Ladies and gentlemen of the congregation, please open your bibles–well, browsers–to Psalm 102, the prayer of the afflicted and overwhelmed. Specifically, let’s jump to its third line, “For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth.”
Not for nothing is the sixth episode of The Walking Dead‘s fifth season called “Consumed,” and its most recurring image smoke. We see it repeatedly. Carol references burning away her old selves, and Daryl says, “Hey, we ain’t ashes.” No one mentions Psalm 102 or even the Bible this week, but The Walking Dead has stayed close to them this season, from the Galatians quote in Gabriel’s office to the Samson story that played a role in last week’s episode. And Psalm 102 might as well be the official prayer of our group. Look at line eight: “Mine enemies reproach me all the day; and they that are mad against me are sworn against me.” Thine enemies reproach you all the livelong day, oh afflicted protagonists. Walkers never relent, and the living might as well be sworn against you.
My days are consumed like smoke. “Everything now just consumes you,” Carol tells Daryl. She had been talking about her abusive husband, Ed. “Who I was with him, she got burned away, and I was happy about that. I mean, not happy, but at the prison I got to be who I always thought I should be, thought I should’ve been. Then she got burned away.”
We see Carol literally burning someone away in one of the episode’s flashbacks, and smoke serves as both a beacon (from the prison after the firefight with the Governor, from the roof of the shelter as Daryl burns bodies, and from Terminus as she and Tyreese bury Mika and Lizzie) and a conclusion (first, when Carol burns Karen and David’s bodies at the prison, and again after she the causes the explosion at Terminus).
The episode opens with exiled Carol seeing that smoke from the prison in the distance, and heading back to help, even though Rick had banished her. Post-credits, she’s back in a car, this time with Daryl, as they pursue the mysterious vehicle bearing the same white cross as the one that took Beth. They follow the car up I-85 into Atlanta, apparently unnoticed, until a cop steps out of the car to clear some debris blocking a driveway (but not the one to the hospital). It’s a tense moment; will he approach Carol and Daryl? Will he start shooting? Will they get swarmed when a walker stumbles upon them and the car won’t start?
They certainly don’t look like they’re near the hospital, so what were the guys in the car doing? We don’t have a chance to find out, because Carol and Daryl have to flee the walkers—she knows a nearby place. It takes a bit to figure it out once they start moving through a darkened building. With the white marble walls, it looks like a bank or municipal building until a sign mentions temporary housing. A shelter.
With her recent displays of badassery, it’s easy to forget that Carol was once the victim of domestic abuse. The woman we saw living in fear of her husband in season 1 has long since been replaced—or, to use her words, burned away—by someone who’s capable of going all Of Mice and Men on a troubled little girl. The Carol who previously visited the shelter only stayed for a day and a half before returning to her abuser. The cognitive dissonance between those people shakes Carol. After everything she has done and endured, is it possible to start over?
Carol: “You said we’d get to start over. Did you?”
Daryl: “I’m tryin’. Why don’t you say what’s really on your mind?”
Carol: “I don’t think we get to save people anymore.”
Daryl: “Then why are you here?”
Carol: “I’m trying.”
Why don’t they get to save people anymore? Because those who remain are either a threat (as Abraham noted last week, “It’s gotten to the point where everyone alive is strong now”) or already a walker. How quickly Carol forgets they saved Gabriel from certain death, and “Consumed” introduces another character who’s less helpless than Gabriel but not in the same league as they are.
The search for high ground to give them a better vantage point—and hopefully some indication of where the White Crosses are hiding—takes Daryl and Carol into a parking garage, across a walker-infested pedestrian bridge, and into a ritzy office untouched by the collapse of society outside its door. (Keeping with the theme, Daryl distracts the walkers milling around the base of the parking garage with a flaming steno pad.) Although the pedestrian bridge has a good dozen walkers, they’re almost all comically immobilized, either by sleeping bags or zipped-up tents. “Some days, I don’t know what the hell to think,” Daryl says before picking them off. We don’t know why their human predecessors camped here or how they turned, but they present a minimal threat to seasoned survivors like Carol and Daryl, at least at first.
The camera lingers over Carol’s shoulder and on the closing door to the parking garage as she and Daryl enter just long enough to see a figure in the background. Rewind your DVR a couple times and you’ll make out Noah, getting into a car. As Carol and Daryl leave the pedestrian bridge, another shot lingers for a moment through the window, where you can barely make out Noah in the background. Their paths will inevitably cross.
But first, some more staring out of a window and wondering what it all means. “How did we get here?” Carol asks. “Don’t know. We just did,” Daryl replies. She tries to go into more detail about what happened back at the Grove, but in the distance, Daryl spots a van with white crosses dangling over the guardrail of an overpass. No one appears to be with it, but it’s the only clue they have about Beth’s whereabouts. Time to leave.
NEXT: How does Carol not know this by now?