Warning: This review may contain traces of spoilers, and may have come into contact with spoilers from movies, comics and other TV shows.
As The Walking Dead crosses the halfway point of its first season with its third episode, we the viewers are given some insight into what to expect from the series as it shambles its way towards season two. Episode 3 of The Walking Dead is much more focused on character drama than zombie killing, and in a way it serves as a temporary reprieve from the intensely suspenseful sequences involving hordes of the undead. While not a lot actually happens to further the main plot arc of the series (or at least the first season of it), I found episode 3 to be just as entertaining as episodes 1 and 2, but in a different way. I think that these first few episodes of season 1 have done a great job of showing the audience the different kinds of plot material that the series is working with, and the result is a series that is multi-faceted in terms of content, but handles everything extremely well. The fact that I’ve liked each episode of The Walking Dead equally so far speaks to how competently made the series is. I like the character-driven episodes as much as the zombie killing episodes, and for that, Darabont, Kirkman and company all deserve serious accolades. The Walking Dead isn’t just showing us hitherto unseen acts of violence on television, but also hitherto unseen character development in a series that could so easily have been a one-note zombie show.
Episode 2 of The Walking Dead introduced us to the character of Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker), a drug-snorting, racist ex-con who was completely absent from the comics. Even though he bore a remarkable resemblance to Francis from the awesome zombie game Left 4 Dead, Merle was in no way a likeable character, and by the end of episode 2, I (and many others) had written him off as being a bit too one-dimensional. The racist redneck ex-con is just a little too cliche, and I couldn’t help but wonder why Kirkman and Darabont decided to add in such an uninteresting character when he wasn’t in the source material to begin with (Merle does, however, get an incredibly suspenseful scene at the beginning of episode 3 that actually makes you feel bad for the guy). I speculated that maybe Michael Rooker just wanted to play that kind of character and Darabont thought it’d be silly to turn down an actor like him, but now that I’ve seen episode 3, I understand entirely. They included Merle Dixon so that they could also include his brother Daryl, played by the awesome badass and Boondock Saint Norman Reedus.
Daryl’s character is much more three-dimensional than Merle’s, and even though he’s a new addition to the Walking Dead canon, I’m really digging Reedus’ portrayal of him. He’s an asshole, to be sure, but an asshole with a soul somewhere inside of him. Daryl was definitely my favourite thing about episode 3. But he had some competition in the plot development of Rick being reunited with Carl and Lori!
That’s right – the group of survivors that Rick met in episode 2 were part of a larger group that included Rick’s wife and kid! Both Lori and Carl thought Rick was dead, so it was a pretty heartfelt moment with Rick showed up at their campsite. It also led to an incredibly awkward moment as Shane, who had been sleeping with Lori after Rick’s apparent death, realized that he would no longer be able to pursue the relationship that he had begun developing. After Lori tells Shane to stay away from her and her son (and reveals that it was Shane who had convinced her Rick was a goner), Shane goes berserk and punches the crap out of Ed, another asshole redneck in their group. Seeing Shane finally coming unhinged was a seriously intense moment, and *EXTRA MAJOR SPOILER ALERT* successfully planted the seeds of him going totally nuts and set the stage for his death at the hands of Carl. At least, that’s what happens in the comics. Will AMC actually show a kid shoot an adult? I hope so, because it’s going to make for some incredible television. I’m betting the season will end with Shane’s demise, regardless of who is responsible for it.
This may actually explain the inclusion of Merle and Daryl a bit, too. Perhaps Kirkman and Darabont are filling time so that they can end the season with Shane’s death. Whatever the case, The Walking Dead continues to be one of the most emotionally heightened, dark, harrowing and brilliant television shows in the history of television shows. Mark my words: the new ground that this series is breaking is going to change the way we watch TV for years to come.
One final thing that I should mention before I wrap up this review is the last moment of the episode, where Rick, Glenn and Daryl journey back into zombie-filled Atlanta to try and rescue Merle and retrieve the bag of guns that Rick dropped. As they open the door to the roof that served as Merle’s prison, they find that he has cut off his hand to escape! Whooooa! Talk about a great note to end the episode on. I can’t wait to see what happens next!
5 out of 5