This week The Walking Dead begins and ends in flames, with an episode that delves into Carol's past, present and future. There's a helpful joining of the dots between her banishment from the prison in season four and her most recent appearance – strapped to a gurney in the Grady Memorial Hospital. The topsy-turvy way this saga is playing out is staying – just – on the right side of intriguing, rather than irritating. There's a sense of something building and trouble ahead, and it seems increasingly likely that either Daryl, Carol or Beth may not make it out of this alive...
It says a lot about how far these characters have come that losing any one of those three would be a major trauma. Daryl and Carol (Caryl, anyone?) especially are interesting characters to be around even when, as in this episode, they spend most of the time just tramping around gawping at things. “Consumed” goes to great efforts to put you inside Carol's headspace. And guess what? That isn't a jolly place to be...
Even by apocalypse standards, Carol's not had a great few years. First civilisation fell (that was bummer for everyone), then her daughter died and turned into a zombie. Then she murdered Karen and David (for the good of the group) and then she executed budding young psychopath Lizzie. “Consumed” reminds you of all this, but also hints once more at the potential for hope and empathy that's still buried deep within her. It's notable that while she initially intends to shoot Noah (who reappears and nicks their weaponry, the naughty scamp), she later shows mercy and urges Daryl to help him. She's miserable and consumed with grief, but she hasn't been broken by the world.
Hey You, What's That Sound?
The brooding track near the start of the episode is “Bad Blood” by Alison Mosshart (of the Dead Weather) and Eric Arjes (of The Camera Can't Lie). It's an appropriate title given that it accompanies a scene set during Carol's banishment from the prison.
Walking Dead episodes increasingly feel like Godspeed You! Black Emperor songs. There are long, quietly-brooding passages punctuated by moments of extreme action and violence. That comparison feels especially apt with “Consumed”. The sequences in the deserted Atlanta can't fail to bring to mind 28 Days Later...'s incredible, Godspeed-scored opening 20 minutes. The show has been oddly reticent about venturing into the city, but it does mean that all the trudging around here still feels fresh. It also affords the chance for a brilliant, vertiginous stunt as Carol and Daryl strap themselves into a van teetering on the edge of a bridge – and then get pushed over by a horde of walkers. That they both survive intact stretches things a bit, but it's worth it for the punchline: a darkly-funny sequence as the lemming-like walkers wander over the bridge and splatter around them.
“Consumed” ends with a series of minor revelations: how Carol ended up in the hospital with Beth; the implication that it was Noah hiding in the bushes at the end of “Four Walls And A Roof” and how Daryl fits into all this. To a certain extent it's narrative box ticking – important information, but not the meat of the episode. Instead, this is another quietly impressive character piece before the inevitable mid-season FUBAR...
Strike A Light!
Daryl sparks up a cigarette from a big box of Morley's he finds in Atlanta. Sound familiar? That's because Morley's is the fictional tobacco brand of choice of the Cigarette Smoking Man in The X-Files. It also crops up in a host of other SFX-favourites, including American Horror Story, Breaking Bad, Buffy and many, many more.
The Dead Pool
We haven't lost a regular for, ooh, three weeks. So who's next? Assuming that Daryl and Noah meet up with Rick's gang, that means one thing: they're joining forces to rescue Beth and Carol. That's sure to be a bloody battle. My money is on Carol dying to save Beth...
Walker Of The Week
There's a brilliantly comic and creepy scene where Carol and Daryl dodge around zombies in sleeping bags and trapped inside tents. They're not particularly threatening, but it's such a weird and memorably freaky image.
The Walking Dead airs on AMC in the US on Sundays and Fox in the UK on Mondays.