She began Season 5 by singlehandedly, spectacurly, springing her friends from Terminus, then bonded with Daryl on a trip to Atlanta to try to save Beth, and has spent her time in Alexandria doing her best Martha Stewart impression (complete with an array of cardigans and “slacks”) so she could appear low-key as she went about gathering intel on the town. In short, Melissa McBride’s Carol Peletier is the queen of The Walking Dead’s fifth season, a season that has been the strongest ever for the show’s female characters and cast.
Leading into a season finale that promises to be full of action and trauma — Michael Cudlitz already promised it will piss off viewers — McBride talks to Yahoo TV about how proud she is of Carol’s evolution and preparing for that harsh (but, admit it, amusing) pantry showdown with Sam, who, despite her best efforts, has become her pal. She also discusses Carol’s cardigan-filled wardrobe and why “Carol the Cookie Lady” didn’t just take care of the abusive Pete herself.
Carol is clearly the queen of Season 5. One of the best parts of the season, and the entire series, has been the evolution of her character.
Thank you. I appreciate that. I’m excited because all the women on our show are just really kicking some butt. But I appreciate that very much. It’s been such a fun season for me to play, and I am absolutely loving the development of my character.
Before we get into “Try,” I want to ask you a little bit about one of the most memorable scenes of the season, Carol and Sam’s pantry chat. How do you prepare for a scene like that, especially after the storyline with Lizzie and Mika in Season 4?
One of the things that makes it even more of a thrill to play are these young actors they are finding to play the roles. Major Dodson is such a fun kid to be around. We got along really well and became kind of fast friends. It made it really fun, actually, to do that scene with him. For Carol, there were a couple of things going on with that scene. I thought about it really hard. What is she trying to do? I wanted it to be clear in my mind because it was frightening to read that at first. I’m like, “Where are they going? Oh, dear, what’s going on here?” Then I’m reading it and realizing she’s not saying she’s going to do these things. She wants to keep Sam at a distance, obviously, because her emotional capacity right now to deal with children is at an all-time low. It’s safer for her to just keep him at bay as far as that goes.
Then the other thing is, obviously everyone in Alexandria has been sheltered to a certain extent, and probably no one more than the kids. Here is this little boy. He’s after cookies and just the usual little kid things, things that are so far from the world that she and [the rest of Rick’s group] have been living in. It’s a little annoying, for one thing, because earlier we have people who haven’t eaten a good meal in days and months and weeks, and he’s just wanting his cookies. [Laughs.] I think she’s really wanting to put the fear in him that there is real stuff going on. This is what could happen if Carol’s not able to get those guns back, so they can have some protection within the walls of Alexandria. The walls could be breached. We don’t know who exactly these people are living there. The people are a threat. The walkers are a threat. We need those guns. There’s that going on.
Carol tried so hard with Lizzie and Mika to really illustrate the dangers of not only the walkers, but people, too — tried to have a rational conversation with the children about these dangers. That didn’t work so well… I think the tactic was very quickly decided, I’m just going to be very graphic and tell a horrible fairy tale that sounds like a child’s story. Maybe he’ll listen, and it’ll frighten him and make me look scary and keep him at a distance from me.
It’s funny how it worked out. Carol did frighten Sam into not telling anyone about the guns, but he also has come to trust Carol and see her as his protector. She’s the one he’s confiding in now about his parents. It worked out. She got the result she wanted, except for pushing him away.
Yeah, maybe he somehow finds her amusing. He’s a child. She’s telling him a story. “OK, that couldn’t possibly be happening, and she’s the cookie lady!” he’s thinking. “She’s too nice to actually do that to me.” Yeah, she’s stern with him, on one hand, but then also doing these nurturing things with him, fun things with him, whereas whatever his relationship is in his own home may be suffering because of the abuses that are taking place in that home. He may see his own mother in a different light, in her inability — or, we’re not really sure what’s going on — to stand up for herself. It’s such a wonderful, interesting, compelling, and complicated story arc that’s going on there, the psychology for the little boy and for everybody.
People often say kids can see things about people that adults don’t. Do you think there may be an element of that, too, that Sam sees how nurturing Carol is? Not just in confiding in her, trusting her, but when the Rick/Pete fight spills out onto the street, Sam runs to Carol, hides behind her.
Yeah. I feel like this is something that is innate in Carol, and as hard as she tries to come across as hard and stern and all this other stuff, I think she is innately a nurturer. That’s something, no matter what face she has on, she’s not going to be able to completely hide. I do think children are so perceptive, and maybe he’s picking up on some things and things that they have in common.
You’ve had the chance to play this completely different side of Carol in Alexandria, and, especially in these big tension moments, it’s been a welcome bit of humor with the cardigans and the casseroles, the Betty Crocker Carol. Has that been fun for you?
It has been so much fun for me as an actor to play these two dual aspects of Carol. And it’s even more than dual, because there is that midway, the conscientiousness of what she’s doing, the awareness of herself in the middle playing both parts. That has been super fun for me as an actress to take that on.
You know how much people are loving those cardigans. Did you help pick out this wardrobe for Carol?
Eulyn Womble, our head of wardrobe for the show, just did a phenomenal job picking out everybody’s Alexandria wardrobes. We had a lot of laughs putting these outfits together for Carol. A lot of it landed on the floor, never to be seen again. It was a bit much. I think we got just the right balance. It’s interesting to be in those clothes. I’ll get a glimpse in the mirror just for a second… I don’t like to linger in the mirror. What I do like to do is look down at myself, not to see my reflection, but see what my eyes see of myself. That was really cool. I remember sitting in the trailer, looking down, and I’m seeing the cardigan, the smart slacks [laughs] and thinking, and just being quiet as Carol, and I got this weird little grin. It was almost like my whole body just felt like it was grinning, because for her to see herself this way again, from that point of view, but knowing what she knows about herself at this point in time, I think she felt really… it was almost like this moment of pride for how far she’s brought Carol from where she was.
It also feels like Carol is getting a little chance to relax. She’s still on the lookout, acting as a leader in the group, but she’s also getting to do things, nurturing things, she hasn’t gotten to do since before the apocalypse.
Yeah, and she’s doing the things that she’s been good at all along. It just manifests in different ways pre-apocalypse and now. I think she’s proud of herself for bringing that Carol this far. I don’t think it’s something she ever would have imagined. It’s all these steps along the way for her to realize she had this in her all along. That’s one of the aspects that I just love about this arc, her own realization. She has become her own person now, because of this world. That person was there all along; she just didn’t take ownership. It’s very satisfying to me to see this play through. Also, playing the two sides of Carol, with that awareness in the middle, that awareness in the middle is what’s the most fun to play with. It’s because Carol knows what she’s capable of. She knows what she has had to do. Right now, as far as she knows, she’s the only person that knows what happened with Lizzie and Mika. That is the hardest thing she’s ever had to do, but it was necessary. To know that you’re capable of doing something like that because it’s necessary in this world is… I don’t know if that’s a realization a lot of people would want to carry with them. On the other hand, it’s reassuring to know, and this is Carol thinking, “I don’t think anything could be worse.” No matter what she has to do, it’s never going to be worse than that.
That’s freeing in a certain way.
It is. It is. It’s like I can — again, thinking as Carol — I am capable of doing what I need to do, as far as I know.
On Sunday’s Talking Dead, a preview of the Season 5 finale showed Carol getting in Pete’s face, pulling a knife out of her cardigan on him. When she found out he is abusing Jessie, she told Rick he was going to have to kill Pete. Why didn’t Carol do that herself?
She and Rick are seeing more eye to eye now, and there’s a certain mutual respect between them. He made that decision to exile her, she made the decision to kill Karen and David… I don’t think either of them is making those decisions on their own anymore. Also, Rick is the law in Alexandria now, and if it came to that, to killing Pete, he would be the one who should do it. Plus, she’s Carol the Cookie Lady.
Going into this supersized, 90-minute finale, things have gone a little crazy for Rick. Michonne felt the need to literally knock him down during his rant at Deanna and the Alexandrians about their lack of ability to defend themselves. Is Carol still 100 percent behind him? She was one of the only people who didn’t try to stop him.
She was, is, in total agreement of what he was saying to the group when he was waving that gun around. It was the reason he went back into Jessie’s house. These people have to understand that you have got to be able to fight and be willing to fight in order to live, that they’re too comfortable and really unaware of what the dangers are.
The Walking Dead Season 5 finale airs Sunday, March 29 at 9 p.m. on AMC.