After 2 episodes spent showing us the dangers of living in a zombie overrun world ““ summary: they are dead and would like to eat you and the horse you rode in on ““ the third episode gives us comparatively little gore and a whole lot of human fallibility.
We pick up back on the department store rooftop where Generic Racist Type 1, Merle, has been abandoned by the rest of the Atlanta-survivor group. Merle is the kind of redneck, racist throwback that television and movies would like to believe are littering the South, even in big metropolitan places like Atlanta (B.Z., before zombies), whose overly broad characterization seems to have been drawn solely to allow Rick to soliloquy about how terrible it is to leave someone to die of exposure and starvation on the roof of some monster-overrun building, even if that person is a jackass like Merle. Rick’s not here right now, so that speech gets made later in the episode. But anyone who has spent any time watching TV knows that Merle’s panic and prayers on the rooftop aren’t going to go unanswered.
Well, sort of.
Merle’s actor might want to talk to his agent about why he always gets typecast as jackasses, because he’s probably a very nice man in real life. In the meantime, Merle gives up pleading with Jesus to save him and sets about trying to save himself, by trying to reach the (foreshadowed) dropped bag of tools that is just out of arms length.
Rick and the other survivors are headed back to the mountaintop camp. Morales reveals that Merle has a brother that’s waiting for him with the others. Everyone looks vaguely guilty about abandoning a man to the geeks, even though they try to talk themselves out of feeling poorly.
The show has taken great pains to show Lori (Rick’s wife) and Shane (his BFF) conducting their secret affair in as unsympathetic light as possible. And they give us one more chance to dislike the pair when the action switches back to camp, where Lori, Shane and Carl have formed a post-apocalyptic nuclear family. Shane cleans his rifle manfully. Lori cuts Carl’s hair domestically. Carl and Shane engage in easy banter over the relative grossness of eating frogs legs. This is what new world happiness looks like ““ having a moments breathing room where you can cut your kids hair and swap jokes and clean your gun because you’re not actively using it to take down zombies. I know we’re supposed to hate Lori and Shane, but I can’t get onboard. The world is over. The real chance of your husband finding you in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the apocalypse is less than zero, you’re gonna spend the rest of your (probably short) life running and hiding and fighting, so I’m not gonna fault anyone who wants to sneak off to the woods and have sex in the dirt.
Into this new world order strolls Rick, in his hat and his Sheriff’s uniform. When Carl and Lori embrace him, and Shane gets a little misty eyed, it’s hard to maintain the idea that these are callous people who were boinking each other on Rick’s presumed grave. Rick’s appearance is a miracle.
Any other show would have centered the season around Rick’s search for his family. That they’re reunited so early bodes poorly for them.
There are a surprising number of families in the survivor’s group. Zombie films don’t tend to have room for biological family units, something that can be drawn right back to Night of the Living Dead and the corrupt family that takes shelter in the old farm house.[pullquote] The particular horror of zombie movies isn’t just dead people walking the earth ““ it’s the horror of your own loved ones coming out of the grave, to be unable to reach those that were so precious to you, to fear them as they try to consume you.[/pullquote] Vampires you might be able to reason with or find some spark of intelligence in. Werewolves are only dangerous sometimes. Ghosts don’t tend to pull your guts out of your stomach and munch on them. Zombies are terrible automatons. The only thing behind their eyes is hunger.
Let’s meet these families, shall we? Morales has a wife and a couple of children. Ed, the resident Generic Misogynist Type 2, Wife Abuser, who gets into a pointless argument about Shane over how many logs you can have on the fire ““ answer, not so many that the zombies find you ““ and his wife Carol and their daughter. Amy and Andrea are sisters. Merle and his brother, Daryl, who we’ll meet shortly. I can’t tell if the guy who hands out with Dale is related to him or if they just share a love of stripping cars.
The next morning, we get treated to a bit of exposition that will come up repeatedly in the episode ““ Carol has washed Rick’s clothes for him while he slept. The women, apparently, wash everyone’s clothes. More on this in a moment. Rick and Lori share a few words while she puts wet laundry on the line ““ Rick is our hero, in case we’ve forgotten this, and he needs to think about heroic things, like the morality of leaving a guy on the battlefield. Lori, who has now had her husband back for a whopping 8 hours or so, is understandably pissed off about Rick playing the great Western Hero card.
They are interrupted by Carl screaming and running back into camp. He’s surprised a walker feasting on a downed deer. This is only extended scene with zombies in it, and I’d like to take a moment to praise the fabulous job the make up team is doing on this show. Every time one of the walkers come onscreen, I feel like I should stand up and applaud the work of the special effect artists. This is amazing make up. This is the kind of work that movie studios used to invest in before people became convinced that CGI could be used for any and all purposes ““ and when the show does deign to use CGI, it looks glaringly cheap next to the latex effects. Bravo. No, really, bravo.
The manly survivors pull out their phallic weapons and beat on the zombie, until Dale lops its head off with an axe. If this is how they fight off the zombies, five guys ineffectually beating on one walker at a time, they’re boned. They didn’t even kill it as we learn when Daryl rounds a corner and puts an arrow through the decapitated head ““ the walkers don’t die until the brain is destroyed. This, somehow, is more disgusting than the disemboweled deer, and the women-folk get grossed out and run back to camp.
Look, WD, I’m willing to believe that you’re playing up all these bullshit gender reactions so that they can be subverted as the series continues, but you and I are gonna have problems if this essentialist crap doesn’t change. Ok? Ok.
Daryl, who I instantly like for his no bullshit takedown of the zombie and the fact he brought squirrel back to the camp for dinner, is ineptly informed that his brother might possibly still be alive back in Atlanta. Daryl flies off the handle so that Shane can take him down and Rick can give a patented Good Guy speech about what he did wrong, how he owns it, and how he’ll make it right. This is what heroes do. Rick mentions he dropped a bag of weapons back in Atlanta to sweeten the pot about going back, but everyone knows that the real reason is that even racist assholes like Merle don’t deserve to die of exposure and starvation on a department store rooftop.
Rick, Daryl, T-Dogg and Glen head back to Atlanta after wrangling a pair of bolt cutters out of Dale.
Carl seems certain his father is coming back, but Lori doesn’t have the same faith. She still let him go though because there was no way to hold him at the camp. We get a small look into what their marital problems must have been like before the world went to hell. We love to love the romantic hero ideal that we get in pop culture, but we rarely see the other side of what this means ““ the waiting, the uncertainty, the knowledge that the Code your hero holds to will always regulate you to secondary status in his narrative. It’s a crappy draw for the romantic interest.
The show stays with the camp for a little bit, following Carl and Dale down to the quarry where they try to catch frogs, and then over to the women who are scrubbing everyone’s laundry with washboards and brushes. Jacqui asks why they get stuck with the Hattie McDaniel work and Andrea says the world ended. There’s some growing resentment here ““ we see Ed, the wife-beater, watching the women work.
Across the lake, Lori’s found Carl and Shane, and sends her son off to camp. Shane wants to explain something to her, something he hasn’t had a chance to say since Rick came back, but Lori is having none of it. We find out that Shane told Lori Rick was dead.
Ed follows the sound of the women’s laughter down to the banks of the lake, where he smokes and grumps, and acts like a two-bit sketch of misogynist, which gives Andrea the opportunity to stand up to him, because she’s feisty. It’s let slip that everyone has seen bruises on Carol and her daughter and they all know that Ed’s been hitting them, but for some reason have not yet bothered trying to stop it. Ed strikes Carol ““ Shane, fuming from his argument with Lori, pulls Ed away from the women who have rallied around Carol and beats him to a pulp. Shane tells Ed he’ll kill him if he ever lays a hand on Carol again, but it’s misplaced anger. If Shane really was affronted by Ed’s treatment of his wife, the situation would have been taken care of already.
In Atlanta, the men manage to get back to the department store unmolested. It’s shockingly smooth sailing, considering that the last shot we had of the building it was overrun with zombies. Daryl takes out one geek downstairs. The stairwell up to the roof is empty. Where did the zombies go? Do they get bored and wander off? T-Dogg snaps the padlock off the door and the heroes burst onto the roof.
Where Merle is no longer chained to the pipe. Not content to wait for Jesus to save him and unaware anyone was coming back for him, Merle sawed off his own hand with the hacksaw T-Dogg dropped in the last episode, which is waiting for his brother to find, and escaped.
Next week: Rick and the others search for Merle. Glen rescues the bag of guns. We find more survivors in Atlanta. Zombies attack the camp.
My predictions: The men will be manly. People will be impressed with Rick’s quiet bravery. Merle and Ed will get theirs.