When we meet Carol Peletier we can see that her husband is domineering, she’s easily apologetic and it is clear that she is Sophia’s prime caregiver. We have no idea what they’ve done for a living, but she seems to be a homemaker and he is certainly ready for some kind of dystopian world. They have plenty of supplies and he doesn’t want to share. This could be survival, but it can also be selfish douche; maybe he’s a hoarder. Or paranoid. Whatever it is she doesn’t argue the point and immediately goes to apologize to Lori as if she made a mistake. Lori senses something and let’s it go, herself apologizing to Carol.
At the end of season 5, we have a complete turnaround. She is no longer the mild-mannered, quiet follower that we first met. In fact, she has a contempt for those types of people. In Alexandria, she calls them children. If those were the only two episodes you watched, you’d find the change startling.
My husband told me when (not if, but when) I started watching The Walking Dead, I would love Carol. I would love her story arc, her character development, how she goes from Stepford wife, mother, and abuse victim to badass survivor and leader equal to Michonne or any of them. Once I began to watch, I tried; I really tried to like her, but my animosity towards her is almost equal to hers for the Alexandrians.
Not only do I not like her, I do not like her intensely. Even I was surprised by my animus. Why did I not like this strong, well-rounded, overcome the odds and statistics of a domestic violence victim, realistic character. She held no clear stereotypes to hate, she seemed to pass the Bechdel test, so what was it?
I came up with a few reasons, but the more I maintain my dislike, the more I became uncomfortable with it. The more I said out loud what was wrong with Carol, the more I realized that I was the problem with Carol.
It’s okay to not like a character. We all have our preferences. We like and dislike characters who are like us in equal measure to those who are not like us. We all have our individual and distinct reasons for liking a character or not. We like or dislike their looks, their clothes, the way they cross their legs or eat their food. When I looked deeper inside myself, I did not like what I saw.
Why don’t I like Carol? Let me list some reasons:
1. Ed treated her like crap. He also did this publicly.
2. Ed told her what to do and she listened. His way was always the right way.
3. She flinched when she was put in a position to disagree with him or to take a side against him and ended up coming around to his viewpoint with a break in eye contact or an awkward shrug.
4. She apologized for him. She took responsibility for his behavior and took the blame on herself.
5. She took his behavior as her own. (See #4)
6. She did the laundry like a good wife (he basically said this was her role and the role of all the women there as he said to Andrea). She prepared the food. She barely ate, but always made sure he had enough, or more than enough.
7. She never disturbed him when he slept.
8. She smoothed the feathers between him and everyone else. (An example of this is when Shane asked them to keep the fire low in 1.3: Tell it To The Frogs)
9. After the initial shock and terror, she was pretty non-plussed about Sophia’s disappearance. In fact, she kind of liked the attention and comfort given to her in the aftermath.
10. Her co-dependency with Daryl – he’s a racist, potentially abusive, violent, backwoods redneck. (Does this description remind us of anyone?) When she wants him to confront Rick and tells him something to that effect, he yells at her, asking what it is she wants from him (season 1 finale). She shrinks back but she is still invisibly clinging to him and since he stays, she also does.
11. Around season 4, she’s trying to be someone she’s not – mother to Lizzy and Mika, teaching the kids against Rick’s direction. I understand that she doesn’t want them to be victims, and to defend themselves if they’re alone, but it rubbed me the wrong way (maybe as a parent having my authority usurped.)
12. She cements this (trying to be someone she’s not) with the Alexandrians by being “invisible”, becoming the Southern belle housewife with the good marriage, no children, Junior League and chocolate chip cookies.
13. And, of course, there’s her abuse of Sam: emotional, verbal, and physical; she encouraged him to lie, to steal, she implies that she’ll give him a gun if he needs it. Plus all the cookies he can eat.
Looking back on this list, I’m ashamed. I mean, blame the victim much?
Why don’t I like Carol? Because she was abused and she showed it. She reacted to people with authority, she deferred and demurred. I was blaming her for her own abuse. Out loud, I hated Ed. He was an asshole. I defended Carol. When she abused Sam, I attributed it to her own abuse. She couldn’t help what she’d become. I said all the right things.
But inside my head, way down in my subconscious I was guilty of victim blaming, something I’m very vocal about chastising in others.
I plan to use season 6 to take a new look at Carol, on her own. Try and see who she really is and then look back at the roads she took to get there.
This very well might be part one or to be continued, but I will try to give Carol another look now that I know what’s been coloring my opinion.