Does ‘Squeeze’ symbolize Carol’s rock bottom on The Walking Dead?

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon; group - The Walking Dead _ Season 10, Episode 6 - Photo Credit: Jace Downs/AMC
Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon; group - The Walking Dead _ Season 10, Episode 6 - Photo Credit: Jace Downs/AMC /

The mid-season premiere of The Walking Dead’s season 10 gave us a claustrophobic tale of horror, detailing our group’s attempts to escape the cave trap they’d fallen into. But the darkness also illuminated the state of Carol’s mental health, in a story heavily laden with symbolism.

When Carol ran into the cave after Alpha in the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead she wasn’t just running after her nemesis, she was running head first into her worst nightmare as they all tumbled down the rocks into the Underworld. Little did she know, this was just the start of

We are reminded, via Daryl, that Carol is claustrophobic, so no situation could be worse for her than ending up in a dank hole in the ground surrounded by walkers. The presence of her close friends isn’t even a comfort because in these circumstances their presence only makes her feel worse. They followed her in and now their fate falls heavy on Carol’s shoulders.

The amazingly crafted walls of stone and imposing boulders created by The Walking Dead set crew are a very physical, solid representation of Carol’s “rock bottom”. She has fallen so far into her own pit of grief and revenge, and she can’t find a way out. As she says to Daryl she tries not to think about it, but hurting and killing Alpha consumes her mind.

The cave is a prison of her own making, just like her mind is, with Alpha standing guard just out of reach taunting her.

It’s a living nightmare, which connects us back to “Ghosts” at the start of season 10 when Carol was popping caffeine pills, and the lines between her dreams and reality began to blur. Seeing Whisperers and dead children, and having conversations in the dark with Daryl, were realities that her mind created due to lack of sleep. Now, due to her lack of care and foresight, Whisperers, walkers, loved ones and conversation in the dark with Daryl are realities she’s living.

Every moment in the cave makes the viewer feel more and more like Carol feels in her own head – looking for ways out, fearing what’s round the corner, and above all, the ever present guilt is closing in. Daryl tells her what she already knows, that she has to stop, she’s getting people hurt.  She promises to stop, but she can’t.

Daryl and Connie’s kindness, helping her cope and getting her through, is simply more of a reminder to her. It reinforces how good these people are, how much she loves them, and how she hates that she’s contributed to getting them in the same place as her.

Carol running into the cave alone, and taking off alone to plant the dynamite, is also symbolic of her mind-set this whole season. She is in this dark place, and she doesn’t want to take anyone with her. She has been pushing Daryl away (and towards Connie) all season, afraid to even tell him what her mind is like for fear it drags him into the darkness with her. Yet here she is crawling through spaces with Daryl in front and Connie behind, there in her living hell with her.

However, Daryl doesn’t just exist in “Squeeze” as a reminder of her guilt, he’s also a giant flashing neon sign in human form.

When Carol is trapped in the tunnel, unable to move forward or back (stuck in time like the missing hands on her watch in her dream in “Ghosts”), Daryl tells her to “follow my light”. In doing so she is able to get out of the tunnel and into safe ground. Repeatedly through the episode he urges “I’ve got you” and “come to me”. His words aren’t just about their cave hell, they are a metaphor for what he’s been telling her since she got off the boat. Daryl’s the light she needs to follow.

Carol’s instinct has always been to try and run away from her grief, to avoid the ones she loves most and simply keep herself in the dark. Daryl’s words are an unsubtle reminder that this doesn’t work. The only way out of her current state of mind is to move forward with the ones who love her.

Opening up to anyone would help Carol, but it makes sense that with Daryl’s closeness to her; his own experiences of dealing poorly with loss; and his history of living with Carol through everything she’s suffered, he is – according to Squeeze’s symbolism – the only one who can truly lead her to the light.

Of course, when Carol is out in the stark daylight her world literally comes crashing down, when her attempts to blow up the horde go catastrophically wrong and the tunnel collapses, taking Magna and Connie with it. This is, unsurprisingly, when Carol becomes desolate and utterly frantic in her level of self-hatred.

The huge weight of guilt she feels for getting them all into that position just piled on top of Magna and Connie, and she wants – nay, needs – Daryl to verbalize that guilt. She wants him to point the finger (as he does) and blame her, because that’s what she’s been doing for years.

She is pushing him away, desperately wanting to detach Daryl from her because without his tether – without his constant urges to come to him, follow him, go towards his light – she can give in to the darkness completely.

It’s also notable that it’s two people that are trapped – possibly dead – caused by Carol’s attempts to prevent further deaths. Could Magna and Connie be a reminder of where all of this started back in the prison? When Carol killed Karen and David in an attempt to prevent the spread of the flu, and as a result was banished by Rick.

That moment was the beginning of the new “Killer Carol” – a person who took preemptive action without consulting others, for the greater good.

Although she stood by her decision, it cost her everything when Rick took her out on a run and abandoned her, telling her never to come back.

Daryl walking away from her at the end of “Squeeze” calls back that scene, only this time it’s worse because it’s Daryl not Rick who’s leaving her in the dirt, and worst of all she feels she deserves it.

Just like in “Ghosts” when Carol wakes from her nightmares to find a real life that is even more distressing and depressing, so Carol makes it out of the cave to find her reality is as bad as anything she could ever imagine.

dark. Next. The Walking Dead's "Squeeze" - What's next for Carol?

Yet, it doesn’t seem hopeless for Carol. There were symbols planted in the first half of the season that suggest that Carol’s bond with Daryl is unbreakable, and suggest that they will find a way back from this hell. While the friendship bracelet Daryl made for Carol is still tied around her wrist, and the double acorn is still joined together in Daryl’s pocket, there is a hope that somehow Carol will manage to make things right. There’s light at the end of the tunnel for Carol, if only she can let Daryl and her other loved ones lead her there.