The Walking Dead returns to it’s slow-burning roots with the pretty darn good third episode. Many of those two-dimensional characters get fleshed out into real, complex personas and deep dark secrets come to light. In the zombie apocalypse, there are worse things to fear than the walking dead.
First up, our loveable crazy racist asshat Merle Dixon finds himself in a right pickle on that empty roof. Both Jesus and Rick have abandoned him and the herd (pack? parliament? murder?) of hungry zombies trying to break down the chained door isn’t helping his sanity. Last week Merle was nothing but a broadly/poorly drawn stereotype, but this week he gets some shades of gray added in. Yes, he is a total jerk and the world would be ever so slightly brighter without him in it. But that doesn’t make him evil, nor does it automatically mean his life is forfeit.
Even someone as vile as Merle is still human. If we start judging the value of human life, deciding who gets to live and when, then we lose our humanity. And if we lose our humanity, how does that make us any different than the walkers? In a way it makes us worse. Zombies are doing what they are programmed to do—eat. By leaving Merle to slowly die alone they are actively and willingly destroying a man. Zombies have no choice in their actions; we do.
While Rick and T-Dog haven’t spent a lot of time thinking out the philosophy, they’re still racked with guilt over leaving Merle behind. But that guilt takes a quick break when Rick reunites with Lori and Shane. It was a lovely scene and Andrew Lincoln acted the shit out of it. Bernthal isn’t quite skilled enough to be able to look both thrilled at the return of his best friend and furious that he now has to step aside (and worried that Lori now knows he lied to her about Rick being dead), but the scene worked wonderfully regardless.
Not much else happens for the rest of the episode. Rick and Lori hook up, the audience gets to know more about the other characters, and the women spend most of the 45 minutes doing laundry. The comic definitely handled this aspect much more adroitly than the show, and maybe it’s a cultural/southern thing, I don’t know, but I do know there’s no way in hell I’d do laundry while some jerkface pig is watching over me like I’m his slave bitch. Apocalypse or no, this ain’t “A Handmaid’s Tale.”
At least Shane gets to defend his leadership role/vent his frustrations by beating the living daylights out of abusive asshole Ed after he hits his cowed wife. Of course that also takes place after Lori cuts Shane out of her life for lying to her about Rick. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but it’s also not a good idea to underestimate a pissed-off ex.
The third episode in any new series is always a pivotal one, more so I’d argue, than even the first. The pilot has two goals: set up the whole season and leave nothing but cliffhangers to coax people into watching the rest of the eps. The second should kick up the intensity and drama by teasing out all the major plot points of the rest of the season.
The third, however, has had all the heavy lifting done for it. It is an episode that exists as just an episode without any behind the scenes wrangling going on. It sets the standard for everything else that follows. Whatever your feelings are about a third episode chances are you’ll carry them with you the rest of the season, even the rest of the series. And my feelings on “Tell It To The Frogs”? Honestly, I’m still not sure. I didn’t enjoy the entire experience, but I also didn’t dislike it either.
It still feels like the writers are wasting a lot of time on scenes and dialogue that are unnecessary to the greater plot. I get that in a six episode season spending too much time on character development and gradual reveals is impossible, but that also makes wasted space less excusable. There was absolutely no reason they couldn’t have gone back to Atlanta by the second commercial break. That frog scene would’ve been fine, but since we’ve already seen several scenes of Shane playing pops to Carl it felt redundant. Lori calling out Shane on his douchitude would still have the same emotional hit without the extended setup.
Which leads me to my other qualm. Look, I get that subtlety is a hard quality to achieve, particularly on camera. It takes very talented cast and writers to walk the line between being Captain Obvious and Kristen “Dead Eyes” Stewart, and I’m still unsure if this show can balance that. With scenes like Rick and Lori’s subtext-fueled conversation in the tent I feel confident that they can, but with Shane staring angrily at the Grimes’s tent with thunder and lightning booming in the distance that niggling sense of worry creeps back.
- “Why would you risk your life for a douchebag like Merle Dixon?” “Hey! Choose your words more carefully!” “No, douchebag is what I meant.”
- “I’m beginning to question the division of labor here.”
- Woo boy, a few hours of isolation on a rooftop surrounded by zombies is apparently enough to drive Michael Rooker cuckoo fraking bananas.
- I’m confused. It’s the end of the world and they have to wash clothes in the quarry, but somehow they managed to scrounge up 19th century washing boards? Who the hell keeps washing boards around?
- Andrew Lincoln gets more likable each scene. I didn’t understand the odd casting choice at first, but he’s proven himself quite capable of handling such a complex roll. I wish the same could be said about Sarah Wayne Callies and Jon Bernthal. Chandler Riggs is still too early to tell. He could end up like those meh kids on Dexter or on the Kiernan Shipka side of awesome. God help us all if he ends up the next Taylor Momsen.
- Whee! The show was renewed for a second season!
- Alan Sepinwall has a couple of great interviews with Frank Darabont and Gale Anne Hurd that get down to the nitty gritty aspects of the show and why they’ve done what they’ve done.
- Sorry this is so late. Spent the last few days eating beignets in New Orleans and my hotel didn’t have cable or internet. We’ll be back to the normal Monday schedule for the rest of the season.
- A reminder that if you’re going to do spoilers, either for the comic or for clips/previews/pirated copies of future eps make sure to give hefty spoiler warnings.
Alex Brown is an archivist in training, reference librarian by day, writer by night, and all around geek who watches entirely too much TV. She is prone to collecting out-of-print copies of books by Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen, and Douglas Adams, probably knows far too much about pop culture than is healthy, and thinks her rats Hywel and Odd are the cutest things ever to exist in the whole of eternity. You can follow her on Twitter if you dare…