“The Grove” episode of The Walking Dead was really disturbing. I watch a lot of “disturbing” things, television shows and movies about serial killers and supernatural vendettas, and they are creepy, violent, and sadistic. But this story felt different. It was disturbing because it involved innocence and subtle mental defect, with horrific results.
So let’s step back in…
The story was about two little girls, Lizzie and MIka, sisters we’ve known since last fall. Lizzie and Mika, plus the baby Judith, are in the care of Carol and Tyreese. The younger one, Mika, is problematic to Carol, because she refuses to kill people, or any truly living thing, because her internal meter tells her it is wrong. Even when she and her group are being attacked, she cannot hurt a living person. Even when they wanted meat, she could not bring herself to shoot a deer. But she was quite forthright about her views, and did prove herself capable of “killing” the “dead.”
The older one, Lizzie, was a more complex character. She was also, in a way, a more simple character. She was at times quite capable, and could fend off the living with murderous force if need be. But there were hints that she was not right. Most of the time she seemed quite sweet, in a way, as she considered the walking dead people, only people who were a little bit different. She never wanted to kill them unless it was necessary. There were also clear hints that Lizzie had been feeding rodents to the walking dead, and that she had killed a rabbit. Worst of all (until now) was the very disturbing scene in which Judith was crying and attracting danger, and Lizzie very quietly nearly smothered her with her hand, relenting to the newborn’s struggle for breath only when she was distracted by an unknowing Carol. But moments after this, Lizzie seemed to bear no ill will towards the baby, and also showed a deep and protective love for her sister Mika. Lizzie had no evil intent, she just was not always clear in her post-apocalyptic world of the boundary between life and death.
This makeshift family of five has found a home in the country, and is finally able to take a break from the road. They find that they have running water, ample pecans, peaches, even wild game. Instead of the ground outdoors and a sleepless night guard, they have a house with functional gas appliances, comfortable furniture, and even a fence to provide some safety. In one of the very creepiest scenes of this entire series, Lizzie is seen from inside the window of this newfound home “playing” with a dead girl. It looks like child’s play, as she dashes, laughing, to and fro, with the dead girl stumbling after her – only of course, in a scene from a nightmare, the other girl is a horrific-looking ghoul, an animated skeleton with dead flesh hanging from her body. The juxtaposition of such horror and innocence were viscerally disturbing. It was an image that stuck with me like no other.
Except, just maybe, this later scene, in which Tyreese and Carol return from a foray collecting supplies to find Lizzie standing in front of her sister, fresh red blood dripping from the length of her knife. Lizzie has tried to kill her little sister Mika, in order to allow her to reanimate, so she can prove the walking dead are just people too. Her sister lies motionless behind her. The baby Judith is on a blanket nearby, oblivious, as babies generally are. The tragedy of this horrific scene is magnified by the peace Carol and Tyreese had so recently attained. Here was a place where they could truly be comfortable for the first time in ages, where they could live and take care of these girls in relative safety and abundance. That vision is forever shattered.
The scene that follows is incredibly tense. The adults have to feign sympathy and understanding in order to calm Lizzie down and get her to relinquish the knife. Lizzie reveals her intention to reanimate Judith as well, but Carol talks her down from this idea, pointing out that Judith cannot even walk yet. Oh yeah. Lizzie agrees with that point. Clearly, non-walking newborns cannot become walking dead. But Lizzie’s acceptance of this point makes it clear that she simply does not understand the horrific reality of stabbing a baby, or her baby sister. In this scene, we are made stunningly, horribly aware that sweet, innocent Lizzie, who feeds the dead rather than harming them, is basically a new kind of psychopath, one that does not understand that death means death, and murder is murder.
Part of the tension for me in that scene was hope that Mika could be treated and saved. Carol and Tyreese have to convince Lizzie that they will not harm her sister’s body, but will leave her brain intact so she can reanimate. When finally Tyreese is able to lead Lizzie away, Carol breaks down, and it is clear from her reaction that there was never any hope of saving Mika. A little girl is dead, innocently stabbed to death by her uncomprehending sister. It is a horror almost too great to imagine, and yet, the horror is not over yet. What can Carol and Tyreese do with Lizzie? She clearly cannot remain near the baby Judith, to whom she would represent a mortal danger. Carol offers to leave with Lizzie, but Tyreese objects. Carol would not survive; Lizzie cannot be with people. Tyreese offers to do the same, but only the same conclusion can be reached. It is not safe; Lizzie cannot be with people.
And so comes the inevitable scene when Carol takes Lizzie out to a patch of flowers near the house to do what must be done. Lizzie senses that Carol is upset, and becomes upset herself, and through Lizzie’s tears and apologies we are reminded that she is truly an innocent little girl, motivated by naivete and subtle mental defect, and simply does not understand what she has done. A girl like Lizzie needs a safe place, where she is a danger to no one, and can get the treatment she needs. But such a place does not exist in this world.