Please note: these reviews will contain spoilers for both the show and the comic, so be forewarned.
After a manic second episode, The Walking Dead resumes the slow, thoughtful pace that served the pilot so well. So far the show works much better when it takes its time telling stories, rather than chugging along at a fevered pace.
In a gripping cold open we return to see Merle, still chained to a pipe atop a high-rise in zombie-infested Atlanta. He’s been up there long enough to let whatever was in his system last week (most likely methamphetamines) run its course, and now he’s left facing the cold reality of the situation. It isn’t pretty. If the threat of dehydration and exposure isn’t enough, several zombies make it up the stairwell and begin struggling with the door T Dog chained shut. Merle yells and briefly bargains with his maker as the zombies struggle with the door only a few yards away. The opening credits roll as Merle attempts to snare the just-out-of-reach hack saw with his belt buckle. It’s a pretty powerful little scene, and really helps to humanize the walking stereotype we were handed last week.
Back in camp Lori is giving Carl a much-needed haircut while Shane cleans his shotgun and tries to play dad for the missing Rick. He offers to teach Carl the secrets to catching frogs, but only if he sits still for his haircut. I really liked this scene because it could be easily taken to two very different ways: either Shane is a creepily trying to replace Rick, or he legitimately cares about Lori and Carl and is trying to give them some semblance of normalcy. The Shane of the television series seems much more levelheaded and balanced, so I believe he has fairly decent motivations here, but only time will tell.
We aren’t given too much time to think about it though, as the crew from Atlanta is rolling in, led by Glenn in the Challenger with the still-blaring car alarm. All the survivors have tearful reunions with their families, except for Rick, who stays behind in the van for some unexplained reason. When he finally emerges, Rick first sees Shane, and then his wife and son. The family reunites in a suitably touching scene that’s just a touch over-the-top thanks to lots of slow motion and a swelling score. These issues are easy enough to overlook in light of the fact that a family is brought back together amidst horrible conditions.
Later that night they swap stories around the campfire. Lori informs us that Rick was supposed to have been medevaced to Atlanta, but then that was canceled before falling into a telling silence. Rick, perhaps still euphoric from finding his family, doesn’t pick up on any of these cues. The family reunion is put on hold when Ed, a man who has his own separate campfire with his wife Carol and daughter Sophie, throw on more wood. Shane warns him that they’re trying keep a low profile so as not to attract the zombies, but Ed ignores this rational argument and sullenly ignores Shane. That is, until Shane gets up and walks over there, at which point Ed orders his wife to remove the extra wood from the fire, never making a move himself.
From this small scene we know we’re not supposed to like Ed, another character who wasn’t around in he comic. At best he’s a lazy slob who has a problem with authority, but most likely (and as we’ll see discover) he’s got much worse problems. One of the biggest and most effective themes in the comic is that people are a bigger threat than zombies, and that there are a lot of monsters out there. AMC seems to be picking this up in earnest, but so far most of the bad guys seem to be minor variations of the same hillbilly archetype. I have faith that these conflicts will play out in interesting ways, it just seems as if – only three episodes in – we’re already treading along similar ground.
With Shane on watch duty, looking as lonely as possible, Rick, Lori, and Carl are safely in their tent. Carl is out after a long day, leaving his parents some time to reconnect. It’s an awkward scene to watch: Rick is overjoyed to be back in his wife’s arms, while Lori continues to find things to apologize for while looking guilty as sin. After she gives him back his wedding ring (the same one that made an appearance in last week’s cold open), they have sex. Rick is briefly worried about his son sleeping only a few feet away, but Lori is all too sure that Carl won’t wake up.
The next morning Rick rises to find Lori out hanging clothes to dry. He tells her that he needs to go back into the city; he can’t leave Merle behind, and there’s just something about having a big sack full of guns that appeals to him during the zombie apocalypse. Lori is understandably angered by this, but they aren’t given any time to talk things out as childrens’ screams are heard in the distance. Everyone runs over to help, and find a zombie munching on a deer with several arrows sticking out of its hide.
The men of the camp gather around, giving the zombie a thorough beatdown before the miserable creature is finally decapitated by Dale, the eldest member of the camp and owner of the RV that is almost certainly going to play a big role later in the series. As they’re catching their breath, Merle’s brother Daryl returns from his hunt, quite upset to find that a zombie has been munching on the venison he was trying to procure for the camp.
Daryl’s mood does not improve when he learns his brother never made it back from Atlanta, and has to be restrained by both Shane and Rick after pulling a knife on the latter. The situation is diffused when Lori sarcastically points out that Rick is planning to go back into the city to get Merle. A spirited debate follows, during which Rick justifies leaving his family because of his duty to Merle, the opportunity to reclaim the guns, and because he needs to retrieve his walkie-talkie to prevent Morgan and Duane (the father and son from the first episode) from walking into zombie infested Atlanta. In the end Rick, Daryl, a guilt-ridden T Dog, and Glenn head back toward Atlanta, having borrowed a pair of bolt cutters from Dale who made them promise to bring him back a gun.
In camp, Carl and Shane hang out in the nearby quarry, where Shane attempts to impart his frog hunting expertise onto the boy. It’s a very nice scene, which – in my mind – shows that Shane legitimately cares about Lori and Carl, even with Rick’s sudden return. Lori doesn’t see things that way, however, and quickly puts an end to their bonding time. Pulling Shane aside, she tells him that he’s no longer allowed near her family.
When he acts hurt and confused, Lori drops the bomb: Shane told her that Rick was dead. It’s like a punch in the stomach for everyone thinking Lori abandoned her husband to run off with Shane, or that she and Shane were already involved prior to Rick getting shot. I can’t wait to see how this shakes out in the coming weeks.
Back at the quarry, several woman are doing the wash as Ed looks on menacingly. They laugh and joke about the way the world works now, specifically the division of labor in the camp. When Andrea says she misses her vibrator most from the old world she gets quite a chuckle, but when the subdued Carol agrees, the women erupt in laughter. Ed is not amused, and begins picking at the woman. He wife is quickly cowed, but Andrea refuses to back down.
The situation escalates to violence just as Shane is returning from his fight with Lori. Seeing Ed striking his wife, Shane loses it. He deals Ed a savage beating, promising worse should Ed ever raise his hand to his wife or daughter again. It’s hard to say is Shane’s righteous anger is directed at Ed, at Rick for returning when he never should have, at himself for getting a little too involved with Lori or Carl, or any combination. One this is certain: Shane is starting to crack.
Meanwhile, Rick and company ditch their van and set off on foot into the city. They decide that Merle is the priority, and quickly make their way toward the department store. They manage to get to the roof with minimal trouble, but all they find for their trouble is a pool of blood and Merle’s severed hand. We have to assume the hack saw just wasn’t up to going through the hardened steel handcuffs, or even the rusty screw to which Merle was chained.
The episode ends with a lot of loose ends to tie up. Merle is gone, and probably in pretty rough shape from the lose of blood. Rick, Glenn, Daryl, and T Dog are in Atlanta along with a few thousand zombies. Shane is at the brink of completely snapping. Lori is wracked with guilt, with Carl is stuck in the middle of a situation that simply can’t end peacefully.