. Hers.
Carol says she’ll take first watch. They don’t really need to, Daryl says. They’ve made sure they found the most inner spot in the building to hunker down for the evening. For Carol, this place will continue to be the same, in a way: A place that is supposed to provide some element of safety, but can’t possibly give her certainty. Hey, the woman says she’s still trying to save people, because that’s what’s important. And, for her, maybe redeeming. That’s when they hear noises from out in the hallway. Behind doorways with number labels, they see a couple of walkers. Carol knows this only means one thing: These were women who were staying at the shelter and turned. She doesn’t have the heart to kill them, but she will. Daryl eases her back into the room, telling her she doesn’t have to. The next morning when Carol wakes up, she sees Daryl handling the situation with all the grace and dignity she could have ever wanted—he’s covered the women in sheets and his burning them outside. A smile overcomes Carol’s face in a flash, just for a moment. She must wonder: Did she really save herself? And when? Was it there on the banks of that river so many seasons ago when we watched the husband who beat her die? Was it on that night she found herself here, seeking refuge, but going back home eventually to the abuse? When did her choices become lifesavers?