Hey, ‘Walking Dead’ Fans: Carol Peletier Doesn’t Deserve Your Hatred

Melissa McBride Carol Peletier Walking Dead 1009
Jace Downs/AMC

[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 10 episode 9, “Squeeze.”]

Has there ever been a time during The Walking Dead’s 10-season run when folks were so polarized about Carol (Melissa McBride)?

The attitudes fans are taking toward her now are different from any other era, because rather than the widespread cheering that accompanied “Rambo Carol” or the apathy that accompanied her pacifist arc, now attitudes toward her are charged in both directions. In Season 10, it’s impossible to be Switzerland. You either love Carol or hate her, either find her actions understandable or struggle to reconcile who she once was with who she is in a post-heads-on-pikes world.

Granted, some dislike is reasonable; she’s been “Daryl lunging at Negan during the lineup scene” levels of reckless, and it’s hard to see other characters endangered. But to some extent, her actions aren’t her own, and her accidental endangerment of fan-favorites doesn’t subtract from her continued suffering.

Norman Reedus Melissa McBride Daryl Dixon Carol Peletier The Walking Dead

The Great Cave Debacle

A collective groan sounded from the Walking Dead viewership on the night of November 24, 2019. Fans had just witnessed Carol sprint after Alpha (Samantha Morton) into a dark cave, which led Daryl (Norman Reedus) — and everyone else — to follow her and tumble down onto a ledge. Precariously perched above thousands of undead jaws with no way out, the blame in the metaphorical air was palpable.

No one’s arguing facts here. Carol did chase after Alpha, and her chasing after the bald-headed baddie was the cause of everyone ending up in the walker-cave, which then led to Connie (Lauren Ridloff) and Magna (Nadia Hilker) getting trapped. But there are a few notable caveats. First, the fact that everyone simply followed each other down into the cave like lemmings was laughable. Shouldn’t someone have been able to shout and warn the others?

But second, Carol charged after Alpha alone. In the moment, she probably wasn’t thinking that anyone would follow her, nor is it likely she would’ve encouraged them to do so. Certainly, she was impulsive. But it was, as has been the case every time she’s acted out in Season 10, impulsiveness with completely accidental consequences that horrified her. When she tells Daryl she “didn’t mean for any of this to happen,” she means it.

A Toxic Combination

But Carol, perhaps more so than any other character, has been stuck in a cycle of repeated (and repetitive) trauma. It’s become a joke to claim Carol should never adopt another kid, and there’s precedent for the punchline: she’s lost Sophia, Lizzie, Mika, Sam and now Henry. Much as it became a trend that any female character close to Daryl was marked for death, it became a pattern that any kid close to Carol met an awful end. And that, combined with her abusive pre-apocalyptic past, has been incredibly detrimental to her psyche.

To some extent, Carol’s actions aren’t her own in Season 10. No, she’s not being mind-controlled, but there are plenty of things clouding her decision-making capabilities. Viewers have seen her grapple with substance abuse (smoking in earlier seasons, the adrenaline pills in Season 10), PTSD/hallucinations (seeing her kids on the cover of the cookbook), suicidal tendencies and a ton of trauma related to all of the above.

Tragically Unique

It’s not like she can call a therapist and schedule an appointment, so she’s dealing with her issues in the only way she knows how — by running from them or charging headfirst into danger. Is that healthy? No. Can she talk to Daryl? Yes. But both she and Daryl have never been great at expressing their feelings, even though they feel things deeply. While Daryl’s a good listener and an excellent support system, he can’t give her the coping mechanisms she needs to process everything she’s going through and everything she’s still repressing, like her guilt about Lizzie and Mika.

In that way, Carol is tragically unique. She is, at this point, the only character still visibly harboring major guilt and self-hatred with regard to things that happened up to eight whole seasons ago… and Henry’s death sliced down to the bone in a wound that never fully healed. In the chronology of what’s been shown on-screen, with the exception of a few episodes, Carol’s been suffering continuously for around five whole seasons.

She was happy over the time jump, but it was just that. A time jump. Within the narrative, Carol has never been able to process those negative emotions, so it shouldn’t be a shock that they’re resurfacing in detrimental ways now.

Carol Doesn’t Expect to Survive

Again, when Carol charged into the cave, she ran alone. When she snuck off with the dynamite, she did so alone. When she snuck out to take a Whisperer prisoner, she wanted to go alone, but Daryl followed her. Her potentially life-threatening indiscretions have been, as far as she knew at the time, limited to her only. When she realizes the stakes are life and death, Carol only knowingly threatens herself.

Simply put, Carol doesn’t think she’ll survive the Whisperer War, and because of that, she’s acting like she has nothing to lose. Daryl keeps telling her about “their future,” but that’s a future she doesn’t expect to be able to see and she can’t envision. She nudges him toward Connie because she wants to be sure he’s happy if and when she’s gone, and as seen by her recklessness with the dynamite, she’s taking her own death as a near-certainty. Even if you’re angry with her character because of the cave, you have to admit there’s tragedy in that.

Final Thoughts

It’s also worth briefly noting that Carol is not the only character on this show to have a PTSD/revenge quest story arc, but of the characters who’ve had it, hers seems to have been the most poorly received. Daryl took it upon himself to take down Negan. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) hallucinated Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and made a variety of nonsensical decisions. Morgan (Lennie James) “knew what it was” and had to clear.

The point being: If fans can still love Daryl, Rick and Morgan, they can still love Carol. It just takes some digging to understand why she is the way she is, and the cocktail of absolute misery that’s driving her. She’s not acting out because she’s selfishly opted to embark on a one-woman mission for revenge: she’s acting out because she’s traumatized, guilt-ridden, grieving and suicidal.

So, despise the trauma. Blame the grief. Throw shade at the guilt. But don’t hate the character who’s still, after six seasons, suffering from it all.

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