Two narratives dominate this week's episode of The Walking Dead. One, incidentally, is about narratives -- the stories we as humans tell each other as part of the building of community. The other narrative is about the great divide between old traditions and new methods of living life. Both narratives are linked by Rick Grimes integrating into the camp, and by the camp itself and the divisions within it.
The plot of this episode is driven largely by the first narrative. The primary dramatic conflict is in the scene at the quarry, where Lori ends her fling with Shane. "You don't tell me what to do" and "That's over too, you can tell that to the frogs." The titular phrase appears, representing a story that can fall on deaf ears for all anyone cares. The use of stories here is quite complex -- Lori tells Shane to knock it off so she can feel better about herself, devoting herself more to her family, but only because Shane told her Rick was dead so that he could have an honest shot at her (and as Rick himself points out at the campfire, everyone had perfectly good reason to believe he was dead). Similarly, T-Dog continually points out that he chained the door to the roof so Merle Dickson would not get eaten by Walkers, but only to make himself feel better about having to abandon Merle after accidentally losing the key to the cuffs. These stories are meant to be small comforts, but like Glenn's shiny new car, both the Walkers and Merle can deconstruct the story simply by being unpredictable. And since Walkers aren't capable of higher brain functions, guess who gets to be unpredictable.
Meanwhile, a different narrative is taking shape: how do you start society over again? The survivors are having a difficult task of reconciling the way things used to be with the way things are. From the cuckolding to Ed's misogyny to Glenn's reckless behavior with a blaring car alarm to the unfortunately archaic divisions of labor, there is a minor struggle going on in realizing that luxuries such as coffee makers and washing machines no longer exist. This theme takes a particularly disturbing turn when we consider the depictions of brutal violence as a means of enforcing these traditions. Certainly, the Walker that gets Daryl's deer can't really be considered a human being anymore, but in this instance, it represents humanity, beaten and beheaded by human beings -- which is all the more disturbing when Daryl walks in a few minutes later and admonishes them for not finishing the job: "Do y'all know nothing? It's gotta be the brain." Later, Shane's anger at losing Lori erupts all over Ed's face when Ed takes a smack at his wife for being insubordinate. The resulting violence is horrific, and Shane promises to beat Ed to death next time if he ever lays another hand on his wife or daughters. The message is clear: violence begets violence. This is why Rick's decision to go back for Merle is a positive one. Yes, Merle is a "douchebag" (Shane's word, and he chose it carefully) and horribly racist, but he's a human being, and Rick won't let him die chained to a rooftop like an animal. Rick is willing to preserve humanity -- at great personal risk.
"Tell It To The Frogs" gives us an insight into the group dynamics of the survivors' camp. Some are old, some are young; some are college-educated, some are not. They all say they want to live, but their actions tend to speak otherwise. Dale puts it best: "Words can be meager things. Sometimes they fall short." If this holds true, then Merle may truly walk out of this scenario alive -- if he's willing to cut off his hand to get out of the cuffs, he's willing to do anything to survive. I wonder how many of the survivors can say the same.