Last week, I made a mistake. I posted a story on The Walking Dead, diving into the Season 7 episode titles, and attempting to draw a connection to previous seasons based on speculation. Specifically, I confirmed with Walking Dead EP Greg Nicotero that the Season 7 premiere thematically connected with the Season 1 finale; so it stood to reason that Episode 2 connected back to Season 2, Episode 3 to Season 3, etc.
The mistake wasn't that Episode 2, titled "The Well," connects to Season 2's "Cherokee Rose." It most definitely does. The mistake came in focusing on the wrong half of that episode.
Spoilers for The Walking Dead past this point.
"Cherokee Rose" has a few major plot lines running, including the true beginning of Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Glenn's (Steven Yeun) relationship, when the duo first sleep together while on a supply run. Given that Glenn died in the Season 7 premiere, it made sense for this to be the thread TWD would pick up.
It wasn't, though. Glenn isn't referenced in "The Well," and Maggie doesn't appear. In fact, the episode squarely focuses on Morgan (Lennie James) and Carol (Melissa McBride), two lost souls separated from the main group in Season 6. Further, the episode is far more about Carol's journey, as she fights against rediscovering hope in a new community called The Kingdom.
That's where the thematic tie comes to "Cherokee Rose," and what I missed last week. The other major plot line in the Season 2 episode is Carol's search for her missing daughter Sophia (Madison Lintz). She's given up hope of ever finding her (sort of like the audience was starting to give up hope on the whole Sophia storyline).
So Daryl (Norman Reedus) gives her a flower, the Cherokee Rose. He explains that there's an old Native American myth around the flower: when the indigenous people were forced to march on the Trail of Tears, several people died. That included children, and the mothers of the tribes began to lose their will to live in reaction. The elders knew they needed to give the mothers hope, so they cast a spell: wherever a mother's tears fell, the Cherokee Rose would grow. The beautiful flower gave them hope.
There's a number of clear ties (much clearer than the #Gleggie line I was trying to draw earlier) to Carol's story in both episodes. There's the mythic/storytelling nature in both, as Kingdom ruler Ezekiel (Khary Payton) is a born embellisher, creating his King character in order to inspire people and give them hope. There's also Carol at her lowest point, believing there's nothing positive left in the world. There's even a man presenting a gift in order to cheer her up: Daryl gives her the rose; Ezekiel gives her (or tries to give her) a pomegranate.
There's also the titular connection. Episode 1 was titled "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be," which was the exact phrase spoken by Dr. Edwin Jenner (Noah Emmerich) to Rick (Andrew Lincoln) in the Season 1 finale. In "Cherokee Rose," a gross, bloated zombie fans call The Well Walker was trapped in the, uh, well at Hershel's (Scott Wilson) farm. Glenn had to get it out, because it was poisoning the water.
This week's episode is ostensibly titled "The Well" because Ezekiel tells his followers, "Drink from the well, replenish the well." The basic idea is, you get something, you give something back; whether that's an item, or a skill to help the community, or otherwise. But — and here's where the biggest connection to "Cherokee Rose" comes — the well in The Kingdom is also poisoned.
See, Ezekiel is giving tithes secretly to Negan's (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) Saviors, and not telling his followers, in order to keep them happy. Just like the undead thing floating in the water at Hershel's Farm, this well is not safe to drink from. You can take from it, but ultimately the more you take, the less there is to give Negan, and the closer you bring The Kingdom to doom.
That's one other thematic aspect of the episodes that tie together: false hope. By the end of "The Well," Carol has decided to live halfway between The Kingdom and the outside world, in a house right on the border. Ezekiel offers her a pomegranate (a very thinly veiled metaphor for the myth of Persephone getting trapped in the Underworld), and she smirks. We don't find out what choice she ultimately makes, but she's learning.
That's because the Cherokee Rose, like the one Daryl gave Carol back in the day, is based on false hope. The elders in the myth gave the flowers to the mothers crying for their children, but the children didn't come back to life. Similarly, Carol is filled with hope based on the flower Daryl gives her, but it's a trap.
Sophia — though Carol, Daryl and even viewers didn't know it yet — was dead the whole time. And not just dead, she was locked — and zombified — in the barn, just a few dozen feet away from where the group was camped.
I've seen a number of articles (including on TVGuide.com) about how The Walking Dead redeemed itself after the grim, harrowing premiere with this hopeful, funny hour. And don't get me wrong, "The Well" was laugh-out-loud funny, human, and excellently acted.
But if you tie it back to "Cherokee Rose" like we've done above, it's important to understand that this is all about to crumble down. The well has something rotten and dead inside of it, waiting to sicken everything it touches. The only question is, how much has Carol really learned? Will she revert back to pre-Sophia levels? Or this time, will she be able to save The Kingdom from itself?
We can only hope.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.