When "The Walking Dead" entered the seemingly peaceful safe haven of Alexandria a few weeks back, fans knew that the stasis wouldn't last for long. And sure enough, once "Try" rolled around last Sunday (March 22), the first ball dropped -- but surprisingly, that ball had nothing to do with Glenn's deadly supply run, or even the fact that Alexandria boss Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh) doesn't trust the Grimes Gang.
Instead, "The Walking Dead" returned to one of its most consistently engaging plot lines -- Carol's (Melissa McBride) history with domestic violence. Years after we learned that Carol had been abused by her husband, and months after she seemed to experience some catharsis with Daryl (Norman Reedus) back in Atlanta, the Grimes Gang sprung to action when they learned that a member of the Alexandria community was similarly being abused.
MTV News chatted with "Walking Dead" executive producer Gale Anne Hurd to find out why Carol's abusive past keeps coming up, and what it all means for the group:
MTV News: So many balls were ready to drop in Alexandria, and it’s interesting to me that the domestic abuse ball dropped first. Why did this make Rick spring to action, over all of the other stuff that is happening?
Gale Anne Hurd: I think it’s because of Carol. I think it’s because everyone feels for Carol. We’ve seen the storyline most poignantly, I think, with Daryl, because they were both victims of abuse in different ways, and that bonds them so closely. She’s not going to let that happen to anyone else. She simply won’t stand for it, and there’s no question that her influence has deeply affected Rick as well.
MTV: When you first introduced the domestic violence story back in season one, did you have any clue how much weight this would continue to hold down the line?
Hurd: There was talk of Carol not even necessarily being a continuing character on the show with a previous showrunner. So it is very much showrunner dependent. But the truth is, Melissa McBride is resplendent in her portrayal of Carol. It’s so nuanced, it’s so powerful, even when she does things that you just have to scratch your head at. I mean, when I first read the dialogue that she was going to have with the young boy Sam, I thought, ‘Oh my God, have we actually gone too far, and people are going to reject Carol?’
And the truth is, she pulled that off, and the fans didn’t reject her. And that’s just how powerful Melissa’s performance is. You understand where she’s coming from, and you also understand that she’s doing it in order to protect her group of survivors, and also the community itself, which literally is not prepared to continue to survive in the zombie apocalypse world. They’ve just been really, extraordinarily lucky.
MTV: It seems like her abusive history has affected her present reality almost more than any other character on the show. There's a very clear line between Before Carol, and After Carol. So when stuff like the abuse with Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge) keeps coming up... was that always in the books, or was the decision to bring it back to Carol due to Melissa's performance?
Hurd: You only write for actors what they can handle. And Melissa can handle anything. We can put Carol in the position of having to kill Lizzie, and then confessing to Tyreese... When you have actors like Melissa, like Chad Coleman, you can really, really push these story lines and make the characters multi-layered and complex.
MTV: Do you feel like you have more freedom to explore the issue of domestic abuse with almost a wish-fulfillment angle, since this is such a fantastic universe?
Hurd: That’s one great thing about fiction, or horror -- it's that yes, you can. Because there is a level of suspension of disbelief. That is precisely why it can have such impact. I think the character of Carol shows that there are ways to survive that abuse, to become your own woman, and hopefully that will inspire women to believe that there is a life after they have left their abuser.
MTV: Have abuse survivors reached out to you about this story?
Hurd: I know Melissa has [heard from them]... interestingly enough, I was contacted by women who run abuse shelters with Ellen Ripley, in "Alien." She became an inspiration to women because she was able to go back and face her fear after she had survived the alien encounter in the first film. And in the second film, she went back to save people. She became a woman without extraordinary skill sets, who is not a marine, and she became the one that was best equipped to survive, and to protect her fellow men and women.
I think -- and I’m hoping that this gets out -- that Carol has become one of the most popular characters on this show, maybe one of the most popular characters on television. But she is not an ingénue. She’s tough, she takes care of her people, and she does what it takes to protect them, but not in a Lady MacBeth sort of way. In her own, powerful, self-aware, I’m not taking any s--t kind of way.