There was a certain point in tonight’s The Walking Dead where I just completely disconnected from our hero. Newly reunited with his family, Rick suddenly decides to risk life and limb to go back to infested Atlanta in order to rescue a person so awful he has mostly registered as a cartoon version of a racist. After his wife argues with him about it, Rick comes up with a couple of other reasons to return to Atlanta - the group could really use the guns he left behind, and he needs to get to the walkie-talkie to warn Morgan and his son, who are supposed to be following him to the city. But these reasons come secondary and tertiary to Rick’s “I’m a big hero and I can’t let a bad thing be done, even in the middle of a fucking zombie apocalypse” act.
And so I find myself drawn to Shane, a character who seems more reasonable. As you’ll recall Shane had been shacking up with Lori, Rick’s wife, thinking that Rick was dead. This episode Lori sort of mentions that Shane led her to believe that Rick was dead when he wasn’t, but it’s unclear what he told her and why (telling Lori her husband was dead would certainly be the kind of lie you might tell to motivate someone to evacuate town during a zombie attack, and it seems reasonable when done for survival purposes). Her cause is not helped by the fact that she delivers the line in the middle of a hissy fit against Shane, who has just been doing some very nice bonding with young Carl and who reasonably asks to talk to her about the new situation. If Lori thinks that Shane lied to her only to get into her pants, this point needs to be made more clearly.
And then Shane does what I was hoping he would do, but what the show seems to want me to think is bad - he beats the living shit out of Ed, the guy who doesn’t stick to safety discipline, who bosses around the ladies while they do laundry and who beats his wife. If ever a character deserved a savage and extended punching, it’s Ed. By the end of the episode Rick was headed back to serious, stupid danger while Shane was righteously punishing a wife beater. Who am I supposed to be rooting for again?
Of course that’s maybe the point. In the comic the Rick/Shane divide was clearer, and I like that the show is giving me some room to be on Shane’s side. And to be fair, the show is making more of an effort to explain why Rick has to go back to Atlanta than the comic did; there was no rooftop Merle in the comic, and Rick just waltzed back into danger because he wanted to pick up some guns, which is stupid as hell. But just like in the comic no one has raised a convincing argument for why it has to be Rick who goes back; yeah, those were Rick’s cuffs on Merle, but there’s a camp full of able-bodied men who can go on the expedition. Hell, Shane’s a great choice to lead the group this time around.
This episode did the character dynamics better than Guts, but The Walking Dead still seems to have little room for shades of grey. Ed’s just a fucking douche, for instance. There’s no humanity to that character, and it’s like Merle v2.0. Daryl, however, played by puffy-eyed Norman Reedus, might well have something else going on within him. He’s still a bit more cliche redneck than I like, but he at least seems to be interested in doing things like helping feed the camp. Daryl with that group makes some sense, and maybe once you realize that Merle comes with Daryl the idea of keeping Merle around makes more sense. It still doesn’t quite answer the question of why the hell anybody allowed Merle to go with the group earlier, though - it seems obvious he would be more trouble than he’s worth.
Tell It To The Frogs felt a bit like a wheel spinner, which is weird considering there are only six episodes this season. I liked the simmering tension when Rick returned to camp, and I’m interested in seeing how the TV version plays out versus the comic version - the show has already proven to be quite willing to go off-book. I just hope that Rick can win me back - there’s a certain point where selfless heroism is just actually selfish, and he’s already ventured right into that territory. Character motivations were never Robert Kirkman’s strong suit, and in the comic he would often have people doing things because of narrative expediency or because he (seemingly) couldn’t bother to come up with something that wasn’t trite and cliche. There’s an interesting dynamic tension in seeing how a man like Rick, a man of honor and integrity, tries to retain his sense of self in a pure survival situation like this, but there has to be realism about it. If the TV version of Rick is going to keep acting like a big, dumb boy scout, I’m going to lose any interest I built in him.
What do you think, Henri and Meredith? Am I crazy or is Shane the most likable character right now? Did this episode feel a little bit like walking in place, plotwise? And do you think Carl was awake and listening to his parents do it?