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'The Walking Dead' recap: Black, white and shades of gray matter

November 14, 2010 | 11:00 pm


Before "The Walking Dead" debuted, actress Sarah Wayne Callies said in an interview that the series was "an exploration of ... humanity in the absence of culture." Well, the exploration kicked into high gear this week with "Tell It to the Frogs," which raised plenty of thorny questions about truth and moral absolutes and gave Rick an opportunity to demonstrate that when it comes to right and wrong, his take is starkly black and white.

Case in point: Rick's decision to inform Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) that the scouting party chained his unhinged brother Merle to a pipe on the rooftop of a building in zombie-infested Atlanta and left him there without food or water. Others in the survivors' camp suggested -- some would say wisely -- that a lie might be easier, it would be simple to believe Merle had been killed by Walkers during the expedition to scavenge for supplies. But Rick, like the guilt-ravaged T-Dog, insisted on owning up to what they'd done, even if it meant dealing with Daryl's wrath (let's just say there's quite a family resemblance between the brothers).

Rick's conviction is especially telling considering that only hours earlier he'd finally, upon arriving at the camp with Andrea, Glenn, Jaqui, T-Dog and Morales, been reunited with his wife Lori and son Carl. Lori appears stunned when "the new guy" is introduced; Carl rushes toward his father, overwhelmed with joy at his return. That night, after Carl has fallen asleep, Rick and Lori share an intimate moment in their tent, Lori telling Rick how much she'd like to take back the "anger and the bad times" and returning his wedding band, which she'd been wearing on a chain around her neck. There's no mention made of her relationship with Shane.

It's in the morning that Daryl returns from a hunting trip to find that a Walker had begun feasting on the deer he'd spent hours tracking -- the first time a member of the undead had entered the campground, signaling that, perhaps, the food supply in the cities was growing thin -- and learns of Merle's fate. He insists on going after him; Rick, Glenn and T-Dog pledge to accompany him, Rick pointing out that the bag of guns he dropped when he first arrived in the city could come in quite handy, not to mention that the walkie-talkie in the bag could help save the lives of the father and son who got him through his first few baffling days after the coma.

Lori and Carl are hurt by his decision. Shane insists that their absence might ultimately jeopardize the safety of the group. Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) is ticked off that on their last trip they managed to lose so many of his tools and now they want to borrow a pair of bolt-cutters to use on the padlocked chain T-Dog hung on the door leading to the roof where Merle is stranded to keep the Walkers from reaching and feasting on the man. 

That they manage to get back to Walker-infested Atlanta without incident seems striking. Of course, by the time they make it up the stairs to rescue Merle -- depicted in the opening of the episode as growing increasingly deranged from the heat and certain, looming death -- he's gone. His severed hand, however, is still there, along with the now empty, blood-stained handcuffs, still hanging from their perch.

Though the choice -- or imperative, as Rick sees it -- to rescue Merle dominated the episode's storyline, we did also see some additional goings-on at the camp, none of which were particularly encouraging in terms of showing people behaving humanely toward one another. Lori confronts Shane, furious that he had told her about Rick's death, obviously now a lie.

The women seem to have been relegated to gathering food and doing laundry by the river -- evidently the zombie apocalypse is not a boon to gender equality -- and we met the overtly anti-woman Ed (Adam Minarovich), a man with no compunction about beating his wife Carol (Melissa Suzanne McBride), though Shane does deliver a certain measure of eye-for-an-eye justice on Carol's behalf before the story ends.

It's nearly impossible to come away from Sunday's episode without thinking about how one might behave in these situations. Would T-Dog really risk his life for the racist, hate-spewing Merle? Would Rick really leave behind the family he'd come so far to find on the same dangerous mission? What does it mean to pummel a man within an inch of his life in order to teach him that violence is wrong? It's a lot to chew on until next week.

-- Gina McIntyre

Photo: Clockwise from left, Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Wayne Callies and Chandler Riggs in "The Walking Dead." Credit: AMC