On tonight's episode of The Walking Dead ("Tell It To The Frogs") a confused reunion transpired, we met more survivors, people lost their minds, and Rick played hero. All in all, just a normal day at the end of civilization.
PRO: Merle: Portrait of a Lunatic Hillbilly. The episode picks up exactly where the last left off — Merle Dixon is still trapped on the roof. This opening is riveting television. It's just five minutes of a delirious Michael Rooker losing his shit. He talks to himself, babbles about punching out a commanding officer in the military, and cries while the zombies close in. It's clear he's not all there, and this sequence imbues this chatty episode with a much needed jolt of zombie horror.
We spend so much time with Merle that I hoped we'd have an entire, leftfield episode about him extricating himself from Atlanta instead of Rick and Lori's inevitable reunion. From the most hamfisted character to the most interesting in one episode, kudos. Michael Rooker is the frontrunner in The Most Grizzled Man Alive Competition 2010.
PRO: Merle's brother's name is Darryl. I hope he's married to a woman named Karol, and they have a son named Gerald.
CON: The Atlanta scavengers drive back to camp. Glenn loses all of his zombie survival cred when he drives the sports car up to camp, alarm blazing. Dale gets all avuncular and claims that the alarm was disseminated throughout the hills, so Glenn's a-okay.
PRO: Meanwhile at Camp Adultery, Shane, Lori, and Carl have two minutes to act like a stable family unit before Rick arrives. It's a cute scene, what with Shane yammering about catching frogs and Carl getting a bad haircut. Also, I bet Shane looked like John Oates but had to burn his mustache for kindling.
CON: Lori ruins this moment with a weird joke about performing oral sex on Miss Piggy.
CON: The most awkward family reunion in the history of the zombie narrative. The awkwardness is so palpable that Lori's eyes are the size of silver dollars for approximately 10 minutes.
PRO: We meet more survivors from the comics, Carol and Sophia. We also meet Carol's no-goodnik husband Ed, who never appeared in the comics but was mentioned in passing. He gets a stern reproval from Shane for starting an unnecessary fire.
CON: After Rick and Lori reunite, they have incredibly awkward intercourse with their son asleep in the same room. At least they callously assume he's asleep. The dead are roaming the Earth. Your kid ain't asleep.
CON: In the morning, Rick admits that he's slept better that evening than he's slept in a long time. Really, Rick? It's the zombie apocalypse, and you're able to catch forty winks?
PRO: The survivors discover a zombie dining upon a deer. After clobbering the zombie, Darryl, Merle's Burt-Reynolds-in-Deliverance-but-younger brother shows up. He seems like the kind of guy who'd be sour about finding out that his older racist brother was left handcuffed to a department store. He tells Dale, "You take that stupid hat and go back to On Golden Pond," which is a pretty solid burn. He's also a man of action:
PRO: Rather than tell Darryl that Merle bit in Atlanta, Rick places a high premium on group transparency and tells him the truth. Naturally, Darryl reacts with a marked lack of eloquence and stabbing. Most of the characters we've met thus far seem a little too well-adjusted given all that's happened. It's cathartic to have some crazy around.
PRO: Rick brings Darryl, Glenn, and T-Dog back to Atlanta to save Merle, pick up the ammunition that Rick dropped in the first episode, and to warn Morgan and Duane that Atlanta is a deathtrap. I'm glad Rick tacked on these ancillary reasons — playing the bleeding heart hero would have just made him seem like a reckless doofus.
PRO/CON: The women do the survivors' laundry. We learn that everybody in the cast misses their vibrators, and Carol admits Ed is garbage in the sack. It's good to see folks bonding and staying sane, but this exchange begged for a studio audience making that WOOOOH noise.
PRO/CON: Shane and Lori are very confused now that Rick's back. Shane takes Carl down to catch frogs and comes across as pretty good guy while Rick is on redneck rescue. Lori is irked that Shane ran off with Carl without consulting her, so she blacklists him from ever hanging out with her family. This is a bit of a stupid plan, as there are all of 15 or so people in their little community. To be fair, Shane did tell Lori that Rick was dead. You really can't come back from that, buddy.
PRO: To cheer himself up, Shane kicks the crap out of Ed for smacking Carol.
PRO: The ending was rather burly. Merle didn't have time to cut through his handcuffs, so he chopped his hand off. Yikes.
VERDICT: We're at the halfway point in the first season, and this episode was the slowest one we've seen thus far — this had to do with the fact that it was mostly exposition and characters kept hemming and hawing about whether to save Merle. There were strong points, such as Merle's troubles in Atlanta, Shane's confusion over how he should interact with the Grimes clan (and what the audience should think of Shane), and the introduction of the crossbow-wielding Darryl.
Unfortunately, Rick and Lori's reunion seemed somewhat flat — what was supposed to be tense and muted barely registered. Also, every zombie narrative needs its disposable characters, but so many of the survivors are so far off in the periphery that their deaths wouldn't warrant a shrug.
The show's demonstrated that it's not afraid to deviate from the comics, and the characters multiple meltdowns proved that zombies are barely the biggest problem here. If you follow the comics, you know how the Shane-Lori-Rick love fiasco ends. Given that Shane's interested in keeping order at camp and Rick gravitates towards heroic (and risky) escapades, I wouldn't mind seeing this conflict drawn out or perhaps averted entirely. The possibility for two alpha dogs vying for control of the survivors (and Lori's affections) could be interesting.