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May 27, 2015

With Its Third Episode, 'The Walking Dead' Gets Even Better (Update: Catch the 'Dead' Marathon)

by Maureen Ryan, posted Nov 10th 2010 1:20PM
'The Walking Dead' is a hit, there's no doubt about that. A second season of the show was commissioned by AMC after the first two episodes drew monster ratings. (Update: You can see the first three episodes of 'The Walking Dead' in a Sunday night marathon that begins at 8PM ET. Details below.)

But the third episode of the zombie drama, which airs 10PM ET Sunday, was the first that made me sorry that Season 1 of 'The Walking Dead' is only six episodes long. It's the most compelling of the first three outings of the show.

Sure, the pilot for 'The Walking Dead' was the scariest episode so far, and it economically established the world that comatose lawman Rick Grimes woke up to -- lawless, deadly, unpredictable, filled with "walkers" with a taste for braiiins.

The workmanlike second episode had to expand Rick's world, and it did so efficiently. But the third hour is where things start to get interesting among the characters we've met so far. (Not to worry, this piece doesn't contain spoilers.)

Sunday's episode is a tightly constructed hour that manages to deploy suspense when it needs to, but more importantly, it sheds light on the characters we need to care about for the enterprise to work at all.

Sure, the people on 'The Walking Dead' are still mostly archetypes at this stage; it'll take a great deal more storytelling before they start to seem very specific and nuanced. But Sunday's well-crafted hour goes a long way toward making you understand why Rick Grimes, the sheriff on a quest to find his family, is a worthy protagonist on a journey worth watching. Other characters start to get some interesting notes and colors as well.

Without spoiling anything, let's just say that there's a quest in Sunday's episode, a quest that I didn't think the show would convince me was necessary. Yet eventually I understood why it was necessary, to Rick, anyway. The episode is a morality tale of sorts, but the story is told with a light, sure hand (and there's not all that much violence, as it happens).

As many others have pointed out, zombies are really just shuffling, flesh-eating backdrops. They are not intrinsically interesting in and of themselves. What they do is shine a light on who people become during a deadly crisis. Do they try to grab power? Retreat further into themselves? Exhibit selfishness or altruism? All the values people think they possess aren't truly tested until there are flesh-eaters on the streets; then it becomes a whole new ballgame.

Just as alcohol or drugs tend to bring out qualities that were already there in individuals, stories about post-apocalyptic societies struggling to survive are about the moral and ethical compromises people find themselves all too willing to make in times of trouble. The element of surprise doesn't just involve zombies popping up here and there; if the story is working well, as it is in 'The Walking Dead,' the audience can also be surprised by what the characters are capable of, and by the ways in which "civilized" people can quickly revert to brutality (or traditional gender roles, as one character notes in Sunday's episode).

In these kinds of stories, over time, the question evolves from "Will these people make it?" to "Should these people make it?"

Of course, at this stage, Rick isn't an ambiguous anti-hero a la Vic Mackey. 'The Walking Dead' isn't that kind of show. In such a bleak and forbidding world, the audience needs someone to believe in. In Sunday's episode, 'Tell It to the Frogs,' we learn more about why Rick might that kind of guy, and you may start to root for these people -- some of them, anyway -- to survive.

Here are the details
on that Sunday marathon of 'The Walking Dead' from AMC: "Kicking off the night will be 'The Walking Dead' 90-minute pilot episode, 'Days Gone Bye,' airing at 8PM ET/PT, immediately followed by episode 2,'Guts,' at 9:10PM ET/PT. Both episodes will air with limited commercial breaks. 'The Walking Dead' episode 3, "Tell It To The Frogs," premieres at 10PM ET/PT."

Here's a video preview of Sunday's episode (spoilers ahoy):

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