When people talk about The Walking Dead like it’s running on fumes, this is the kind of episode to which they’re referring. At the beginning of this installment, Carol and Daryl’s friendship is fractured, and profoundly so. (We know that’s not really the case, what with the upcoming spinoff and all, but still.) Their blowup in the cabin from a few episodes back made it seem like Daryl’s anger over Carol’s behavior had finally tipped over into genuine antipathy, driving a wedge between the two and leaving both feeling exhausted and despairing. Here, they separate, go on notably different journeys, and then come together once more at the very end. And after the whole thing is done, what’s changed is… absolutely nothing. We end at the exact same place we began. What a pointless exercise.
It’s genuinely confounding to try and imagine what the plan behind this episode was, given where it starts and where it ends up. Presumably, the idea was to show how both of them are struggling in different ways to deal with the emotional fallout of their fight, in order to deepen our understanding of their respective pathos and show how the two process their feelings of guilt. Instead, Carol builds a mousetrap and Daryl works to fix his bike. Carol is trying to pretend everything’s okay, but she’s hurting. We already knew this. Daryl avoids thinking about things he doesn’t want to, and instead throws himself into unnecessarily dangerous situations to keep his mind off of it. We already know he does this. We already understand all of this. There’s nothing here to add anything to our knowledge of the situation or the characters, save for maybe learning Jerry has somehow never heard the old parable about stone soup. It’s such a nothing of an installment, it makes one wonder if the show was simply asleep at the wheel for a week.
But let’s temporarily grant the creative team the benefit of the doubt, and assume they achieved whatever it was they set out to do with “Diverged.” (I assume they meant it to be akin to the Breaking Bad episode, “Fly,” given Carol’s obsessive hunt for her rodent nemesis.) We pick up shortly after the end of “Find Me,” the episode that concluded with the Carol/Daryl dust-up mentioned above. They’re not really talking, and after Daryl says he intends to stay out on the road a little longer, even the small niceties get set aside, with Carol turning down a ride back to Alexandria and Daryl quick to let her know that he didn’t intend to apologize. So when they set off on their individual journeys, we’re already primed to expect some pent-up emotions to come to the fore.
Those emotions are more apparent in Carol, which, again, we’ve already come to expect. She gets back, and quickly realizes there’s no clear role waiting for her, any more than there’s an easy answer to the wedge that’s been driven between her and her old friend. So she looks for ways to feel like she’s solving a problem, since she can’t solve the only one that matters to her. This gets awfully explicit when she finds the bloodied shirt on the ground, and tells Jerry why she wants to get it cleaned up: “Somebody loved it, and I just want to fix something.” So she tries to make soup; she tries to fix up a solar panel; she kills a bunch of walkers just to get some dandelion to add to the pot; and then her dark night of the soul comes after she tries and fails to catch a rat with her homemade mousetrap, eventually dismantling the entire wall of the garage in frustration. “I miss him,” she tells Dog.
The feeling isn’t quite so overtly mutual on Daryl’s end. His own sense of loss at their blow-up gets channeled into a single-minded mission to fix his bike, after a seal on it gets busted. He scavenges old cars for parts, and then—when he remembers he gave his pocket knife to Carol, and his big hunting knife proves too big for the job—sets off on a mission to hunt walkers until he finds one that has what he needs on its undead person. And sure enough, before you can say, “That’s quite the happy coincidence,” he manages to hunt down and take out some walkers bearing military supplies, including pliers and the bonus reward of MREs. It was risky, given the number of walkers he had to plow through (and clumsily slipping into that pit in a very non-Daryl way), but it kept him distracted.
And that’s all this was: a distraction. It’s hard to grant the creative team the benefit of the doubt when the episode doesn’t seem to offer any benefit to those watching. “Can’t you just let people like me suffer in peace?” Carol says to Jerry when he comes by to offer emotional support, and honestly, not showing us any of this would’ve been the right move. There’s a reason most of our characters’ lives happen off-screen, and we only check in when meaningful encounters and/or moments that change their perspective arise. It doesn’t move the plot forward, or enrich our understanding the way a good character-study episode does (see: last week’s plunge into the mind of Princess), or even just offer the bare minimum of some good old-fashioned zombie-killing spectacle. Daryl comes back, and they have a stilted, awkward conversation, and Carol realizes nothing has really changed since the start of the episode—which is the moment the audience realizes it, too. It’s an hourlong shrug, a time-filler in the worst way. Get your shit together, Walking Dead. This was embarrassing.
- Jerry does get in a good line when Carol tells him she’s off to get ingredients. “Maybe you won’t have to make a soup out of rocks.”
- Of all the failed reaches for meaning, none might be worse than the oh-so-symbolic decision to have both Carol and Daryl say, “See you later, asshole” to their respective antagonists, rodent and undead.
- Still, Melissa McBride is so good that her moments of fake-friendly Carol are still funny to watch, pointless though they might be.
- Next week’s final bonus episode is called “Here’s Negan,” meaning we’re finally going to get that long-promised backstory. I’m curious to see whether or not it follows the beats of Robert Kirkman’s miniseries.