The survivors say goodbye to Dale in “Better Angels”, but are there more threats looming for them besides losing each other? Click “More” to see our SPOILER-filled review for the newest episode of The Walking Dead.
S2, Episode 12: Better Angels
After a tearful funeral for Dale, the survivors are preparing for the Winter. Everyone is moving into the farmhouse, and the start of fortifying the grounds has begun. Shane appears to be losing more patience with Rick now that he feels he’s been replaced as Rick’s #2 by Daryl. Carl admits to Shane that he let the walker that killed Dale go. Shane tries to console the angry and saddened Carl and tells him to keep the gun the boy took from Daryl’s bike, but Carl leaves saying he’ll never touch a gun again. Lori and Shane finally have a talk about everything they’ve been through and apologizes for all she’s done to him and his relationship with Rick.
While Rick has a father to son talk with Carl about life, Shane visits Randall. Shane sneaks Randall out and instructs the prisoner to take him to his group. Shane takes the kid out a safe distance, and kills him. Then injures himself to make it look like he was jumped. Rick takes Shane, Glenn, and Daryl out to look for the “escaped” prisoner. The search continues into the night. Daryl starts piecing together that the tracks reveal that the two men seemed to walk in tandem. Glenn and Daryl are later attacked by Randall as a walker, and they realize he was killed from a broken neck and not a bite. Meanwhile, Rick pieces together that Shane has set him up and led him to a field where Shane plans to kill Rick. The two men talk it out, but when Rick tells Shane he has to kill an unarmed man, Rick begins to hand over his gun only to shiv Shane killing him. Rick is found by Carl. Carl, not believing what he’s seeing, appears to point his gun at Rick. When he fires, he fires over Rick’s shoulder, hitting Shane in the head. The gun shot is heard by a horde of walkers who make their way to the filed where Rick and Carl are…
This episode was a complete summation of the entire series to date, and what an episode it was. Just about every major character in the series up to this point has a moment in this episode where they come to terms with how things are, what is most important, and what the future holds for them. All of this is in light of Dale’s passing. A character that had been shunned at one time or another by every single other character (and, yes, many fans as well), but all that he fought for, all that he said would come to pass has and it now lands squarely on the shoulders of Rick to fix. A long time ago, Dale knew Shane had crossed the point of no return in how he deals with the world around him. He knew Rick’s former best friend would eventually snap and commit murder to suit his own needs. This entire episode’s tone and pacing seemed to beat like war drums for Shane, only proving what Dale said. With each scene that passed, Shane was becoming more visibly broken down by and dismayed over Rick’s decisions.
Shane was first verbally confrontational, in front of the rest of the group mind you, about the decision to allow Randall to live and be dropped off somewhere far away as they originally planned. However, this small spat was no big deal. It was more of the same of what we’ve come to expect from Shane for most of this season. When things really change is when Lori comes to apologize for all she’s done to him and Rick and to say thank you for him looking after her and Carl when the world was going to shit. Shane, for the first time in the entire series shows a softer side and actually chokes up. Where I might be the first one to blame Lori for being a jerk, or say she has done something stupid that only makes something else worse, I actually don’t fault her at all. This might have been something that has been needed for some time. Unfortunately, since timing is not Lori’s best quality, it just comes too late. By doing this, she sends Shane down a spiraling path which opens up the door for him to believe she’s saying this out of love and not out of genuine decency.
This sets in motion something I’m not sure this series had ever honestly faced before – a situation where there is a personified threat, or villain, if you will. Readers knew what would happen to Shane. While we always knew that Carl was the one who killed Shane in defense of his father, this gets turned on its head. I’ll tackle that in a moment, but first, as a television audience, we all could see Shane as someone who would ultimately play out to be a situation that was of need to be “dealt” with. Like the best villains, he had a point of view that some could see truth in, or even identify with. He’s was a man who embodied one type of survival mode – kill or be killed. If someone posed any kind of a threat to those who he “loved”, they needed to go – by any means necessary. He’s not political like Rick, or someone, again like Rick, who still took the many grays that come in between the black and white into consideration before acting. It could be argued that Rick was indeed genuinely looking out for every single survivor, while Shane would look out for himself, then Lori, then Carl. Everyone else who didn’t fall into line with his way of thinking or interests were to be killed or whipped into line. There couldn’t be two different men than Rick and Shane in every single way.
And about that last sequence between Rick and Shane (and later Carl), I’m not sure there has been another scene like this one in the entire series. There’s a certain appeal to when a walker pops up out of nowhere. It happened in the final moments of last week’s episode. There’s the tendency to always be on the look out for walkers that might be hiding behind every corner, in every abandoned car, or behind a tree. What this episode does hits the viewer on three levels with true excitement and horror. First, there’s the setting… It’s night time and pitch dark in a wooded area. The four characters looking for Randall are exposed and vulnerable. They don’t have the ability to see everything around them. Only one of the four searchers know what Randall’s true fate was, two of them are bait, and the fourth was to be a victim. What we didn’t know was if the other two used as bait or strung along for Shane’s big plan would ultimately be killed too. That type of situation adds a mood. The second level is when Randall does come up. He arrives in walker form just as both Daryl and Rick are realizing that Shane’s not being entirely truthful. For Glenn and Daryl to find Randall and determine his true cause of death, we as the audience know that either Rick must come to the same conclusion or we’re going to see a desperate situation play out where Glenn and Daryl must strike against Shane or convince Rick that he’s led them all into some sort of trap.
By the time we get to the third level of how this episode affects the audience, we’re all on pins and needles. I know I could feel my heart pounding in my own chest. I honestly don’t think this had ever happened before while watching this series. There have been many exciting moments, and moments that were just well played, but none of them had my head spinning like this. That final scene between Andrew Lincoln and Jon Bernthal was a culmination of 18 episodes of these two men on a collision course with one other. Two long time friends finally facing off to settle their differences in the only way you knew it would happen. Shane, true to his nature, just plans on the direct approach. He puts Rick right in his pistol’s sites for a point blank kill. Shane only breaks from his nature enough, assuming that somewhere deep down in side he knows and is struggling with that he is about to kill his oldest friend, to give the more measured Rick the chance to turn the tables and finally deal with the biggest problem facing the survivors. The scene itself is exciting and emotional all rolled in together. No one wanted to see Shane get his just desserts more than I did, but that doesn’t change the fact that his death would irrevocably change the series. I’m just glad that this played out in such a strong way.
Am I disappointed that it wasn’t Carl that drops the living Shane? Maybe a little bit, but one thing I said to my wife when Carl later dropped the undead Shane was that this might be what the TV show needed more than the comic. Yeah, the writers switched it up a bit. They had Rick kill Shane instead of Carl and then have Carl kill the zombie Shane instead of Rick… That made for a little bit better scene in the end. It gave Rick the opportunity to finally take charge for the ultimate safety of his people. This was what Shane wanted all along from Rick, right? It’s something we “Team Rick” guys needed to see him do. It makes for the best situation for Rick as a leader down the line. For Carl, he gets to make up for not killing the walker that killed Dale. In some ways, I gotta say this episode put a great cap on the season.
Yeah, I know there is still one more episode to go. There’s a whole freakin’ bunch of zombies about to invade the farm. Next week should get the gang out of the farm, but this episode provides closure to 18 episodes of building toward an unavoidable climax between Rick and Shane. All of that and the pure emotion dealing with the loss of Dale and a brilliantly acted, and very touchingly written, scene between Rick and Carl where they discuss death and Carl now needing to grow up a bit faster makes this by far and away the best episode of the series so far. As much as I’ve said that about episodes in the past, none of them hold a candle to exactly how I felt watching this episode.
A COMIC BOOK BLOG RATING
|Superb episode. A fond farewell to Dale, a beautiful moment between father and son, and an finish that left my heart pounding. The best paced, acted, and written episode of this series by far.||My initial concern over Carl not getting to put Shane down is blacked out by how stupendously well done that final scene was done.|