After a generally miserable second episode that felt like the boring middle part of a mediocre zombie movie, The Walking Dead had something to prove to me. Could it tell stories are entrenched in any sort of character focus? Could it take its countless stereotypes and make them into characters? Basically, I’m concerned there’s nothing here that makes for a lasting, quality television series.
And while “Tell It To The Frogs” doesn’t completely alleviate my problems with the series overall, it’s the first episode that suggests the series is interested answering those questions I posed with a “yes.” This effort is the quietest thus far, but I think The Walking Dead needed an episode like this because even though it’s just episode three, we’re already at the turning point of this short season. And even for just six episodes, general zombie madness without much character development would be disappointing.
Therefore, “Frogs” is a major step-up from the messy second effort and one that sheds new light on some of the intertwined personal relationships, particularly those between Shane, Rick and Lori.
In my opinion, the only way The Walking Dead is really going to work as a successful television series is if it uses the zombie back-drop for character stories and though Frank Darabont and company have noted that this is their intention, “Frogs” is the first episode where I felt like that was absolutely true. In the most general sense, this series could work exactly like Lost did in the early run where a number of diverse people come together amid a collection of insane things happening to them. My expectations aren’t that high, but that seems like a good template.
For the first two episodes, we’ve been mostly following Rick, but his journey to the camp in the mountains means it’s much easier to shift points of view to the discussions between Shane and Lori, which, at this point, are perhaps the most interesting. When Rick returns to camp, it’s emotional — well-played by Andrew Lincoln, by the way — but the shifty looks between Lori and Shane suggest things aren’t going to be so happy for very long. Interestingly, when Rick and Lori reconnect in the tent at night, she doesn’t seem particularly excited to be in that situation, which could be shock or could be residual anger from their relationship before Rick’s injury (I think it’s more of this).
But then, the first big bombshell of the season comes when it’s revealed that Lori’s just generally pissed off because Shane told her that Rick was dead, so she has even more reason to be angry with Shane. One problem this development (and Shane’s characterization last week) could cause is that he’s now an obvious villain-like character. Sure, he clearly cares about Lori and particularly Carl, but he not only screwed his best friend’s wife, but he also most likely got to that situation by telling the wife that said best friend was dead. Those are some really terrible things to do, even if this episode tries its best to make us buy that Shane is a conflicted guy with complex emotions. I don’t disagree that he is more complex than we’ve seen, but by starting out with so many negative aspects to the character, the series is running a slight risk in making Shane outwardly despicable.
While this is going on, Rick continues to prove that he’s the prototypical hero — to take the Lost discussion further, he’s an obvious Jack — without being too idealistic. I thought last week it seemed a bit too obvious that he was spouting motivational sonnets about how “we’re all in this together!” even though he just met all these folks who had much more experience with the zombie apocalypse, but here, it seems to fit the character more that he would go back to help Merle, even if he just found his family. In reality, it’s basically the same kind of character beat, but the execution of the hero in Rick works here because he has accomplished his primary objective in finding his family and now it’s back to doing what he’s trained to do — help people. I also enjoyed the nice callback to the pilot and Rick’s connection to Morgan and Duane. Andrew Lincoln has been fantastic in every episode, and he continues that great work here.
Finally, “Tell It To The Frogs” gives some of the supporting players some material in the midst of the Rick/Lori/Shane triangle. Daryl Dixon, Merle’s brother, isn’t as annoying or stereotypically racist as his older brother, so that’s nice. Moreover, there’s a semblance of a discussion about the gender roles within the camp, which have seemingly devolved into the traditional ways: men hunt, women clean. That set-up doesn’t sit too well with the women, who get a nice moment of discussion about the things they miss, but unfortunately, one of the men, Ed, is an abusive piece of crap and doesn’t really think women deserve to be having fun while they’re cleaning. While I think this is another instance of characters, particularly men, acting like they’re from 1953 within the content of what seems to be modern-day America, it at least presents the possibility of an interesting discussion about gender roles moving forward.
I’m still not sold on The Walking Dead‘s ability to work as a long-form television series, but there are enough solid character moments in “Tell It To The Frogs” to make me stop complaining for a week.