'Walking Dead' Star Melissa McBride Explains Why Carol Turned to Religion

The actress talks with THR about Carol's journey, lack of screen time with Daryl and Sunday's female-centric episode.
Gene Page/AMC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode 613, "The Same Boat," of AMC's The Walking Dead.]

AMC's The Walking Dead used Maggie and Carol's capture by the Saviors to explore what the post-apocalyptic world is like for women during Sunday's female-centric episode.

Carol (Melissa McBride) and Maggie's (Lauren Cohan) captor is revealed to be a fierce Savior named Paula (played by Alicia Witt in an unforgettable guest role) — who essentially served as a mirror image of Carol only without a conscience. Threatened and tied up by Paula and her two female Saviors, Carol becomes a chameleon again — this time taking on a meek religious woman who fools them into believing she's incapable of protecting herself in this world. She manipulates the Saviors into handing her rosary beads — opening The Walking Dead into more of a religious exploration. Ultimately, Carol uses the rosary beads to help break free, rescue Maggie and together they kill the three Saviors and fight their way out of the abandoned "kill floor" area.

The episode ends with Maggie reuniting with Glenn (Steven Yeun) and confessing that she "can't anymore," while Carol admits to Daryl (Norman Reedus) that she's not OK. The experience leaves Carol and Maggie seemingly on the bench as they grapple with the number of human lives they've taken in the new world as the big fight against the Saviors looms. The story is part of the larger theme that showrunner Scott M. Gimple is exploring in season six — the price of having power and surviving in the new world.

Here, McBride talks with THR about the female-centric episode, the weight on Carol's shoulders and how religion plays a role for the character.

The second half of this season is about answering what comes with the responsibility of having power in this world. Is Carol realizing the weight of what she's had to do to survive?

Yes. She's carried the weight of it with her this whole time. This isn't a revelation; it's just pulling to the surface what she has deliberately pushed away in order to be able to continue to do what she needs to do. The experience of Wolf attack, Morgan's (Lennie James) [no killing] point of view and Denise (Merritt Wever) with the Wolf — plus Sam, Sophia, Lizzie — she's still holding that to herself. Although the forgiveness from Tyreese over killing Karen and David was a big deal to her and the understanding with what happened with Lizzie that she could have shared that with another human being is a very big deal and he's gone now so she's carrying that herself now. Keeping that list and count and thinking of every circumstance that's happened — that she even remembers is very telling. She's carried it with her and now it's like that stuff that boils up to the top: now she has to look at it.

Carol effectively went toe to toe with a version of herself in Alicia Witt's Paula — who seemingly had lost her conscience. What is her takeaway from this encounter? Paula was a strong fighter who was well-versed in fighting in this world but had no recourse. Is Carol afraid of becoming more like Paula?

Yes, that's where she feels like she was headed. Carol is a conscientious person and she does carry all this with her. To reflect on what Morgan is saying and her point of view, it makes what Carol said to Sam — "The only way you can keep from becoming a monster is to kill" — she feels like a monster. For Carol, if she doesn't like the feeling, she will put a mask on to avoid feeling that way. At this point, yes, this is all about accountability and saving herself from becoming the bad guy. I love that scene with Maggie when the Savior says, "You're not a good guy." That was so heavy duty. It's like, "How did this happen?"

Carol has become a master chameleon and has used that skill to her advantage both when she arrived at Alexandria and again here. Is this the last we'll see of that skill?

(Laughing) There is much more story to be told!

At the end of this episode, Carol is clinging so tightly to the rosary beads that her hand is bleeding. Is there part of her that is turning to religion to help cope with the things she's had to do in this world?

I love that about this episode. It does raise a lot of questions because the line between what is the real Carol is and what is the ruse? There was a line there when Paula says, "Do you really believe in that crap?" And Carol looks up to her, with tears in her eyes, and says, "My faith got me through the death of my daughter [Sophia]." I think those were tears of regret because that's when she lost her faith. So there may be something to this. There's so much beautiful symbolism with that rosary showing up when it did and how it did — that she could use it to help her escape in more ways than one, perhaps. But is there a part of her that is repenting? Was that a Hail Mary? Now is it the hour of her death? It asks more questions than it answers in that way. But there is more story to be told.

Carol tells Daryl she is not OK here. Will they navigate that feeling together or is the fight against the Saviors too much of a burden to address this now? The timing couldn't be worse.

There is a lot coming. Carol and Daryl are going to talk again. That's what's so compelling about playing this character — even in the face of that struggle, Carol is still trying to do what's right and find the truth of the matter. But what is the truth? In the face of not knowing what is right, Carol is doing what she has to and is conscious of these feelings.  

Carol and Maggie are both in the same place — and have realized that they can't keep going on like this. Where do they go from here? Can they keep fighting?

That's the story we're going to tell. We'll have to see.

In Alexandria, Carol has a budding romance with Tobin (Jason Douglas), which seemed to come from out of nowhere —

It was surprising! I was surprised when I read the script but understand it for Carol. She's enjoyed getting to know him better. With Carol's struggle with what's going on, for someone like Tobin — who is gentle, kind and someone different from the people in Rick's group — it's easier for her to feel a certain way about herself and shed the monster skin she feels. Knowing that they're going to go out tomorrow and have to fight again, that moment [they kissed] was very sweet. On the other hand, we haven't seen Carol and Daryl together much this season. So for Carol to be able to wear that mask and get away from feeling that way, she needed the separation. And it may not be that comfortable for Daryl to see her that way — it's foreign to him seeing her in sweaters and baking cookies. They're each dealing with their own things.

This hour featured almost entirely women. It puts a spotlight on the various ways women have adapted in this new world. What was it like filming this episode?

It was awesome filming it! We shot it all on stages so we were confined to that space and really wanted to get outside from time to time! But it was so great working with these women. I was so happy to finally get good, meaty stuff with Lauren Cohan and Alicia Witt is hilarious; we laughed a lot. Somebody asked me what I thought of if Paula and Michelle had been cast as men — what kind of episode would that have been? And it would have been totally different. You couldn’t do it; that's the whole point. This was an awesome episode and to see them fighting such a good fight and even at times defending one another. Paula hitting her boyfriend Donny over the head to knock him out when he was kicking Carol — I don't know how conscious Paula and Carol were of each other when they were defending each other and still try to say, "Wait, you're the enemy."

What did you think of Carol and Maggie's journey? Sound off in the comments section, below. The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC. For more coverage, go to THR.com/WalkingDead.

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