Quick Take: The pace changes as characters become the focus.
Last night’s episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead took us to the half-way point of the show’s first season (a longer second season was commissioned earlier this week). Up until this episode the only character we had managed to get a good handle on is Rick; his quest to be reunited with his wife and child had been the focus of the first two episodes and so other characters had either there to be comic relief or to hint at conflicts yet to come.
‘Tell it to the Frogs’ attempts to redress the storytelling imbalance and to humanize some of the figures we have only seen, up to now, in the back of long shots or dispensing single lines of important information. It does this, not with monologues or complicated back-stories, but by showing us the way they interact with one another and the way they respond to pressure and tension.
The two characters that we observe most in the episode are Rick’s wife Lori and his best friend Shane, who Lori had been sleeping with. Rick’s arrival back at camp turns both of their worlds upside down and provides much of the episode’s tension as we wonder if Lori and Shane can keep their secret and whether Rick’s friendship with Shane can survive.
I liked the scenes in which Rick and Lori reconnected and appreciated how low-key and tenderly they were played. The hope that she shows when he mentions the possibility of their having a second chance (not realizing what those words are meaning to her) felt quite real and sets up an interesting chain of events later in the episode as she confronts Shane and we learn more about how she came to be sleeping with him in the first place.
While I found Lori’s reactions to Rick’s returns interesting, I found Shane’s to be the more compelling as Rick’s return causes a more visible shift in his characterization. In the first two episodes we have seen him presented as a clear leader of the band of survivors, loudly telling the group to stick together and that venturing out of camp to save their friends or strangers is not worth the risk. By the end of this episode we have seen his views disregarded (as Rick and several of the others head for Atlanta), Lori blaming him for her infidelity and finally we see him taking out all of his frustrations in a brawl with a member of the group. Shane appears to be headed into a very dark place and it will be interesting to see how he emerges.
The other members of the group get much less to do but by showing them going about their daily lives we get more of a sense of them as characters. One scene in which a group of the women share their frustrations concerning the inequality of the division of responsibilities within the camp is particularly well written and performed, providing insight into their different personalities. While I feel there is a long way to go before I can say I truly know any of these characters, it does at least make me feel a little more attached to them.
While people talk (and fight) back at base camp, Rick leads a team back into Atlanta in search of Merle Dixon who was last seen on a rooftop handcuffed to a railing. The reveal of his fate is pretty underwhelming as most of the audience probably had figured out what would happen to him at the end of the previous episode, so smartly the resolution does not linger on too long.
I did like the decision though to show Merle on the rooftop, ranting and raving as heat exhaustion takes its toll on him. It not only allowed Michael Rooker a chance to portray a descent into desperation but it made it clear just what the decision to leave Merle on top of the building meant for him. I suspect that if he wasn’t happy with Rick before he certainly won’t be now. No doubt he can’t wait to get his hand on him!
With much of the episode focusing on building up the supporting cast of characters, action takes a back seat for the most part. Aside from two brief violent scenes, there was little in the episode to satisfy those craving the adrenaline-pumping action of the first two episodes.
This change of pace was probably to be expected as presumably not every character will survive the season and so we needed to get to know them before some of them bite the dust. As we become invested in their fates, episodes such as these will become more powerful. Unfortunately for now, it seems like an awkward change of pace from a show that has yet to settle down and establish a regular style.
So far in three episodes we have seen the series be a gripping suspense piece, an entertaining action-adventure and a grim character drama. The Walking Dead does none of these styles badly but I was left feeling a little disappointed when the episode did not deliver the thrilling action or gripping visuals of the first two weeks. Hopefully future weeks will see the series establish a format that balances the best parts of each of these three episodes.
– Aidan Brack