THE WALKING DEAD 1.3: Tell It to the Frogs

THE WALKING DEAD has been racing up my Must-See TV list with all the relentlessness of a zombie trying to break down the door to a Mensa meeting.

One of the things I have found so remarkable about the first three episodes is that so much emphasis has been placed on characterization of the living. For an action series about brain-gobbling zombies the show has long stretches of quiet time. I was surprised that the narrative pace is not relentlessly up-tempo. In fact, it almost replicates the slower pace of the original comic book series. And that’s a good thing.

Which is not to say that the show lags, or is boring; far from it. The more sedate sequences provide the perfect counterweight to the zombie-killing. In effect, the quiet scenes amplify the loud ones. And when TWD wants to, it can take the gore quotient far beyond the fondest nightmares of CSI. One can almost smell the stench coming off those animated corpses. And the sound effects? Brrr…

One of my favorite sequences so far came in the latest episode Rick (Andrew Lincoln) finally made it to the survivors’ camp, only to unexpectedly come face-to-face with the wife and child he had been hoping to find. Rick’s reunion with his son Carl (Chandler Riggs) was so powerfully acted that even I was almost brought to tears by father and son hugging. Rick was literally staggered by the reveal and could only silently point at his boy. The kid ran into his father’s arms, shouting, “Dad!” They hugged and tumbled to the ground. Top marks to Lincoln for not being afraid to show Rick expressing overwhelming emotion. When Rick drew Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) into his arms, he still was unable to coherently express himself. Meanwhile, Callies’ bug-eyed look of shock was priceless. She was so conflicted, she didn’t know how to react.

The constant rumble of thunder in the distance served as an ominous counterpoint to the happy reunion, like the echoes of things not yet said. (Things like, “Rick, I’m sleeping with your old partner.”) The thunder grew louder as Rick discussed his conviction that his wife and child were alive, and his determination to find them. Whenever they kissed the thunder got even louder. And as they started to make love, the rain came down.

Shane (Jon Bernthal) at first tried to be the better man and step aside, but it wasn’t only his nobility keeping them apart; Lori was determined to go back to being loyal to her husband – whom Shane had told her was dead! She warned him not to come near her or Carl.

I liked the casting of Norman Reedus – whom I enjoyed in the Boondock Saints movies – as Daryl, the hotheaded brother of the racist Merle (Michael Rooker), even if I didn’t like the facile character of the man with the hair-trigger temper. Anyone care to “guess” whether Daryl’s short fuse will get them into trouble next episode?

Rick’s decision to go back into the city for Merle Dixon crystallized the philosophy that a hero does the right thing, no matter what. No matter how difficult it may be. There is no debating that Merle was the most odious survivor of all, an example of people at our worst – but he was still a human being. And leaving a man behind would make the survivors no better than the mindless zombies who turn on each other. “That’s no way for anything to die, let alone a human being,” Rick declared as he lamented handcuffing Merle to a pipe on the roof of a building and abandoning him (though not entirely by choice).

Nice cliff-hanger ending, with Daryl and the boys discovering Merle’s severed hand, but no Merle. To be honest, I didn’t think Merle had it in him to sacrifice the appendage. The racist bully appeared to be all bluster, but I guess the imminent threat of being torn to shreds and eaten will light a fire under anyone!

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