"The Grove" will probably go down in history as one of the bleakest episodes of a television show ever made. Showrunner Scott Gimple takes charge and delivers a script that delves deeper into how children cope in a world filled with such horror.
Essentially this episode uses a common formula that The Walking Dead often relies on. People start off depressed about their situation, they find a moment of hope and then they end up in an even darker place. They learn something about themselves and have to deal with the nightmares this world throws at them. In essence this episode is as formulaic as they come, however it is the subject matter that allows "The Grove" to stand out.
Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) and her sister Mika (Kyla Kenedy) have two very different outlooks on life and the world around them. Mika maybe younger, but she understands what the zombies are and that they need to be dealt with. However she is also full of hope for the future believing that their is a better tomorrow. She refuses to kill living creatures and manages to surprise Carol (Melissa McBride) with her strength. The most powerful scene in the whole episode is when Carol takes Mika aside for a chat, trying to convince her not to be so soft only to find that the young girls positive attitude has an admirable quality to it. They bond and the episode gives us time with their relationship, which means that the audience will be devastated by the events that follow.
On the other hand we have Lizzie. She has been broken by this world. She can't come to terms with it. She doesn't understand what the zombies are and as the episode's narrative plays out she begins her descent into madness. We have often seen people in this genre attempt to befriend zombies or protect them, but Lizzie's attitude is more tragic. Watching a child get this distraught over her confusion gives more weight to this plot point. Children make horror more horrific because they are often the innocent souls of the narrative. Her actions are terrifying to contemplate and make her one of the most dangerous characters in the show. However she is doing them with the naiveté that can only reside in a child. Is she to blame if she doesn't fully comprehend her actions? Well the show answers that question with a resounding no (saying it is in her nature), but still puts a bullet in her brain because that is the only course of action at this point.
The show trades on violence and although we have seen shocking things before nothing has as much punch as what transpires this episode. Seeing Mika's dead body on the floor with Lizzie stood over it, knife in hand, is a haunting image. Lizzie believes her sister will come back and everything will be fine. In fact she believes that life would be better if everyone was undead. This little girl makes everything The Governor did seem tame. Is it too far? Perhaps, but it gets the required response. The death of Mika would have been enough, but Gimple wanted to make sure the audience suffered. The perfectly staged shooting of Lizzie will make "look at the flowers" an unforgettable saying. All credit must go to Melissa McBride for making that scene so powerful.
McBride is exquisite in this episode. Her stern and cynical Carol continues to be the most interesting character on the show. McBride's range as an actress is one of the main reasons this episode succeeds. Her interactions with the rest of the cast is captivating. She just makes Carol so damn compelling. However it would be remiss to ignore Sharbino and Kenedy's performances as they are no slouches this episode. But as always Chad Coleman's Tyreese is the weak link. Some of his line deliveries highlight how clunky some of the dialogue is. His gormless stare is a consistent distraction, but it was put to good use as he witnesses Lizzie's death. Coleman's only shining moment is at the end when he forgives Carol for murdering his lover.
Tyreese is only one of a few problems with the episode that stops it from being the best the show has produced. It is mainly the dialogue that has problems, especially the scenes involving Carol and Tyreese. The dialogue is overwritten and tells us how these people feel. This is frustrating as director Michael E. Satrazemis goes to extreme lengths to show us how these characters feel in certain scenes. Showing is more powerful than telling and therefore the dialogue just falls flat on occasion. Another big problem is how the narrative actually strains logic so it can have its shocking deaths. It is utterly absurd that Carol and Tyreese would leave the children alone. They do it three times this episode and you'd think after the burnt zombies nearly kill Mika and Lizzie, Carol would have them as close to her as possible. Granted the deaths are a powerful moment, but it shows how lazily written the set up for that scenario is.
"The Grove" may have faults, but they are minor in the grand scheme of the episode. It masterfully highlights the way in which children deal with violence, looks at the nature versus nurture argument and moves the characters into the darkest place imaginable. Undaunted in its approach, this is an episode that gives us a horrendous scenario, places us in Carol's shoes and asks us "would you do any different?"
9 alive deer out of 10
Review by @gizmo151183