The Walking Dead is on hiatus. Beginning on December 1, 2013 and not coming to a conclusion until February 9, 2014, the break has left something of a void for fans everywhere. Fortunately, we already have three and a half seasons to hold us over into the New Year, and I will be recapping some of the best, worst, and most fun episodes of the show's run so far. In this installment, I re-examine the third episode of the first season, entitled "Tell It to the Frogs."
(For those who want to skip the rather lengthy and lovingly snarky recap, the review is at the bottom the page.)
Here we go!
Previously on The Walking Dead: Shane and Lori have an affair; Morgan and Duane rescue Rick, and Rick leaves them with a walkie talkie so that he can guide them to safety; Rick drops a bag of guns in the streets of Atlanta when he is swarmed by Walkers; he finds and pockets a hand grenade from dead PFC Chekhov in an abandoned tank, then encounters a group of survivors scavenging a department store, including Glenn, T-Dog, Andrea, Jacqui, Morales, and Merle Dixon; methed-out Merle erupts and attacks T-Dog, leading Rick to handcuff him to a pipe on the roof of the department store; Walkers attack Rick and Co.; T-Dog drops the key to the handcuffs and is forced to abandon Merle on the roof.
Merle Dixon is alone on the roof of the high-rise department store, handcuffed and ranting to the heavens about his unfortunate situation. His wrist is torn bloody from his attempts to free himself of the handcuffs, and he is clearly fighting a losing battle against heatstroke. See, Merle, this is why you flip out and attack innocent bystanders indoors. Walkers begin to press against the door to the roof, and the panicking Merle--who has clearly never seen Mad Max--struggles to reach a hacksaw that will totally definitely absolutely cut through the cuffs just fine.
Rick drives away from the city in the commandeered moving van that had facilitated their escape, heading toward the survivors' camp. He is clearly wracked by guilt about leaving Merle behind. Morales, riding shotgun, tells him not to worry. "Nobody's gonna be sad that he didn't come back...except maybe Daryl," says Morales. "I don't know who that is," says Rick, "but I have a feeling that he's gonna be awesome." Morales says that Daryl is Merle's brother. Then, before Rick has the chance to ask anything else about his future BFF, they hear a car alarm wailing behind them. A gleeful Glenn speeds past in a hot-wired Mustang, enjoying the fact that the zombie apocalypse has turned the Georgia roadways into one giant Autobahn. Good attitude, Glenn. It's the little things in life.
Back at the camp, Jim hangs a foolproof string of tin cans that will totally alert the survivors if any Walkers approach from the thick foliage of the surrounding forest. "Phew," he thinks to himself, "now we're all safe. Time to dig some holes!" Elsewhere, Lori tries to give Carl a haircut. Shane cleans a rifle and--having already bedded Lori--moves on to Stage II of "Operation: Steal Rick's Family," offering to teach Carl how to catch frogs and touting the culinary virtues of "Cajun-style Kermit-legs." Lori: "I would rather eat Miss Piggy." Shane snickers, but he is quickly distracted by the sound of Glenn's car alarm as he speeds toward them.
The World's Worst Lookout (also known as "Dale") narrates as Glenn pulls into camp. Shane bellows for him to turn off the alarm, then proceeds to yank the battery out of the car. Amy runs up to badger Glenn about her sister, and Glenn says that she--along with everybody else--is okay. "Well, Merle not so much," Glenn amends, but nobody really cares. Shane berates Glenn for bringing back the noisy car. "Sorry," says Glenn, "I guess my whole 'helping-people-and-not-trying-to-steal-my-dead-best-friend's-family' thing really clouded my judgment. So, what did you accomplish for the good of the group today, Shane?" Not really. But he should have.
The moving van pulls up to camp, thankfully with less noise than Glenn's stolen Mustang. Morales--who's basically the nicest guy ever--tells Rick to come meet everybody. Andrea emerges, and Amy--who I immediately judge for wearing white pants while camping in the zombie apocalypse--rushes to hug her. Aw, cute. I hope that one of them doesn't get munched by a Walker in an upcoming episode or something. Morales' wife and kids run toward him. Aw, I hope that they stick around for a few seasons. We get a glimpse of the awesomeness that is Jacqui, but focus quickly shifts to Lori and Carl. Carl has begun to cry, presumably because he misses his father. Or because he realized that Shane was serious about eating frogs. For his part, Shane doesn't look particularly relieved as he asks how they managed to escape the city. "New guy got us out," says Glenn, and Morales yells for Rick to join them. Rick exits the van...and we get what is probably the most heartfelt and optimistic scene of the entire series as Rick reunites with his family. Even the music is touched. Shane smiles, looking gobsmacked and genuinely pleased...for about four seconds, at which point he realizes that "Operation: Steal Rick's Family" has taken an unexpected turn. "Well, this sure is conflicting!" he thinks.
Night. Most of the survivors huddle around a low central campfire, listening to Rick recount his tale as his family snuggles around him. Carl says that Lori had told him that Rick had died, and Rick responds that she had every reason to believe that to be the case. Shane says that he barely managed to get Carl and Lori to safety. "I can't tell you how grateful I am to you, Shane," says Rick earnestly. Lori stares daggers at Shane, who just looks miserable.
One tent over, Ed adds another log to his own fire. Shane calls over to remind Ed that they need to keep the flames low to avoid attracting attention, but Ed says that Shane needs to mind his own business. Shane gets up and stalks over to confront Ed. As he forgot to grab the measuring tape on the way over, they settle for glaring at each other for a few moments before Ed gives in. "Go on, pull the damn thing out," he spits at his wife, who is...Carol. Carol does as she is told, and Shane checks in with her and Sophia before returning to his own fire...
...where Dale mentions the fact that they really ought to consider Daryl's reaction to the news of what had befallen Merle. T-Dog and Rick each try to take the blame, leading Glenn to point out that "the news might sound better coming from a white guy." Oh, Season 1 Daryl. It was so uncomfortable to love you. Amy suggests that they lie, but Andrea argues that they should simply tell Daryl the truth. "Merle was out of control. Something had to be done, or he'd have gotten us killed. If Merle got left behind, it is nobody's fault but Merle's," she says. Dale doesn't think that Daryl will respond very well to that reasoning. "Word to the wise," he warns, "we're gonna have our hands full when he gets back from his hunt." Yes, the hunt for which he is risking his life to provide food for your whole ungrateful camp, Dale.
T-Dog shakes his head and makes his terrible confession: "I stopped long enough to chain that door. My point...Dixon's alive, and he's still up there, handcuffed on that roof." Well, that's a horrible fate. I'm glad somebody feels bad about it.
Chez Grimes. Carl lays down in his cot, says goodnight to his father, and shuts his eyes. According to Lori, Carl then immediately falls asleep and will not wake, no matter what parental shenanigans go down four feet away from him. Alrighty then. Rick climbs onto another cot with Lori, who quite sincerely apologizes for leaving him behind. Rick asserts that they now have a second chance with one another, and Lori turns down the lamp. Outside, Shane watches the tent as shenanigans ensue within. I'd yell at him for not watching the whole camp, but Jim hung up that string of tin cans, so they're fine.
Morning. Rick wakes alone in the tent to find new clothes laid out for him. He goes outside and sees that Carol has washed his uniform for him. "Hey, did you happen to find a grenade in my pocket?" he asks. Not really. But I'd have more faith in his leadership if he did. Also, I'd be lying if I said that I picked up on that the first time that I watched this episode.
Dale, Jim, and Morales strip the Mustang to pieces for parts, much to speed demon Glenn's dismay. Rick approaches a glowing Lori...and immediately kills the mood by telling her that he's been thinking about Merle. Good morning to you too, Officer Friendly. Shane drives up with a Jeep full of water and tells everybody to boil before use. How strangely practical for this bunch! Maybe they sense that Carol would not respond well to somebody getting sick. Suddenly, the shrieks of young children who are not being properly supervised in the zombie apocalypse echo through the camp. The adults frantically race to the rescue--jumping over the motionless string of tin cans--and discover a Walker bent over the body of a deer, enthusiastically chomping on its neck. The deer, it should be noted, already has several crossbow bolts sticking out of its flank. What a lazy Walker! The menfolk shift into Lord of the Flies mode and attack the Walker, beating it with sticks and chopping at it with axes and bashing it with baseball bats...and doing just about everything except destroying its brain. Dale finally beheads the Walker with a mighty swing of his axe, and the men exchange nods of triumph. Wow, good thing it only took six of them to subdue the dead guy. Season 1 was adorable.
The Walker-killers extraordinaire relax for a moment before they hear a twig breaking, causing them to snap back into action mode. Fortunately, however, it is not a second Walker who emerges from the forest, but...Daryl! He strides into view, carrying a crossbow and therefore being automatically cool. The other men exchange wary looks, and Rick--apparently never having seen The Boondock Saints--is not immediately excited by the new arrival.
Daryl enters the clearing and is reasonably calm...until he sees the munch marks on the deer. "Son of a bitch! That my deer! Look at it, all gnawed-on by this filthy, disease-bearing, motherless, poxy bastard!" he yells, punctuating each word with a kick at the Walker's body. Oh, Daryl. I do love your choice of insults. Dale tells him to calm down. "What do you know about it, old man? Why don't you take that stupid hat and go back to On Golden Pond? I been tracking this deer for miles. I was gonna drag it back to camp, cook us up some venison. It's a damn shame. I do got some squirrel, about a dozen or so. That'll have to do," says Daryl. "Thank you, Daryl, for going out of your way, all on your own, and risking your life to supply our whole camp with much-needed nourishment in this desperate time!" exclaims...nobody. Jerks. Then, the decapitated Walker head begins to chomp at the feet of the adjacent menfolk. "Come on, people, what the hell?" asks Daryl, sounding completely exasperated. "It's gotta be the brain. Don't y'all know nothing?" He fires a crossbow bolt through the detached head--earning himself the Zombie Kill Of The Week--and moves on. Yeah, wow, what a monster. He definitely deserves to find out in a horribly insensitive and public manner that his only surviving family member in the entire world had been left to die of exposure. Still, I find it strangely hilarious that Daryl has seen On Golden Pond. Forget spinoff; Daryl needs a prequel series.
Anyway, Daryl strides into camp, where everybody is standing in the shade. Nice to see that they're all pulling their weight. He calls for Merle. "Got us some squirrel!" he shouts, waving a string of dead varmints in the air and sounding inordinately pleased about the prospect of squirrel meat. Although, I've never had squirrel, so maybe I shouldn't judge. Shane stops Daryl and announces that they need to talk. Daryl picks up on Shane's tone, and everybody watches as he asks if Merle is dead. "I'm not sure," says Shane.
For some reason, Daryl finds Shane's response inadequate. Durn rednecks and their need for answers! Rick steps in. "Your brother was a danger to us all, so I handcuffed him to a roof...he's still there," says Rick bluntly. "Let me process this. You sayin' you handcuffed my brother to a roof, and you left him there?" Daryl yells, looking horrified. And maybe a tiny smidge angry. "Yeah," says Rick, then adds, "and I know that this is bad timing and all, but I'm feeling some serious best-friend-vibes here. What do you think?" Instead of dignifying him with a response, Daryl throws his string of squirrels at Rick. Shane, perhaps interpreting this as the way that rednecks accept friendship, tackles Daryl before Daryl can leap at Rick. "Over my dead body are you replacing me, Daryl!" shouts Shane, prompting Daryl to draw a knife. "Just wait until next season, jackass!" Daryl tries to answer, but Shane puts him in a chokehold. Touche, Shane. I may have paraphrased a little bit in this scene.
Anyway. "Chokehold's illegal," Daryl sputters, struggling against Shane. Soon, however, he calms down enough for Rick to explain why he cuffed Merle. T-Dog interrupts to take the blame. "It's not Rick's fault. I had the key. I dropped it," says T-Dog. "You couldn't pick it up?" obviouses Daryl, and I laugh inappropriately. T-Dog is less amused, and he just explains that he dropped the key down a drain. He tells Daryl that he chained the door, preventing Walkers from getting to and devouring Merle. "Oh, good, thanks, my brother can just die of thirst and sunstroke now," says Daryl. Not really. He actually takes all of this fairly well, considering. Almost crying, he demands that Rick tell him where Merle is so that he "can go get him."
"He'll show you," says Lori, and Rick nods. "I'm going back." Of course you are.
Rick changes back into his cop uniform and does not seem to notice the lack of grenade. As he prepares to depart, Shane asks why Rick would risk his life to go after "a douchebag like Merle Dixon." Daryl protests Shane's choice of language but doesn't seem to particularly disagree with the sentiment. Rick says that nobody deserves to die chained to a building. Shane clearly disagrees, and Lori is not without reservations of her own. "So, you and Daryl? That's your big plan?" she scoffs incredulously. "Hey, wait 'til Season 3," mutters Daryl, but Rick just turns to look significantly at Glenn. "Oh, come on!" he protests halfheartedly. Shane objects to three men risking their lives, which prompts T-Dog to volunteer for the mission as well. Shane maintains that they need the bodies at camp to combat any wandering Walkers...leading Rick to explain about the bag of guns that he'd dropped in Atlanta. Shane changes his tune at the mention of the guns, but Lori and Carl step up to the plate. Rick plays the Morgan/Duane card and tells his wife that he needs to retrieve the walkie talkie that had been in the bag. Ultimately, everybody is successfully guilted into giving in. Well played, Rick.
Rick and T-Dog approach Dale to barter for the bolt cutters that would be needed to free Merle. Dale agrees to lend the tool, on the condition that the moving van's parts be sacrificed to repairing his RV upon their return to camp. Daryl leans on the van's horn and bellows for them to hurry up. He's so charming. Shane approaches and gives Rick his few remaining bullets. "You were just kidding about those BFF vibes with Daryl, right?" asks Shane. "Thanks!" says Rick, and the rescue party leaves. "Just let me love you!" Shane yells after him.
Chez Grimes. Carl reassures his mother that Rick with return to them. Chandler Riggs and Sarah Wayne Callies look remarkably alike in this scene.
Atlanta. Daryl threatens T-Dog, who maintains that no Walkers could have gotten to Merle. Strategist Glenn decrees that they will rescue Merle first and then go after the guns.
Camp. Shane takes Carl down to the nearby water quarry to make good on his promise to teach Carl his super secret method of catching frogs. As it happens, this method involves a lot of raucous laughter and splashing, which I've heard tell are very effective for attracting frogs. Lori marches over and orders Carl to return to the camp proper. Carl leaves. Shane protests, but Lori is furious with him for telling her that Rick had died. She storms away. "Just let me love you!" Shane yells after her.
Off to the side of the quarry, the non-Lori womenfolk do actual work, scrubbing clothes on washboards while Shane and Carl were fooling around in the water. "I'm beginning to question the division of labor here," says Jacqui. You go, Jacqui! I look forward to your many future years on this show. Amy commiserates with Jacqui, but Carol--closely watched by a sedentary Ed--says that "it's just the way it is." The women then begin to list the things that they miss from before the world ended. Carol misses her washing machine; she sure knows how to live it up. Andrea misses her Benz; shut up, Andrea. Jacqui misses her fancy coffee-maker; amen, Jacqui. Amy misses her computer and texting; A+ on the prioritizing there, Amy. Andrea doubles back and says that she also misses her vibrator, which leads to a bit of giggling. Carol looks around to make sure that Ed is out of earshot before admitting that she too misses her vibrator. This leads to a lot of giggling. It's very cute...until Ed walks up to interrupt. "You oughta focus on your work," he says. "This ain't no comedy club."
Atlanta. The fantastic foursome fight their way through the building upon which Merle had been left. Rick gives Daryl signals, leading Daryl to take down a female Walker with ease. "We're such a good team," whispers Rick. Daryl just retrieves his crossbow bolt.
Quarry. Ed stands over the women as they work, much to Andrea's irritation. "Ed, tell you what...you don't like how your laundry's done, you are welcome to pitch in and do it yourself," she snarks, tossing a wet shirt at him. He snarls and throws it right back at her, which...is kinda fair. I mean, yeah, Ed deserves a good punch to the face, but nobody wants a wet shirt thrown at them. Don't dish it out if you can't take it, Andrea. Still, Ed takes it too far and calls her an "uppity smartmouth bitch" before ordering Carol to come with him. The women try to intervene, but Ed snaps, slapping Carol hard across the face. Shane appears and proceeds to beat the hell out of Ed. It's very satisfying...until Shane goes too far, and it suddenly isn't anymore. Psycho Shane finally stops, leaving Ed bleeding and broken. Carol rushes to him, sobbing and apologizing over and over.
Atlanta. Rick, Daryl, Glenn, and T-Dog make it to the top floor. Using Dale's bolt-cutters, they break the chain and exit onto the roof to free Merle...but Merle isn't there. Well, not all of him. Rather, they find Merle's right hand, sawn off and left behind. Well, Merle may not have seen Mad Max, but he evidently did see Saw. Daryl cries out in anguish at the sight of his brother's hand, and as the episode ends, we are left to wonder where the hell Merle managed to go if the door to the roof had been chained shut.
Overall, "Tell It to the Frogs" was a great episode. It provided viewers with some much-needed exposition while simultaneously allowing for a few well-earned character beats. Rick reunites with his family. Merle's abandonment is acknowledged as inhumane, even for a guy like Merle. Shane loves--and hates--Rick. Daryl exists. A lot happened, a lot was set up, and there were several important "firsts."
One "first" was when we meet future second-billed character Daryl Dixon, whose unexpected popularity had not yet by this point elevated him to being written as a badass short-tempered redneck with a heart of gold. In "Tell It to the Frogs," Daryl is just...a badass short-tempered redneck, who happens to be played by Norman Reedus. Still, as much as it's possible that my current esteem for Daryl is coloring my retrospctive, it's difficult not to give the guy a little leeway. Granted, it's never nice to pull a knife on or throw squirrels at another person, but come on. Shane and Rick had just announced without sympathy that his brother had been left for dead. Daryl should be permitted a few minutes of freaking out. Besides, they should really be nicer to him. Have they not seen how competent he is?
We also receive confirmation for the first time of the only way to effectively eliminate a Walker. It had been stated before that blows to the head are required to take a Walker down, but when the decapitated head of the deer-eater reanimates, we see for sure that it is the brain that needs to be completely destroyed. Double tap, guys.
Furthermore, we see for ourselves that the survivors...really aren't all that practical. The kids are allowed to galavant all over the camp, the primary security measures are tin cans on string, there's plenty of shouting, and one of them wears white pants in the zombie apocalypse. I'm not saying that they deserve for something bad to happen to them, but...they kinda deserve for something bad to happen to them. Survival of the fittest, y'all.
On a happier note, we see Rick interact with his family for the first time. As much as it immediately falls apart on him, the joy and relief on all of their faces--including Lori and Shane--at his entrance is refreshing in a show that had been (thus far) kind of a downer. Chandler Riggs' acting skills are not yet as refined as they will be in later episodes, but his reaction to Rick's return was completely believable. We also learn that Shane told Lori that Rick was dead, making her role in his abandonment at the hospital entirely unwitting. Good thing that the family and relationship drama was resolved in this episode and will never need to be revisited again, right? Right?
Finally, we get our first glimpse of Psycho Shane, asserting his own dominance in the face of Rick's return via his first confrontation with Ed regarding the fire. While there's no doubt that Shane was in the right and Ed was just being difficult, there was definitely some unnecessary male posturing in that interaction. Then, when Lori later tells him to stay away from Carl and herself, Shane snaps and beats the hell out of Ed. Again, while Ed certainly deserved a smack or two for his treatment of his wife and daughter, even the women who had been trying to protect Carol were shouting for Shane to stop. Uh-oh.
Zombies Killed: 2
Humans Killed: 0
Character MVP: Daryl Dixon
Character LVP: Ed Peletier
Chekhov's Grenade: Rick's pilfered grenade
"Stay In The House, Carl!" Moments: 2
Zombie Kill Of The Week: Daryl's first crossbow kill into the decapitated Walker head.
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