It's a slow burn of an episode here, focusing on Carol and Maggie, with a lot of talking, until it all kicks into gear at the very end. Let's get down to it.
As the klaxon sounds in the distance, Maggie wants to go help Rick et als. and Carol is all, no, you're staying here. A man ("Donny") comes out of the woods and Carol shoots him in the upper arm. Before Maggie can put him down, three women also come out of the woods, guns drawn, capturing Carol and Maggie. The redhead (played by Alicia Witt), Paula, is the leader; it is she who speaks to Rick over the walkie. They tourniquet Donny's arm and speak with Rick, trying to broker a trade. The Saviors would like to get back the man Rick has captured ("Primo") because he's got some medical training, but Rick's group outnumbers theirs more than two to one. Paula tells Rick she'll think about his deal and get back to him. Then the Saviors hood Carol and Maggie and march them off through the woods.
After quite a bit of walking and some driving, they arrive at a Savior "safe house." It's not clear what this place is - an old slaughterhouse, maybe - but there are a few zombies lurching around that need to be cleared out. Paula gags Carol and Maggie and tapes up their hands and feet. As she drags out a now-dead zombie, a rosary falls out of its pocket; Carol snatches it up. When the Saviors go to kill off the zombies, Maggie immediately starts trying to get her hands loose. Carol, however, looks like she's about to freak out instead. The Saviors return and Carol starts hyperventilating. Maggie stares at her, all WTF is going on with you. She can't tell - I can't tell - if Carol is faking or if the panic attack is for real. Finally Paula takes the gags out of Maggie and Carol's mouths. Carol calms down a bit, but she's a mess. Young Savior Woman: "Look at you. Bitch, how did you make it this far?" Old Savior woman ("Molly"): "Honey, you need to take some yoga breaths and calm down." There's a lot of talking about fear and dying and the apocalypse and Carol is all meek and scared, asking the Saviors just not to hurt Maggie or the baby. Then there's a lot of talking about WTF Maggie was thinking, getting pregnant at a time like this.
Paula talks to a Savior scout crew, telling them to come to the safe house to pick them up. They should get there in about thirty minutes. Maggie observes Donny, saying that he may not have thirty minutes as the tourniquet on his arm is killing the nerves. He staggers to his feet and starts ranting about Carol having shot him. He wants to kill Carol and Maggie or at least shoot them a little and when Paula refuses, he hits her. Maggie strikes out at him, despite being bound, and after he knocks her away, he kicks Carol for a bit. She doesn't fight back at all. Then Paula stands up and clocks him on the head with her gun, dropping him. She tells Young Savior Woman to take Maggie out and question her, which she does, completely ineffectually, giving more information to Maggie than she gets from her. In the other room, there's quite a bit more talking as Paula scoffs at the rosary Carol is clutching. "Faith got me through the death of my daughter," says Carol (really? I don't at all remember that - is this a put on?). Paula tells her captive about her zombie apocalypse backstory: she was a secretary, stuck at work in D.C. when the shit went down; she never got home to see her husband or her four daughters (really? four? she looks young to have had four kids if she isn't a Mormon); she started killing people in addition to the walkers and she stopped counting when she got to double digits. Yeah, yeah, you're a tough guy. Like no one else has gone through anything like that in this world. Carol watches her closely, however. There's more talking and Carol even cries a little. If she's faking, she's selling it awfully well.
Rick comes over the walkie again, saying he's ready to make a trade. Paula tells him about a field and they arrange to meet up and trade captives. When she hangs up the walkie, however, she points out that there hadn't been any static on the transmission so that means Rick and his group are close, have crept up and are getting ready to take them out. She calls the scout Saviors: they're ten minutes out. Paula and Molly go to collect Young Savior Woman and get ready for what's next. As soon as they're gone, Carol sharpens the crucifix on the rosary, using it to cut through the tape on her hands and ankles. She finds Maggie and cuts her loose. Carol wants to sneak out but Maggie is all, we can't leave them alive - we have to finish this. They go back to the room where Donny is and find him dead, bled out or dead from the blow to the head Paula gave him. Maggie takes his gun and then, noticing that he's about to turn, ties him up. Carol is all but useless; Maggie is the one in charge. Molly comes back for Carol, gets bitten by the now-zombie Donny and then Maggie kills her brutally, coming up behind her, stabbing her in the stomach and then beating her head in. A little while later, Paula comes in, sees the mess and gets her game face on.
Carol and Maggie walk down the hall and find a bunch of zombies, still alive but impaled on metal poles, cluttering the hallway. They're a trap to keep Carol and Maggie in and to keep Rick and his group out. Our women start to make their way through, killing zombies as they go until Paula shows up. Carol points her gun at the Savior but tells her to just run away. Maggie, aghast: "Carol! Shoot her!" Paula is all, "You are such bitches! You killed Donny, you killed Molly, you killed all my people and ruined my home." Carol: "Paula, run away." Maggie: WTF, Carol, shoot her! A zombie breaks loose and Carol and Paula tangle with it. Young Savior Woman hears the gun shots and Maggie closes with her. Carol comes up but doesn't get involved until YSW almost guts Maggie and then she shoots YSW in the head. Paula watches and is all, you tricked me. "If you could do all this, what were you so afraid of, Carol?" Carol: "I was afraid of this." And then she and Paula fight, until Paula gets impaled on one of the pieces of rebar, snug up against a living zombie. The zombie takes a chunk out of her face and, as Paula screams and screams, it buries its jaws in her neck. In the midst of all the screaming and eating, the walkie goes off: it's the Savior scout team, wondering where Paula wants them. Carol picks up the walkie, hesitates just a bit and then tells the scout team that they'll meet them on the "kill floor."
As Carol and Maggie wait for the scout team, Carol goes over some of what has been bothering her. She tells Maggie that she's killed eighteen or twenty people, but she should have killed Donny out there in the woods - that none of this would have happened if she had just done that. Maggie: Don't think about it, we're almost done. The scout team shows up, goes into the kill floor. Carol lights a cigarette and, as she and Maggie slam shut the door to the kill floor, she tosses the lit cigarette inside the room, where it ignites the gasoline they have poured out. They stand there a moment as the men inside scream, burning to death. Then they walk out, through the gauntlet of impaled zombies, killing them as they go. Maggie stomps on a couple of heads. They get to the exterior door and pull it open, just as Rick et als. arrive. For a moment, everyone points guns at each other until they realize who it is. Carol staggers a little and Daryl goes to her, asking "Did you start a fire? Are you good?" She answers yes and then no, and he pulls her into a hug. Glen embraces Maggie who also says she isn't okay either: "I can't anymore."
Rick turns to Primo, asking about Negan. Primo turns to him and gives a sassy answer. But Rick is not having any of that and just shoots him in the head. Carol watches, a little stunned looking, and clutches her rosary so hard that the crucifix digs into her hand. Blood drips to the floor.
So Carol sees herself in Paula: a ruthless killer who has lost her humanity in the wake of all she has had to do to survive. In the few calm weeks at Alexandria, Carol has allowed herself to relax, to let go of the killing instincts that had sustained her for so long. When she went out on the Saviors raid, Carol was conflicted, having enjoyed not being a killer in the interim. And when she and Maggie were captured, I think some of the trembling and fear was real - despite how much I hoping that it was ALL an act - some of her old self creeping back in around the edges. When it came down to it, Carol was once again able to tap into her bad-assery, but her toughness is fraying. It's understandable that the character would feel conflicted, and it's wonderful for Melissa McBride to have been given so much to play with - but Carol the bad ass is a much better, more interesting character than early-season Carol. Sending the character backwards after the painstaking, seasons-long development that brought her from mouse to lion would be a mistake. Heed my words, TWD writers.
Previously on The Walking Dead / next time on The Walking Dead
4 hours ago