'The Walking Dead' postmortem: Melissa McBride talks Carol's bravery and Ezekiel's crushing losses

Kimberly Potts
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Melissa McBride as Carol in The Walking Dead. (Photo: AMC)

Warning: This interview for the “Some Guy” episode of The Walking Dead contains spoilers.

When a well-laid plan goes askew and dire consequences await a large group of people, who ya gonna call? In the apocalypse, it’s Carol Peletier.

In “Some Guy,” Carol returns to her “No Sanctuary” ways, cleverly outmaneuvering a whole group of Saviors and nearly getting control of an important cache of weapons all on her own — until she’s called upon in another emergency, to save the lives of new friends Ezekiel and Jerry.

Carol portrayer Melissa McBride — who’s been denied awards-season recognition for too many seasons — talked to Yahoo Entertainment about Carol’s key role in both the Kingdom community and the resistance plan against the Saviors; what is allowing Carol to throw herself into the war against Negan and company on the heels of her self-imposed exile; and whether or not she thinks King Ezekiel’s optimism has influenced Carol’s outlook.

Carol is yet again a badass, nearly at the “No Sanctuary” level.
Yeah, it was very fun shooting this episode. We got to do fun stuff. Fun for me, anyway. Maybe not so fun for Carol.

But she was at her Carol, heroine best.
Yeah, I think she works well under pressure.

We really see a deepening of the friendship between Carol and Ezekiel in this episode. Do you feel like she has come to understand him and appreciate his philosophy, his leadership methods, on a new level in these first few Season 8 episodes?
Well, I think she understands where he’s coming from, definitely, but she doesn’t think that he quite understands, really, what he’s getting into. But she knows he’s got to keep the morale up. He’s got to make his followers feel like they have a great, confident leader, that they’re going to be OK. He’s an optimist. He started out as an optimist; he was when they first met, and she understands that about him.

Though there are still a lot of Carol and Daryl shippers, a lot of viewers see potential for a Carol and Ezekiel romance too. They respect each other, and Ezekiel sees Carol as an individual, not just part of Alexandria, or Rick’s group, or the resistance against the Saviors. Does that have an impact on her? Does it matter to her to be seen as a powerful woman by this new character who doesn’t know her whole history but immediately sees how capable and strong she is?
I think that is, aside from just who he is and how he is, an understanding that they came to have with one another when they were in the garden when we first encountered Ezekiel [in Season 7]. Yeah, I think there’s a mutual respect, and she appreciates that he is OK with her making decisions and taking the lead on some things. When they met, she had no home really. She was, and still may be, a bit of a nomad. She hasn’t come out and claimed anything yet as far as having left Alexandria, and been out on her own in the house [near the Kingdom]. I would imagine he might not quite know exactly what to make of her, which is what’s exciting about this season, to get to know one another in a much more clear way.

Does it surprise you that Carol is open to that?
Well, you know, we’ve been forced into this situation where they have to come together in order to fight this war, in order to ensure that they win the war, they hope. So, that would be kind of expected. She just needed that time [alone at the house] to assimilate her thoughts. Whether or not she ever finished assimilating them. … This whole world was really thrust upon her, but she got to a good point where she could at least fight for the people she cares about.

Photo: AMC

Speaking of her being able to get to the point where she could fight, she is having, on the surface, at least, less of a struggle with that right now than Morgan is. She and Morgan had been at odds, and then came to understand each other’s positions; both are conflicted about having to kill other humans to survive, in a way that not everyone is. Why do you think Carol can do what needs to be done right now, when Morgan has just said, “No, I can’t be a part of this”?
I do think it’s because Carol had taken that time to figure out what was going on. She said to Daryl, “If I had to go out there and kill again, I would lose who I am. I would lose myself,” and that’s yet to be determined. She knows what the risk is with her going out there, that it absolutely tears her apart to have to do what she’s doing. To what extent we’ll see, but she’s rationalizing it. She’s trying to compartmentalize and understand that, and she had that time away to figure certain things out. I think she’s come to some bit of a resolve within herself that this is just what has to be done: “Like it or not, this is what has to be done, and try to just keep your grounding in that, and that you are doing it for good.”

Carol also hasn’t had a lot of time to process the deaths of Glenn and Abraham, because she hasn’t known about it that long. Is the freshness of that news to her something that propels her into action?
Yeah, that’s totally it. When she found that out, that is when the tables turned. That was when she said [to herself], “Daryl didn’t tell me that. He didn’t tell me that when he was here. He said everything was OK.” She liked to believe that he was telling her the truth…

Does she, or did she ever, have any bad feelings toward Daryl for not telling her about Glenn and Abe?
She never had any bad feelings toward him. I think if anything, she felt guilty. He sat there and said that everything was OK, despite how deeply crushed he himself had to have been by what happened, but he kept that to himself in order to spare her feelings; he couldn’t share his own pain. And I would think Carol would have felt some guilt that he didn’t feel like he could share. It’s bittersweet, how much she would’ve liked for him to have shared his pain at that time, because he had to have been so deeply hurt by what happened to Glen, to Abraham, to everyone. To just keep that bottled up in order to spare her was a very beautiful Daryl thing to do, but at the same time, I’m sure she felt it a missed opportunity for herself to give him the compassion that he needed at that moment.

Do you think she is going to take it upon herself to try to help Ezekiel through the devastating loss of his people, who mustered up the bravery to fight in large part because of his leadership and his inspiring speech to them?
Yes. He’s absolutely crushed by what happened, and the optimism is sucked out of him by the reality of what happened. And what can you say to the people when you get back, when he goes to The Kingdom? That scene is just so devastating. The look on his face … the condition of his body from when he left to the time he returned is just a complete turnaround. Seeing him limp away like that was absolutely heartbreaking, and she knows that his soul is feeling pretty crushed right now. And having lost Shiva too. It will be quite a bit of reckoning, I’m sure.

Speaking of Shiva, how was filming that emotional scene with a CGI character?
Khary [Payton] really just carried that scene. There was a little bit to the imagination, to look over and imagine that this beautiful animal is being devoured by these monsters. But the reaction, my reaction, was taken on the cues of Khary, of King Ezekiel, as he felt that anguish and saw what was happening. The direction for Carol was maintaining the grief of the loss, yet keeping her head up. We were defeated, but we were not defeated. We fought hard. There was something to keep her head up about. Of course, I can’t remember what the page direction was for the other characters, but whatever it was, that’s what we got. And it was perfect, I thought. Ezekiel just looked so incredibly broken. He didn’t need to say anything; the townspeople knew. The Kingdomers knew. Even little Henry going to him and looking up at him, he said nothing. And Jerry. Jerry with tears in his eyes.

Jerry! This was the first time we’ve seen Carol spend a lot of time with Jerry.
It was really fun shooting with Cooper [Andrews]. I’ve known him since before The Walking Dead, and finally we got to work together quite a bit. He gives everything that he’s got. As I’ve been watching these episodes, I’m just so, so blown away by his agility. I just adore everything about him. His loyalty to the King. He’s such a great, loyal warrior, and sidekick for Ezekiel. And he’s so much fun to work with. He laughs a lot. The swamp was horrible. The swamp scene was really horrible — rainy and muddy — but the crew was fantastic as always, and we just muddled through it. Pun intended. It was just a very rainy, muddy creek bed that we were shooting in. And then the toxic nastiness, whatever that was. It looked really gross. The walker [actors], they were trying to step out of the swamp, and their feet would just come right out of their shoes, which were stuck in the mud.

Did that happen to you too?
It did not happen to me. My boots were tied on.

You mentioned that you knew Cooper before the show. Had you worked together on a different project?
No. This was back when I was behind the camera, working in casting. He would come in and audition from time to time.

Were you surprised the first time you saw him on set?
The first time I saw him on set, he was actually working as a boom operator. He would come in and do boom on The Walking Dead. I was like, “Yay, Cooper!” It was very fun. And then when he got the part of Jerry, I was very excited.

Were you eager for Carol and Jerry to have a big scene together?
Well, I didn’t know if it was going to happen or not. I was very hopeful that they would. And then they did. Carol meets the King, and there he is. Everywhere the King is, there’s Jerry, and he’s just so perfect for that part.

Carol has had more experience with battle and loss than Ezekiel or Jerry. Given their shocked states when the three of them return to the Kingdom, is Carol going to have to take on the role of making sure people can move onward with the plan and stay together as a community?
I think if there’s anything that she could be helpful with as far as the people moving forward, it’s that she’s lost a lot. She understands what this journey, what this fight outside of those Kingdom walls, is really like, and that’s one of the reasons why she wanted to know where all this optimism is coming from. What exactly have they experienced out there? She knows how torn apart Ezekiel is inside after that battle, and when he returns. She’ll do what she can to help him, to help him to keep from falling apart. He’s just lost what may be the equivalent of what Sophia was to Carol, Shiva could’ve been to him. We’ll see as it moves along how he copes with the losses.

Do you think any of Ezekiel’s optimism has rubbed off on Carol?
It would be nice, but genuinely, deep, deep down, I don’t think she felt that optimism. She’s more concerned with keeping on track: “We’ve got to canvas the building, there are things that we have to do.” It’s endearing, it’s wonderful that anyone in that world can maintain any ounce of hope at that point. I think that’s one of the things too that she likes about the King, but she’s also maintaining the realistic outlook. There is a possibility that bad things are really going to happen.

Carol sort of sees it as a luxury that they can have this optimism at this point?
It’s a luxury that Ezekiel can maintain, but I don’t think, again, his optimism rubbed off too hard on her. It’s like humoring the King — whatever gets you through the day. And that was genuine; that’s who he is. This is really what he wants. Wouldn’t we all? But Carol has been there, and she kind of knows. But let him have it. Those luxuries are very few and far between in that world. Just let him have it. It’s not going to take away from the fight.

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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