Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Walking Dead 1.3 'Tell It To The Frogs'

“It’s gotta be the brain, don’t y’all know nothing…?” – Daryl

Episode three of The Walking Dead didn’t quite have the excitement and tension of previous weeks but it stepped up the character development which was something that had been skirted around in the previous two episodes, and was sorely needed.

One thing I like about The Walking Dead is that we pick up where we left off the previous week, or at least we have up until this point, thus we begin with Merle still shackled to the department store roof.

Being handcuffed to a roof obviously wasn’t doing Merle’s already unstable mind any good and we found him talking to himself, seemingly removed from reality. When something snapped him back into the present and he remembered his predicament he started to freak out in a rather major way – something exacerbated by the arrival of the walkers at the door to the roof.

Thankfully for Merle, T-Dog had been blessed with the foresight to chain the door shut before he departed and thus the blood-thirsty undead couldn’t get at the bigoted redneck. As Merle desperately tried to get to the saw from the toolbox T-Dog knocked over back in ‘Guts’ it was obvious he must have been up there for some time as his belt was already off and lying there ready to swing in hope.

After the credits we were back with Rick and the remainder of the group he joined up with last week. It was immediately obvious Rick was feeling guilty for effectively chaining Merle up like an animal and nobody’s attempts to alleviate that guilt were going to change that; even more so once he discovered Merle had a brother back at the camp for which they were headed.

Back at camp Shane was attempting to slide into Rick’s fatherly shoes with Carl by offering to teach him how to catch frogs (there’s your title reference) down in the quarry by which their camp is located. It was almost a little difficult to see Carl seemingly so content with his lot, as he was completely unaware of what we now knew, mainly that this whole new existence he has carved for himself as Lori’s lover and Carl’s surrogate father figure was about to capitulate around him as Rick strolled into camp like a knight in shining armour, only in a white minivan rather than on a white horse.

Once the returning group met their respective loved ones, Rick emerged from the van and the look on both Shane and Lori’s faces told a million stories that no one seemed to pick up on.

As the returning group members dispersed from the van, Carl looked dejected and Lori headed off into the background to comfort him – Grimes Junior has obviously been expecting his Dad to be brought back to camp every time a group returns, which begs the question if the kid had faith he was still alive why didn’t Lori? Was it just childhood naivety or something else?

Whilst Carl was overcome with emotion at his old man’s return, Lori’s face said ‘shit’ more than ‘thank God’, as did Rick’s supposed best friend Shane’s face. They had obviously created this far from ideal, but making the best of what they had, life for themselves and here’s Rick coming to fuck it all up for them – it sounds stupid but the world as they knew it ended and now this is their life.

I was a little surprised the reunion wasn’t saved for an episode ending moment, but I still thought that more of a big deal would have been made about Rick reuniting with his family. This is especially true as, rightly or wrongly, the majority of people seemed to think that the lion’s share of the series would be Rick hunting for Lori and Carl before the series began.

I guess though, that knowing what we know, there was no point in trying to make the Grimes family’s reunion in to some poignant moment because things certainly aren’t what they seem.

As Rick got to tell his tale round the campfire we at least got some explanation as to why Rick was left behind at the hospital as Lori disclosed that she was told that patients were being airlifted to Atlanta once things got really bad, we later discovered why she also wrongly believed him to be dead, more on that later though.

Talk soon turned to that racist elephant in the room though and Rick’s guilt over leaving Merle behind had in no way subsided; T-Dog revealing he’d chained the roof door to stop the walkers getting to Merle only seemed to fan the flames for Rick to make the call to go back for him. Rick chose to save this news until the morning so as not to ruin his first night back with the family.

There were further reveals in ‘Tell It To The Frogs’ that made previous moments resonate more. For instance, I’d wrongly assumed last week that the ring on Lori’s necklace was hers and that she’d removed it from her finger out of respect to her ‘dead’ husband given what she was up to with his best friend, but this ring was actually Rick’s and he took it back right before rather inappropriately having sex with Lori while their son slept next to them – I know you’ve been apart for a while but come on!

Before the inappropriate love-making Lori offered Rick an apology for not believing he was alive, Rick was obviously dismissive of this but we all know what she’s really apologising for and although there was no explanation it was kind of satisfying watching her squirm. Lori’s face during the sex though would certainly seem to suggest that things are a long way from being right with this situation in her head.

Rick’s news that he was going back for Merle the next morning wasn’t the only bad news the camp would get that day as they stumbled across a zombie inside their camp rather graphically devouring a deer. After the men of the camp savagely beat and decapitated the walker we were introduced to Merle’s brother Daryl, who had killed the deer for food.

I liked how the zombie head was still ‘alive’ even after being decapitated and how Daryl calmly put an arrow through it – see opening quote.

After having it out with Daryl and explaining that he’s going back for Merle, Rick further justified his plan to return to the city by citing the collection of his gun bag from episode one as a sweetener. We also got the carrot dangled of Morgan and his son as Rick spoke of the walkie-talkie also in that bag that he needed to contact Morgan to tell him to stay out of the city.

With Rick heading off with Daryl, Glenn and T-Dog we remained at camp where we got an interesting examination of the women’s role in the camp. The end of the world as they knew it has seemingly set women’s progression back hundreds of years as they found themselves doing the laundry while the men stood around smoking and fooling around in the quarry.

This will be a really interesting study if they pursue it in future episodes – although there is no male-female divide or class system or anything like that anymore, are these people all equal as you would expect? It certainly doesn’t seem that way.

The women doing chores wasn’t just included to examine sexism in communities it also led to a pretty big development. We’d already had the set up of Ed being controlling of his wife & kid and his dissension with Shane, but after his wife Carol started to have fun with the other female members of camp he interjected himself into the conversation and it was revealed that he’s abusive.

Shane was in the wrong place at the wrong time in that he’d just had Laurie take out her frustrations with everything on him and kill stone dead their little tryst, so he in turn took out his frustrations on Ed, beating him half to death for his misogynistic ways.

The Walking Dead might be set in this dystopian world but abusive husbands and damaged wives still exist and although it was somewhat difficult to care about these thinly drawn characters when Carol ran over to the bloodied Ed after all he’d done to her and apologised it just proved that even a zombie apocalypse can’t free some people from abusive relationships.

It was interesting to learn during Lori’s dressing down of Shane that it was he who had told her Rick was dead – did he do this genuinely believing Rick was dead or did he have the ulterior motive of stepping into Rick’s shoes and effectively stealing his family? I’m very intrigued to see how much further we delve into that in the coming weeks.

On the other hand was Lori more to blame for not having the faith that her son had that his Dad was still alive? Did she easily accept Rick as being dead to justify the affair with Shane or did she truly believe it – the psyche behind what those two were thinking is one of the more captivating plot threads dangling at the moment.

And so to the closing moments of the episode and the rescue team arriving back on the department store roof. Daryl’s reaction seemed to signify that Merle had been had by the walkers but the camera panned round to reveal a severed hand and some bloody handcuffs…

…So Sarah Wayne Callies is going to have another one handed redneck to contend with.

If there’s a more appropriate image to end an episode of The Walking Dead on than anything stained with blood then I’d like to see it.

Bullet Points:

- Daryl Dixon is expertly played by Norman Reedus, who I remember from Gossip and Blade II but who has been quiet in recent years; he was really good in this episode and is less cartoonish than Merle in his redneckery, I would really like to see him added to the main cast eventually.

- There continues to be some nice moments of comedy peppered in with all the heavy stuff. Two stand-outs tonight, both of which were central to the actual storylines going on were, Shane’s discussion of Merle being a douchebag with Daryl and Rick and the “I miss my vibrator” line down at the quarry.

- Seeing characters bartering for everyday items such as bolt cutters is a subtle way of really getting across to the audience how far removed from the world we know this dystopian world the characters occupy really is.

- I don’t want these reviews to turn into me constantly bashing Sarah Wayne Callies but in that scene in the tent when Carl told her not to worry about Rick, young Chandler Riggs who plays Carl put across more emotion than Callies has yet.

Maybe it’s me that’s missing something in her as an actress because to keep getting these big roles she must give off something that show-runners pick up on. I can only hope that what I perceive as her extremely wooden acting doesn’t hamper my enjoyment of the remainder of the series, because right now this is the best show on television.

The Walking Dead continues Friday @ 10pm on FX


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