There’s a moment, a bunch of issues into Robert Kirkman’s ‘Walking Dead’ comic book series, when our hero Rick Grimes looks directly at the reader. In a big two-page splash, he says, “WE are the Walking Dead!” This was the undercurrent of the comic book series that had always been there, now literally writ large. We see the beginnings of these undercurrents in this week’s episode, ‘Tell It to the Frogs’. It’s high on human melodrama and low on the shambling undead. But hey, we are the walking dead.
The biggest thing to happen in ‘Tell It to the Frogs’ is that Rick Grimes and assorted Atlanta survivors make it back to the camp just outside of town (apparently). It’s a grassy hollow where people are camping out, hunting for food, and flagrantly using hoary Southern accents for no particular reason. (It certainly isn’t for authenticity – maybe to give ‘True Blood’ a run on its Southern Gothic horror clichés?) Of course, the tension is already in place. Throughout the super-sized pilot and Episode Two, we’ve cut away to the camp to see Grimes’ lovely wife (played by the woman from ‘Prison Break’) now in the arms of his deputy, Shane. Here the betrayal is deepened in multiple scenes, including one towards the end of the episode in which Shane acts overtly fatherly to Grimes’ son.
It’s enough to make you feel ooky. The moment that Grimes comes back from his extended sojourn in the zombie-infested metropolis of Atlanta, there’s an “oh shit” moment that the characters share, and so does the audience. How, exactly, this will play out remains a mystery. It’s a joyous scene, but like all things ‘Walking Dead’, it’s tempered by extreme dread. One of the best moments comes that night when Grimes, wanting to get a little somethin’-somethin’ from his wife, looks over to their son sleeping nearby. “Don’t worry, he won’t wake up,” she coos. As an audience, we know why she says that: because she’s been getting down with Shane in exactly the same way for months now.
Unfortunately, there’s some prickly plot stuff that keeps us from fully wallowing in this emotional quagmire. A redneck (played by Norman Reedus from ‘The Boondock Saints‘) wants to go back to Atlanta to get his similarly redneck brother (played by Michael Rooker). The survivors, racked with guilt and plagued by obligation, agree to go. While we only see bits of that (literally – we see Rooker’s severed hand hanging out on the top of the building where they left him), it’s enough to bring down the sentimental oomph of the episode. But the rest of the episode is not without a couple of shocking moments:
Moment #1: Grimes’ wife tells Shane to never touch her again. The reason? Shane told her that Grimes was shot dead. This was, very much, a LIE. Shocking!
Moment #2: When the women of the camp are washing their clothes in a nearby stream – with wonderfully real and surprisingly frank dialogue (“I miss my vibrator,” one of them says; “Me too,” another chimes in) – a redneck husband of one of the women (an actress from Darabont’s ‘The Mist‘, actually) comes along, talks some shit, and slaps her. The other women start freaking out. Shane, in a misguided sense of do-doodery (as well as sensing an outlet for his frustration), beats the ever-loving shit out of the redneck. The women recoil. They get it too: We are the walking dead.