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The Real Reason Carol Keeps Losing Children On The Walking Dead

Contains spoilers for season 10 of The Walking Dead

Season 10 of The Walking Dead has taken every opportunity to remind us that Carol (Melissa McBride) is the most ill-fated mother in Alexandria. Just about every one of the survivors has lost someone at this point in the zombie apocalypse, but Carol has suffered more than most. By our count, the OG survivor has lost at least four children directly under her care — five, if you count Sam Anderson (Major Dodson) who formed a brief bond with Carol over beet sugar cookies.

The first loss came early for Carol. At the midpoint of season 2, the death of Carol's biological daughter, Sophia (Madison Lintz), is confirmed when her undead corpse toddles out of Hershel's barn. After Sophia's passing, Carol steps up to care for several other apocalypse orphans, with unfortunately similar results. 

First, the sisters Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) and Mika (Kyla Kenedy) fall to Carol's adoptive care back in season 4. Carol is forced to put Lizzie down by her own hand after Lizzie murders Mika in a fit of trauma-induced psychosis. It takes a while for Carol to return to the task of mothering after the sisters, but she and partner Ezekiel (Khary Payton) adopt the orphaned Henry from the Kingdom and set out to raise him as their own. Henry meets an unfortunate end during season 9, with his zombified head atop a fence post courtesy of the Whisperers. It's enough to drive any mother insane with grief, and the unimaginable loss clearly sits with Carol — no matter how hard she tries to repress it.

Season 10 dropped an important reminder of everyone that Carol has lost

On season 10, episode 3, entitled "Ghosts", Carol takes amphetamines to keep herself awake for an extended period of time. At one point, the sleeplessness causes her to begin hallucinating. She picks up a moldering home economics book that features an idyllic cover photo of a mother serving a table full of beaming kids and becomes fixated on the photo until the images start to distort, twisting into the forms of all the children she's lost over the years. The faces of Sophia, Mika, Lizzie, Sam and Henry stare back at their surviving mother with a judgmental look in their eyes. It's an explicit reminder of all the ways this character has suffered since the dead began reanimating.

So, why is it that The Walking Dead's writing team has taken such a heavy hand with poor Carol? Are they just masochists, or do all the dead children in Carol's life serve some higher end? As it turns out, the repetition of this cycle of love and loss has been critical to developing Carol's character and moving the series' plot.

TV series Carol is a very different character from comic book Carol

Series overlord Scott M. Gimple has had big plans for Carol from the beginning. Her character on the TV series diverges in so many ways from the comic version of Carol that it's almost pointless to compare the two. In the source material, Carol is one of the original survivors. She also has a daughter, Sophia, but this is pretty much where the similarities end. The comic version of Carol actually engages in a relationship with Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman in the show), and even propositions Rick and Lori with a plural marriage (Lori isn't into it). Comic Carol goes off the deep end during the early prison arc, and ultimately suicides by walker, leaving her daughter Sophia in the care of the Grimeses. That's right: In the comics, Sophia outlives Carol.

The decision to off Sophia and keep Carol around on the TV series had wide-reaching implications for the greater narrative of The Walking Dead. The creative team now had this essentially fresh character to utilize, and if they wanted to make her count for 10+ seasons, they knew they had to find a more compelling character arc than, "Carol slowly goes insane and kills herself." On the TV series, we follow Carol on a long and complex journey from a timid Georgia housewife trapped in an abusive relationship to a zombie-killing warrior with a heart of stone.

Carol's character on The Walking Dead has been hardened by loss

The hardening of Carol into the sleepless sniper we see on season 10 was a long process of swapping hopefulness and tragedy. Every time Carol begins to settle into a domestic rhythm, the harsh, post-apocalyptic world of The Walking Dead punishes her for her complacency. After Sophia, Lizzie and Mika provide Carol with a sense of purpose. Their deaths force her to abandon that notion that she's exclusively valuable to the survivors as a caregiver and mother figure. She latches onto Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) and begins to reinvent herself as a ruthless zombie slayer. This new Carol suits the moment, but it doesn't last.

After Alexandria neutralizes the threat of Negan's survivors, Carol finds her new lethal skill set less in demand. During an extended period of peace, she settles down with King Ezekiel and their new adopted son, Henry. The domestic Carol resurfaces, and it looks like she might get a happily-ever-after with her new family — until the Whisperers arrive on the scene. After Alpha (Samantha Morton) and her skin-wearing horde mark the border around their land with Henry's severed head, Carol races back into war mode. She abandons Ezekiel and leaves the Kingdom, burning every vestige of her peaceful life to the ground.

It's been a fascinating transformation to watch, if not a particularly uplifting one. Remember, as early as season 3, Carol ruthlessly murdered a pair of sick survivors that she feared might infect the rest of the group — a crime for which she was temporarily banished from the crew. That was a major character shift at the time, but one that makes sense in hindsight.

Carol's loss is driving the final confrontation with the Whisperers on The Walking Dead

With Henry dead, Carol's back to her old ways, living alone and starting trouble. The only relationship left that she seems to value is her tight-knit friendship with Daryl. Despite calls from the leaders of the groups to respect the Whisperers' boundaries and avoid another bloody confrontation, Carol seems dead set on provoking a war. Carol's need for revenge has become a critical piece of motivation on season 10. Without Carol's trespass, the Whisperers might never have reengaged with Alexandria. If the Whisperers never reengaged, Negan wouldn't have gone off and beheaded Alpha, and if Alpha still had her head, Beta (Ryan Hurst) wouldn't be on his way to level Alexandria with a massive zombie herd.

In order to move the Whisperers Arc toward its inevitable conclusion, the writers needed Carol back in feral mode. The only question remaining as we sit in limbo awaiting the final episode of season 10 is, what's next? It seems unlikely that Carol will get yet another stab at domesticity. At this point, it would be far too repetitive, and it's hard to imagine she'd be willing to make herself vulnerable to another tragic loss. That means Carol is either going to meet her end in the confrontation with the Whisperers, or live to fulfill some yet-unwritten role in the new world of the upcoming Commonwealth arc. It all depends on whether Gimple and the creative team. have marked Carol for a happy ending or a tragic one. At this point, it could really go either way.

In many ways, Carol and Michonne (Danai Gurira) inherited key narrative duties from Andrea, an important character in the comics who was killed way back on season 3 of The Walking Dead. As fans of the comics know, Andrea doesn't quite make it to the series' final arc, so if Carol's the current character wearing her boots, that doesn't exactly bode well.

The season 10 finale of The Walking Dead was indefinitely postponed as a result of the industry-wide shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so we'll have to wait for official word on Carol's fate.