Carol and kids: a very complicated – and often tragic – relationship
If you look at her interactions with kids throughout the series, it is debatable whether Carol really is naturally a “nurturing” and “motherly” character, and whether she is really happy being in such a position. She seemed to love her daughter very much, but her relationship with Carl, for example, wasn’t so good. After getting over the loss of Sophia, Carol actually seems to be rather happy at the prison, and seems comfortable with her new persona. Her happiness is soon ruined by the epidemic, which, incidentally happens immediately after she has been assigned the role of a “mother” again: she has in effect become Lizzie and Mika’s guardian after their father’s death.
Her relationship to the two girls is very complex: she wants to protect them, but she also seems afraid to get too close to them emotionally. She’s very cold to them, even though they seem to like her. When Mika points out that Carol has “adopted” them the same way Widow Douglas adopted Huck Finn, Carol jokes, “Yeah, I’m just like the widow Douglas!” – and it’s hard not to notice the sarcasm in her voice.
Even though Mika is the sweet girl who “doesn’t have a mean bone in her body”, that reminds her of Sophia, it is actually Lizzie that grows closer to Carol and even calls her “mum” – a name Carol immediately rejects. On the road, Carol opens up to Lizzie when she finally talks about Sophia – a very rare occurrence – and they share a sweet moment when Lizzie falls asleep in her arms.
Carol’s attempts to reason with them do not work at all, however; Mika resists Carol’s lectures on getting tougher and killing “bad people”. She even indirectly reminds her that she is not her mum, when she uses a quote by her mother to contradict Carol’s arguments: “My mum used to say, things always work out the way they’re supposed to”. As for Lizzie, Carol does not realize how she only appears to understand her points, only to twist them in her head and feed her fantasies about walkers being “friends” who have simply “changed”.
A very significant detail, just before the tragedy happens, is the focus on cooking: Carol acts the part of the mum by helping the girls roast pecans in the oven. Immediately after this, though, the entire dream collapses and Carol goes from a nurturer to a killer, being forced to put down Lizzie herself. Cooking, from then on, is a recurring theme and is almost always associated to Carol’s double identity: the “happy homemaker” (or, as I like to call her, the “Cookie mom”) and the hardened, cynical fighter.
In Alexandria, Carol again finds herself bonding with another child, Sam, because of her delicious cookies. However, she does not even try to play the part of the “cookie mom” with him: she remains very cold and distant and refuses to bond with him. Sam’s story ends up in tragedy anyway, after he panics in the middle of a zombie herd – arguably because Carol had tried to scare him with spooky stories of being devoured by monsters.
Does Carol seem to reject her identity as a mother because of her fear of living through the trauma of losing a child again? Certainly. But could it also be, in part, because the “nurturing” persona – of which she becomes a parody in Alexandria – does not really fit her true personality?