The Walking Dead - Season 2, Episode 12 - "Better Angels"

Spoilers ahead, everyone. You have been duly warned.

"Better Angels" signals the point at which The Walking Dead has found its bearings as a series.  We'll get to the details of this week's episode in a bit, but some more general remarks at first.

First off, TWD one again makes the case that the writers are perhaps a little smarter than we give them credit for, as might be signaled in the irony of the title of this episode versus the revelations about the inner workings of the RV Gang.  Life in the World of Walkers has its own rules, and much of the soap-opera business of the first half of the season seems better understood as a sort of parody of life in the old world, articulated by good old Dale (now dead), Hershel (now deferential to Rick), and Lori (who continues to "play house," as pointed out by Andrea).  Rick'a advice to Carl last week, "Don't talk -- think!" is a useful bit of advice for watching the show.  Pay little attention to the words coming out of people's faces; all that talk doesn't mean jack when the zombies start heading your way.

Secondly, although Shane's death might on initial consideration seem to be the big development of the week, there's a larger change to the rules of TWD universe: the newly dead, those not necessarily bitten or scratched by walkers, will now become walkers in a matter of minutes once they die.  This had been hinted at previously, but Daryl, the current expert on zombies, quickly notes the peculiarities of Russell's appearance as a walker in the woods that night.  I had considered the possibility that what Dr. Jenner had whispered to Rick back in Season 1 ("TS-19") might have been about the walker virus mutating.  Rick's lingering over Shane's body could have been read as a consequence of that bit of information, but that moment was too full of ambiguity to be understood in just that way.  But Shane's popping up just moments after his death unambiguously lets us know that the rules for walkers have changed.

Finally, and the producers may have waited a little too long for this principle to sink in for viewers not familiar with the comics, but people should expect any character to die at any moment.  You can guess as to which one or two characters might make it through the entire run of the series, but the exits of Dale and Shane in the past two episodes are much more in keeping with the ethos of the comic.  Dale was too idealistic -- or rather, too distracted by his ideals -- to survive.  Shane was too impulsive -- too noisy, and, in another way, too romantic -- to survive.  Part of survival is knowing when to fight as well as knowing when to keep quiet.

Fighting and keeping quiet -- that's the way Rick takes care of business when it comes time for a final confrontation with Shane.  One of the great pleasures of "Better Angels" is watching Jon Bernthal finally lose his shit, to the point where many in the audience must have finally understood that he was truly a danger to the RV Gang, even though his reasons for his endgame are credible.  But he broke Russell's neck, then smashed his face into a tree and broke his own nose.  That's just crazy.  But Lori will do that to a person; she's not exactly helping matters with her ongoing inability to make a decision and stay with it.

The fact that Shane would take himself and three other capable zombie-killers (Daryl, Glenn, and Rick) out into the woods at night looking for an "escaped" prisoner is evidence enough of his liability.  Once the search party goes into the woods, we don't much of what happened "meanwhile, back on the ranch," aside from Carl's sneaking off.  After the search party splits up, it was great to see Daryl continue to demonstrate how awesome he is as The Redneck Superhero, and Glenn did okay in dispatching a walker with his handy machete.  Yes, folks, you should be seeing much more of Glenn as a capable survivor in the days to come.

But the scene that took everyone's breath away was the final showdown between Rick and Shane in that moonlight field with the mists gathering.  All credit to the actors for drawing us in:  Shane's strangely resigned murderousness versus Rick's nervous negotiation, right up to the moment when he slips the knife in.  The word that's been thrown around to describe the scene is 'Shakespearean,' and that's fair.  Shane got what he deserved, tragic as it was; Rick did what he had to do, much as it pained him, and, what's more, the stealthy manner in which he offed Shane makes one admire Rick even more as a leader.  That was pretty damned impressive as a test of nerve and skill.  Bravo.

All the more epic is the presence of Carl -- who, fearing for his father, has slipped out into the night and witnessed the showdown.  Of course, in the comics, it's actually Carl who guns down Shane - not Zombie Shane but Crazy Shane -- but I was just as happy with the way that Carl saved his father from Zombie Shane.  I got your back, Dad.  Carl doesn't strike me as sentimental about survival; it was Carl who showed up at the barn last week and encouraged his father to shoot Russell the prisoner.  And, as much as Shane tried to be a father to Carl, it's Rick who finally gives Carl a gun and, more to the point, recognizes the fact that his son is right: Carl can handle himself.  Although the writers could make this into an incident that drives Rick and Carl apart, I would guess that it draws them closer together.  As for Rick and Lori, who can tell?

The possibilities raised by this episode will likely make for a rousing season finale, and one that shouldn't feel too cheap.  The herd of walkers emerging from the woods after the nocturnal gunfire can't be good.  The death of Shane and Rick and Carl's part in it will certainly cause a stir among the RV Gang.  The mutated zombie virus is disturbing news.  And, let's not forget that before Russell had his neck snapped, he told Shane that the camp for his crew of 30 Armed Bad Guys wasn't more than five miles away.  As with the best shows that have an ongoing, serial plot, I would expect that much of what was built in Season Two will be burned to the ground to make way for Season Three.

Zombie Kill of the Week:  Carl, with a clean head-shot to Zombie Shane
Zombie Quotient - from 1 (none) to 10 (major herd) - 4

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