What's Past Is Prologue for Carol on 'The Walking Dead' (RECAP)

Emily Hannemann
Spoiler Alert Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 10 Episode 3, "Ghosts."]

There was a brief moment where, during this episode of The Walking Dead, I sensed something was off. My faith in Angela Kang faltered. (Blasphemy, I know!) For a few minutes, I wondered whether she and the writers were suddenly—maybe even accidentally—retconning details from character backstories.

I needn’t have worried.

“Ghosts” is one of my favorite episodes of the past few seasons. It puts the paranoia of the Whisperer War on the front burner. It also winds an increasingly unstable Carol (Melissa McBride) through a mental maze of her most painful losses, but at it’s core, “Ghosts” is a character study: It’s a haunting rumination on the effects of trauma, rage and all-consuming grief.

Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

Exhausted Alexandria

As the episode opens, Alexandria is being bombarded by hordes of walkers. There are so many of them that no one’s sleeping—they’re all keeping watch and battling the dead at all times. This cycle is interrupted by Gamma (Thora Birch), who stops by to tell Michonne (Danai Gurira) and the Alexandrians that Alpha (Samantha Morton) wants to meet. She insists the Whisperers aren’t behind the walker barrage the community is facing.

Michonne and the rest of the totally exhausted Alexandrians meet to discuss this proposal, and as one might predict, it goes over about as well as walkers swim (which is to say, not well at all). The people don’t want casual conversations with Alpha: They want revenge for what happened with the pikes. Michonne, frustrated, reminds everyone that Alpha can wipe them out. “If she sends that horde, that’s it!” Michonne says. “Right now, all she wants to do is talk, and we are going to listen.”

So, a group consisting of Michonne, Daryl (Norman Reedus), Carol and a few others heads for Alpha’s border. Carol swallows some pills and grabs a gun, neither of which bode well for her. When they get there, Daryl asks her if she’s all right, but she sidesteps his inquiry.

Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

Mother to Mother

Alpha shows up with a group of Whisperers, and while she’s none too pleased the group crossed her border, she says “there will be no bloodshed today.” She wants more of their land, which will cut off the communities’ hunting grounds. Carol, angered, says they don’t have to listen to Alpha’s “bullshit.” Daryl tries to usher her away, insisting, “we’re done,” but Alpha says they’re not… not until Carol lowers her eyes to Alpha’s feet.

“You should fear me,” Alpha says.

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“I don’t,” Carol responds. “I look at you, and I feel nothing at all.”

Alpha tells Carol that her son was screaming for his mom before he died. An angered Carol pulls out her gun and fires, but Daryl knocks her arm down and bullet hits the ground. Michonne steps in and apologizes for her friend’s behavior, while Alpha tells Carol, “I forgive you, mother to mother.”

Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

Carol’s Ghosts

Back at the camp, Carol sees three Whisperers in the woods. The group tries to find them but doesn’t even locate tracks, and Michonne’s suspicious of Carol’s mental state. They all take shelter in an old school, and while they’re looking around, Carol stumbles on a home economics book. When she picks it up, she sees the woman and kids on the cover as herself, Sophia, Lizzie, Mika, Sam and Henry.

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Carol and Daryl keep watch together, and Daryl tells her a story about his dad, who was a truck driver. He says his dad once thought he ran over a girl on the highway, but when he got out of his car, no one was there. Because he hadn’t been sleeping, he started seeing things. “I’m not a meth-snorting truck driver like your…” Carol says, then apologizes. “No, you’re right,” Daryl says. “Doesn’t mean I’m wrong, though.”

Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

It’s a Trap!

Carol walks around the school, where she starts hallucinating Henry. When she goes back to Daryl, he tells her she’s been gone a half-hour. That seems to surprise her, but she reassures her pal that this isn’t his dad seeing a ghost. Confused, Daryl asks her what she means, and when she relays the story, he says, “My dad wasn’t a truck driver.” So that was a hallucination/nightmare, too.

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After Daryl leaves, Carol sees a shadow moving outside the window. She goes to investigate and ends up ensnared, by her foot, in a Whisperer trap. The Whisperer leads a group of walkers into the room. It’s a close call, but Carol manages to cut herself free and kill the dead.

Daryl and Michonne get Carol back to Alexandria, where Siddiq and Dante ready to operate on her (she got glass shards in her arm when she fell from the trap). Siddiq (Avi Nash) tries to operate but keeps having flashbacks, so Dante steps in.

Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

Proving His Worth

Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) gets assigned to Aaron (Ross Marquand)’s walker-fighting team. This doesn’t go over well with either of them, and it erupts into a significant scuffle when they’re outside the gates. Negan implies that Eric’s death was Aaron’s fault, and Aaron responds by saying Negan’s wife died hating him. They’re interrupted by walkers, which Aaron kills, but he then loses his vision—and any trace of Negan—because of hogweed that got in his eyes.

Aaron stumbles his way to a cabin, where he almost gets bitten… until Negan saves him. “You all right?” he asks. He gives him some water and helps him sit down, then goes to keep watch.

Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

Idyllic Dreams, Harsh Realities

As the episode ends, Carol, in a dream, wakes up in her home in Alexandria. She goes downstairs, where she finds Daryl cooking breakfast, but she’s jolted awake when she sees Henry. Then, in the real world, Carol goes outside to find Daryl. She asks him if he believes her about the Whisperers she saw in the woods. “Yeah, I do,” he replies.

It’s a good thing he does, because she might have been right. Back in the school, the Whisperer who led the walkers to Carol awakens… as one of the dead.

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Other Observations

  • Angela Kang is giving Carol’s trauma the weight it deserves, and for that I’m grateful. I found it odd that she never talked about what happened with Lizzie and Mika, and I assumed, as strange as it was, that her tragic history with kids was being swept under the rug to focus on Henry. I now have hope that Kang is going to let Carol process all of her emotions and distress, and for a character whose past is as fraught with agony as hers, that’s a necessary step forward.
  • This is news to no Walking Dead fan, but—how incredible is Melissa McBride? From the standoff with Alpha to her icy insistence that “the b**ch has to die” to her terror when she was caught in the Whisperer trap, McBride plays Carol’s multilayered suffering with aplomb.
  • I’m as tired of the Rosita love quadrangle as all the characters were exhausted by the end of this episode. It’s sandbagging the narrative momentum, and I can’t figure out what purpose not resolving it serves. I don’t feel bad for Eugene when Rosita had made it clear, multiple times, that she wasn’t into him.
  • Bravo to the writers of this episode for playing me like a fiddle. I was concerned they were doing something wonky with Daryl’s backstory when he talked almost fondly about his dad… which was exactly what (I assume) they intended. I love the way this episode was framed through Carol’s insomnia and hallucinations and the way certain things felt just “off” enough to set up audience questions, but not “off” enough to make it clear it wasn’t reality.
  • Those clocks with no hands have to mean something, since they showed up twice this episode. What do they signify? I need more time to think about it.

The Walking Dead, Sundays, 9/8c, AMC