'The Walking Dead': Why sending Carol away is Season 4's riskiest move

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"The Walking Dead" hasn't been afraid to try new things in Season 4. From its virus storyline to its absence of the Governor (thus far), this season has been shaking up a formula that worked really, really well in Season 3, and making "The Walking Dead" a better show for it.

Showrunner Scott Gimple pushed that concept a step farther in episode 4 "Indifference" when Rick took Carol away from the Prison and then made her leave their group of survivors without much discussion. This surprising turn of events came after Carol confirmed to Rick that she was the person who murdered Karen and David and then burned their bodies in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.

This dismissal of Carol is a risky move for "The Walking Dead" because it's shaking up a dynamic that has worked so well on the show. Carol has had a major evolution over the series' three previous series, turning from the weak wife of abusive Ed into a fan-favorite strong and intelligent woman who reinvented herself after the death of her daughter. Turning Carol from a character who audiences root for to one who now has been shunned from the group is almost more shocking than finding out she could murder two of their friends and allies simply because she thought it was the right decision to make.

It's hard to believe Carol will be gone from "The Walking Dead" for good, but it's terrifying to think who she could be if and when she comes back. Rick advised her to take on a new identity when she finds a new group to travel with -- if she lasts that long, of course. But who will she turn into? With the Governor still a looming presence in Season 4, there's always the fear that Carol could end up with him. Is she now the type of woman who could look past all the horrible things he's done to decide with her newly honed practicality that he is the best leader for her? Or could she take matters into her own hands to try to take him down like Michonne was trying to do? There are many more possible outcomes available for Carol's life on her own, and it's painful to think of Carol becoming a villain after it was so enjoyable to watch her as one of the show's best heroines.

Hopefully Carol comes back from the darkness like Carl and Rick did in Season 3. It's hard to ignore the irony that Rick, who had a similar problem last season, didn't give Carol a chance to redeem herself for the murders she committed. Maybe he thought he did the right thing by making the call to force her to leave, but that's pretty much the exact same she did by not consulting anyone else in determining the need for Karen and David to die. Tyreese will likely be livid to find out that Carol was the one to murder Karen, yes, but the rest of the group -- especially Daryl -- will likely be furious that Rick sent one of their core members away without so much as a "What do you all think?"

Speaking of Daryl, breaking off his will they/won't they relationship with Carol is arguably the riskiest move of all for "The Walking Dead." The love story between these two characters has been blooming since Daryl helped Carol deal with the loss of her daughter Sophia in Season 2, and the great chemistry between Melissa McBride and Norman Reedus helped fuel fans' desire for Carol and Daryl to get together. It even seemed like the characters were nearing that point in the Season 4 premiere "30 Days Without an Accident," but then this season went a very different path. "The Walking Dead's" producers know fans want that romance, so it's hard to think they'll just ignore it. Daryl's response to finding out Carol is gone will be interesting to see in next week's "Internment," and hopefully he doesn't let Rick off the hook for making this decision solo.

"The Walking Dead" made a tough choice by sending away one of the characters audiences have come to like so much just when she was at the height of her popularity, but it's an exciting indication of the producers' plans for the AMC series. Carol's departure was no Red Wedding, but it does serve to show that no character on "The Walking Dead" is safe and audiences cannot guess where this show is headed.

"The Walking Dead" airs Sundays on AMC at 9 p.m. ET.

Photo/Video credit: AMC