Season One, Episode Three: Tell It To The Frogs
Directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton
We’re back. After a startlingly brilliant debut episode and a slightly disappointing second, this burgeoning series shuffles back on track with an entry that really echoes the book’s tone despite its narrative deviances, additions, and flourishes. Already, we’re halfway through the first season and we’ve barely scraped past the halfway mark of the initial graphic novel, a decision that we can only hope pays off since there’s so much ground to cover and it would be heartbreaking not to get to see it develop to the fabulously complex and dark depths that the comics delve to with such realism.
But let’s put worries aside for a moment and just relish the fact that this series is back on top form and doing such a fantastic job of emulating the same slow-burn, social commentary microcosm that Robert Kirkman tackles with such verve and vigour in the books. Escaping the sagging death trap that is Atlanta, our band of heroes make it back to camp and Rick is finally re-united with his wife and son. Unbeknownst to him she’s been getting rather friendly with his best friend in his presumed-dead-absence and tensions slowly rise throughout the episode between them. We also get to deal with the ongoing chronicles of fabricated-for-TV character Merle Dixon. who anyone who’s been watching will know was last seen stranded, handcuffed on a roof whilst a bay of zombies hammered down upon him.
The episode kicks off on bad form thanks to an overly long and confused opening devoted purely to watching Merle gradually break down, pull himself together again, turn to Jesus and then flip to bitter, insidious resentment and determination to escape his desperate situation. It’s not helped by some seriously muddled and just plain odd direction and camera movements that fail to engross the viewer in the situation playing out, something that’s mildly embarrassing when it’s so obviously vying to tug at our emotional chords.
But thankfully it’s all uphill from there. Andrew Lincoln has really settled into his role as lead Rick (and the accent that it comes with) and Jon Bernthal is incredibly sympathetic as ‘the other man,’ Shane. But it’s actually Chandler Riggs as Rick’s son Carl who shows the most promise. Indeed, avid readers of the comics will gain extra enjoyment from this episode thanks to it laying the subtle groundwork for many of the pivotal events to arise a little further down the road.
It also embraces the day-to-day life of the people thrown into this absurdly bleak world where misanthropy should be a constant but instead Darabont’s team (and Kirkman of course) awash their characters with an eclectic array of textures and colours, allowing them all just enough space to breathe and grow as individuals. Sure there are some hammy lines here and there, and some performances certainly shine more than others, but in a show that’s preparing to have so many balls up in the air at once one can only appreciate the care that’s being paid to try to respect the original material’s intentions.
Since the last review, The Walking Dead emerged with the highest numbers in AMC’s history. That’s including mega-hits such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad. It’s also many to accomplish the honour of largest demo audience for any series premiere on any cable network this year – so it’s obvious you’re all loving it, at least.
Personally I’m still waiting to see if it’s going to be prepared to delve as dark and as fast as the comics do. But until then I’m happy to report that despite not being the ‘greatest TV show ever’ as some are branding it, The Walking Dead is a storming success so far and is certainly amongst the most maturely handled and faithful comic book adaptations I’ve ever come across. As an additional note, let me sign off by quoting the writer of the original books Robert Kirkman, in a paragraph taken from his introduction to the first graphic novel, in the hope that those of you too squeamish to brave this series yet might suck it up and take a chance:
“I’m not trying to scare anybody. If that somehow happens as a result of reading this comic that’s great, but really . . . that’s not what this book is about. With The Walking Dead I want to explore how people deal with extreme situations and how these events CHANGE them. I’m in this for the long haul . . . Everything in this book is an attempt at showing the natural progression of events that I think would occur in in these situations. This is a very character-driven endeavour. How these characters get there is much more important than them getting there.”