Matt Fowler, IGN: This week’s Walking Dead took the post-prison group I least cared about and gave them the most surprisingly intense and emotional story of the bunch. Writer Scott Gimple and director Michael Satrazemis (the show’s director of photography changing it up) brought us what the show does best — wrenching tales of loss both through the actions of others and that actions one commits themselves.
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix: Some of these season 4.1 character pieces haven’t quite worked, but this one slowly worked itself up into something great and horrible. Definitely the highlight of this stretch of episodes so far — if you can call an episode that involves the murder of two sisters a highlight — and a reminder of the power of simplicity on this show, particularly when the actors involved are as good as McBride and Coleman.
Paul Vigna, Wall St. Journal: There’s really no two ways about it, this was one of the sickest episodes of “The Walking Dead” in its entire run. All the darkest crevices of the human psyche come out in tonight’s episode, “The Grove,” and while it’s one thing when you see a character like the Governor do shocking, demented things, it’s far more upsetting and uncomfortable to see a child, a little girl, doing them. But that’s where this show went tonight. It’s hard to imagine any other show on television would go that dark. You really have a build an audience up for it, because it’s not an easy thing to swallow at all.
Zack Handlen, A.V. Club: Everything’s too underlined, too absurdly stressed … Everything’s force fed and highlighted, and it’s not like any of this was subtle. And to what end, really? We’ve had dead kids before. Now we have kids killing kids, and yes, that was a new taboo I did not expect the show to break, so bravo everyone, good job for catching me off guard. But while the script tries to position Carol’s confession as a sort of catharsis for both her and Tyreese, and while their scene plays just fine on its own, it doesn’t really allow us any relief. Once again, we are forced to reckon with the main card The Walking Dead knows how to play, the one it will keep returning to again and again until people stop watching. Here are the new horrors we have to show you. Not because they’re scary or thrilling or even that powerful, but because it will hold your attention until the next big kill. I have no objection to misery and ugliness and violence in art, and I do think the show has been doing a better job of balancing the suffering against hope. But tonight’s episode was just a pair of dolls who got torn up, and we’re supposed to cry over it. No thanks.
Sean McKenna, TV Fanatic: It was great to see the actors pull out a powerful performance by the end, even if some of the dialogue felt a bit awkward — but I wanted to be engaged the entire time, not just the last few minutes. That was the big problem of the episode for me in that as much as the last 15 minutes of the episode were gut wrenching and shocking, the first 45 minutes felt boring. I really wasn’t captivated by Carol trying to convince Lizzie and Mika how to be, act, etc., and was fully aware of the blatant foreshadowing within the dialogue.
Mark Perigard, Boston Herald: This is easily the most powerful hour of the season, and yet nothing felt gratuitous about it. It was a natural outgrowth of the characters and the situations, and that gave it such emotional heft. When other shows are reaching for plot swerves every ten minutes (I’m staring at you, Scandal), Dead allows their characters to breathe.
Tim Goodman, Hollywood Reporter: Sunday night’s “The Grove,” penned by executive producer/writer Scott M. Gimple, is one of the best episodes The Walking Dead has ever done. And it got to the heart of why the drama works on so many levels other than just being a show about zombies — and why it should be taken more seriously as a top-tier drama. Arguably, no series on television uses children as effectively — and as shockingly — as The Walking Dead does when it tells its stories.
Maricela Gonzalez, Entertainment Weekly: The Walking Dead has always been a dark show. But week after week of awesomely gruesome zombies, violence and gore can seem commonplace, even blase. It’s with the gruesome, tragic demise of the Samuels sisters that the series receives a jolt, reminding the audience just how torrid and brutal the world of The Walking Dead is.
Kevin Yeoman, Screen Rant: The issue with the episode stems from the deliberately manipulative way in which “The Grove” arrives at its two most resonant moments. The thing is, creating a scenario that’s guaranteed to elicit such tremendous feelings is one thing, but it needs to be earned; it needs to come from a place where the end result doesn’t feel so telegraphed. Moreover, knowing that the climax of a story is going to cause a strong reaction in no way excuses the sheer amount of overwrought dialogue and overt handholding Scott Gimple put in to first reminding everyone of Carol’s deceased daughter … Now that doesn’t mean that “The Grove” is without its powerful moments, or its great performances, because Melissa McBride and Chad L. Coleman are both terrific here.
Patrick Kevin Day, Los Angeles Times: Hats off to the guts it took to conceive this storyline and stick with it through the end. It’s one thing to dangle characters in front of the walkers in order to elicit audience thrills and chills. It’s quite another to confront us with the stark reality of mental illness and ask us to consider the consequences of what it would mean.
Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson, Paste Magazine: “The Grove” may be the most emotionally brutal episode since Carl had to put a bullet in his mother’s brain to keep her from turning. Or maybe since Carol watched her zombie daughter walk out of that barn. The show isn’t precious with even its youngest characters — come to think of it, even Game of Thrones is kinder to its kids. I’m starting to worry about Judith. But it certainly made for compelling television.
John Lopez, Grantland: The Walking Dead is actually a lot like a zombie. It’s a half-rotted, ravenous shell driven solely by its insatiable appetite for flesh/ratings. Sometimes it lumbers so awkwardly that you’re tempted to run in lazy circles as it chases you around the yard/search for new and exciting GIFs as the latest plot-light hour unfolds on your TV. But let your guard down at the wrong moment, and the show will sink its teeth into you. While it might not compare to recent jaw-dropper episodes like Breaking Bad’s “Ozymandias” or Game of Thrones? “The Rains of Castamere,” “The Grove” had me shouting plenty of disbelieving expletives at my flat-screen. At the very least, The Walking Dead set a new record for going from boring to bat-s–t in the fewest episodes possible.
What did you think of “The Grove?” Did it work for you? Or was it just taboo for taboo’s sake?