After the astounding “Days Gone Bye”, “Guts” couldn’t help but feel like a disappointment in comparison, despite being a good hour of TV in its own right. Thankfully, with the third episode, “Tell It To The Frogs”, The Walking Dead is back on top form.
Right from the opening seconds the episode sets about getting right things “Guts” got wrong, with an agonisingly human performance from Michael Rooker as Merle Dixon that really makes us fear sympathy for his plight – as well as some of his horror as the zombies start battering at the door. I’m also pleased to report that the debut of his younger brother Daryll is executed much better than Merle’s first appearance last week.
This really was a stellar episode for characterisation. Rick’s reunion with his family was handled brilliantly by all involved, especially Andrew Lincoln, who made Rick’s joy and overpowering emotion feel like a well-earned beat. I also enjoyed Jon Bernthal’s work as Shane here, quietly working through a series of complex, conflicting emotions over his friend’s return, building and building until we get the explosive powderkeg release near the episode’s close. Kudos too for building on the whole aspect of Shane trying to be a surrogate father to Carl, which makes the way the narrative is destined to turn all the more poignant.
The smaller characters were enjoyable here too. I continue to love what’s been done with Glenn and Dale. And I like the changes made to Carol. One of the more-criticised elements of the comics I’ve noticed is how quickly Carol just crumbles and goes through an emotional collapse, seemingly without enough valid justification. But by establishing her right from her introduction as a victim of presumably years of emotional and physical abuse at the hands of a bullying husband, her character arc now has more structure and internal logic behind it.
And on that note, that was something I really admired about the writing of this episode: the attention to detail, the way we really got into character motivation and saw what was driving the characters to take their various actions. And of course, with that ending, the story comes full circle and we realise the opening sequence was all about getting insight into the motivation behind a very extreme action. I wanted to shout “NO!” at my screen as the credits rolled. How am I going to wait until next week!?