On The Walking Dead, Melissa McBride plays the ever resilient and always capable Carol. In this interview with amc.com, she looks back on playing Carol over the years and the friendships she’s formed, and discusses how it felt saying Sophia's name again in this week's episode.
Q: I consider Carol the MVP of the series because she's the one who always gets things done. This character has had such an incredible arc over 11 seasons, transforming from a cowed and abused wife to a woman who’s so physically strong and mentally agile. She’s a person that everyone can rely on. What’s it been like to play her?
A: It's been incredible to play this character that started out as Carol did. So much of the strength that she has willed herself to have is honoring the loss of Sophia and all that she was unable to do to save her in the beginning. I think she wants to wear that armor for Sophia. To be able to play this character that has found the strength in herself, however that came to her, for me personally feels really, really, really good. To be able to inspire. This character has inspired a lot of people, including me. So in that regard it just feels really good. I'm proud of her.
Q: The thing about Carol is that she’s this tower of strength, but she's also vulnerable. She has these moments where she doubts herself. She's a real person.
A: That's what I love about Carol. She's incredibly vulnerable. She's making her way. This whole world was new to everyone and so unpredictable. And Carol is feeling it out as she goes along. If there was a parallel between myself and Carol, it's that feeling out this new territory. You know, the show becoming very successful – something I wasn’t used to. We're navigating. I remember my first day. I was sitting on the bench in my dressing room, dressed as Carol for the first time. I was looking down from behind my eyes at myself, looking down at my feet, at her little pedal pushers with the drab colors, the open toe huaraches. In that world, as we would soon find out, if you're not covered up, you're vulnerable. Everything about her was vulnerable. And I just remember sitting in that for a while. It was a very intimate experience that I had with her the first time. She reminded me of people that I know and some that didn't make it.
Q: How does Carol feel about having to work with Negan in Episode 17? Does she see a way forward for his possible redemption?
A: Negan's an interesting ally for Carol. First, I love working with Jeffrey Dean [Morgan]. He just plays Negan so well with all that wonderful charisma – and also I loved that standalone episode of Negan and his wife [Season 10's "Here's Negan"]. As far as Carol knew, he was already working on his redemption and somehow Negan became an ally that Carol could trust. He came back at a great time! If she ever needed an ally to go through with her plan, he's the one, and he had as much reason to be in on it as anyone else. He's informed her of his wife, the baby on the way. Things are different. The stakes are very high and the circumstances are very different from when they last saw one another. There’s stuff that needs to be done immediately and I don't think she has any reservations about enlisting him. I don't know that redemption for him is something which is maybe even on her mind at that moment. I think he's okay in her eyes.
Q: In Episode 18, Carol engineers a deal with Pamela for Lance Hornsby to take the fall for her son and get everything that's needed to rebuild Alexandria and Hilltop. Does she have any reservations at all about implicating Lance or about getting Sebastian off the hook? Or is this pure pragmatism?
A: This is strategic and pragmatic and all about saving the group, the children, getting everything that they need. I think it's a great deal, as far as Carol knows. And whatever happens beyond that, people are on their own. As she said, it's not her problem anymore. It just all goes back to the stakes are so high. Nothing else matters. We have our communities. We have these things that we've built over the years and, if anybody does want to stay [in the Commonwealth], they're welcome to do that. Beyond that, we're going home.
Q: You mentioned how Carol's strength comes from Sophia and that loss she suffered. Carol's endured so much heartache throughout her time on the show, especially when it comes to the children in her life. In Episode 18, she discusses Sophia with Daryl when Judith goes missing (much like Sophia went missing once upon a time). How did it feel to get to talk about her again?
A: I loved that she could bring her up, even though there was a whole lot of urgency in the context that she was speaking about her and it was also a walk-and-talk. But that might have been the best time for her to talk because it didn't lay so hard on her at that moment. I loved hearing her name come out of my mouth. It’s not surprising that Sophia would come to mind at a time when her best friend Daryl is feeling that whole heavy, huge responsibility. I know whatever reasons that Daryl went looking for Sophia – [who was] just this young child of a hysterical woman he was stuck with back in the day – those were his own reasons and he persisted. Talking to him, speaking of Sophia, parent-to-basically parent, and recognizing that different kind of weight of responsibility, she was consoling him so she could console herself in a way. So she could voice how she's come to learn about herself with the choices we make and how we can only hope they're the right ones. And even though she's grieved Sophia, it may have been a way of dealing with the guilt of the loss of the children that have come to her life. She always thought she made the right decisions, but tragedy struck, again. Things were out of her control, but you still feel that guilt. You still feel you just didn't do enough.
Q: Carol and Ezekiel clearly still care for each other very much even though they're not together anymore. And of course, Carol figured out how to pull strings so that he could get his surgery. How would you characterize their feelings for each other?
A: I really love Carol and Ezekiel and I love their relationship — their bond through Henry, through the life of Henry, through the passing of Henry, the shared experience. And I love the warmth, the humor they share together, the care of one another that they share with each other. I think it's a lovely relationship. Khary Payton is such a wonderful human being, and the King is just such a wonderful character. He's just so perfect for that role.
Q: Of course, I can't speak to you and not ask about Daryl. It's only the latest of many examples, but the two of you are such a team in Episode 20. I've always enjoyed their friendship, which seems so real with all its ups and downs. What's it been like to bring this relationship to life with Norman Reedus over all these years?
A: It's been super special, and I was really excited to see that finally Carol and Daryl were going to be back together in that episode. It felt like she hadn't seen him for a long time. All the circumstances and the story had shifted so abruptly and strangely. Suddenly we were in this community, and we don't see each other anymore. It was strange to shoot these scenes, the little ones in passing when Carol and Daryl kind of catch up with each other. He's busy being a trooper and she's busy at the bakery and they're just walking through the community – "Hey Daryl!", "Oh, hey, Carol!" It was weird for me playing the part and I missed it, as an actor, working with Norman. So yeah, Episode 20, when that came back around, it was like, "Yay! Finally." The whole Daryl/Carol – I love those two. I really do. I really do like them. They call each other out. They have each other's backs. One of my favorite episodes is the "Cherokee Rose" [Season 2, Episode 4] episode. Daryl is just so endearing. When he brought the Cherokee Rose and told the story, it reminded me of a little kid doing a class report. It was adorable! The little nerd trying to remember the story and it was really sweet. I guess that's kind of the start of it a little bit, yeah? That scene was so beautiful. I'm glad that these two became the team that they did. What I love about the two of them is that they fell into the relationship. It became what it became so organically. It didn't feel like the writers went in there and tried to formulate something.
Q: You've been on the show since the beginning. What has the show meant to you?
A: I think being a part of something that sort of just took over, it still has not quite settled in my mind. I understand how big the show is. I experienced how big it got and that's maybe why it's hard to fathom that I’m a part of it. It's bigger and more unexpected than I ever could have imagined, and I still have not quite grasped that I am indeed a part of this massive thing. I think one of these days, maybe even years from now, I will look back with a different perspective. You know, see the whole of it.
New episodes of The Walking Dead Season 11 Part 3 air on Sundays at 9/8c on AMC. Full episodes are available to stream on amc.com (with a cable provider login), the AMC apps for mobile and devices, and a week early on AMC+. AMC+ is available at amcplus.com or through the new AMC+ app available on iPhone, iPad, Android, Fire TV, Apple TV, and Roku. AMC+ can also be accessed through a variety of providers, including AppleTV, Prime Video Channels, DirectTV, Dish, Roku Channel, Sling, and Xfinity. Sign up for AMC+ now.