The Walking Dead Watch: Better Angels

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Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal) - The Walking Dead - Season 2, Episode 12

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” –Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861

Think back a ways to The Walking Dead’s pilot episode when we first became acquainted with Shane Walsh. He was munching French fries with his friend and partner Rick Grimes, lounging in the front seat of their squad car. It was a moment of tranquility, soon fractured by the radio call of a gunman on the run. As Rick piloted the car to the scene, Shane, jaw set, slapped on leather gloves and calmly loaded his shotgun. He was a model of dependability, the one person in the world you needed, and wanted, beside you in a firefight.

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The Shane Walsh we saw last night was not the same one we met that day. He hasn’t been that person for a long time. One could argue that after Rick appeared very much alive about a third of the way though Season 1, that was the beginning of the end for Shane. He had adopted Lori and Carl as his own, shepherded them to safety, and just when some semblance of happiness was working its way back into his life, Rick showed up and ruined the dream. Even though Lori finally thanked him last night, it wasn’t enough to prevent Shane from plummeting over the edge.

But last night’s episode didn’t race to that conclusion. In a nice balance of drama and action, the opening sequence cut back and forth between Dale’s funeral and a security patrol of Shane, Andrea, Daryl and T-Dog, who come upon a group of walkers feasting on a dead cow. Armed with a shovel, a pitchfork, a crossbow and a hammer, respectively, they dispatch the first few walkers one by one before coalescing for a mob-stomping session on the last zombie. Then Shane slices his head in half with one swing of the spade.

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This isn’t a bad pacing model as the show moves forward. While we wouldn’t want every moment of drama to be intercut with an action sequence, it’s perhaps a good technique to avoid the peaks and valleys of many episodes. But two solidly dramatic scenes stand out on their own: when Lori thanks Shane for saving her and Carl, and Rick’s father-son moment in the hayloft. Because Carl is the only child left on the show and he, until last week, has played a largely background role, we haven’t examined how the consistent trauma might affect the young. Carl has seen death in the most brutal way possible, and Rick laments that it probably ruined his childhood. But in the end, Rick needs Carl to be a man, and he hands over the pistol Carl stole from Daryl saying, “I’m tired son. Take it.”

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The final sequence of “Better Angels” was arguably the most well crafted set piece of this season. With Rick and Shane alone in a foggy field under the light of a full moon (okay, the moon was a little too big), it felt like a horror movie. It was dark, cold and scary. They had it out — the two alpha males who we knew could never coexist — in a sneaky set up where ultimately Rick was the devious one, coaxing Shane with talk of a truce before literally plunging a knife into his heart. Passion strained the bonds of affection between Rick and Shane, and they became enemies despite the better angels of their nature.

Last week Carl saw that his actions could have dire ramifications, but he didn’t hesitate at the site of walker-Shane. While Rick was thinking about how he would explain that he had killed his best friend, some aberration in our zombie-morphing process (please see below) turned Shane into a walker. Then, acting like the man he’ll have to become, Carl stepped up and blew Shane away.

Zombie Kill Report: Counting Shane, I saw eight dispatched with myriad weapons (tools, actually), and some creative brain-demolishing techniques. If the episode’s final shot — a horde of zombies just over the horizon — is any indication, then next week the group is in for an all out battle, so they’ll need all of the tools and tricks they can muster. And in losing Shane, they’re down one of their best warriors.

Perhaps I missed something–huge plot point edition: The show’s plot took off after the plague had already crippled society, and though we had flashbacks, we never really saw someone getting sick and becoming a zombie. The only start to finish metamorphosis was Amy, Andrea’s sister, and she was bitten by a walker. Yet after Rick stabs Shane there are some flashes of zombies tearing something apart and suddenly Shane is a Zombie. Did he get bitten some time ago in one of his many running battles with the Walkers? Did he contract the original virus? I imagine this will be answered in due time. (NOTE: Like many of our readers, I have not read the graphic novels, so please–no spoilers here!)

Gutsy call by our new showrunner: There’s a long tradition of TV series ending their seasons with a big “Holy S—!” cliffhanger (The advertising catchphrase, “Who Shot J.R.?” was all over the place in the 1980 Dallas offseason — even working its way into the Presidential election). Yet instead of working Shane’s death into a long finale, TWD producers decided to kill off Shane in the penultimate episode. But with the zombie horde on the horizon and Rick and Carl trapped in a field, the season finale promises to be a hell of a ride.

What did you think of last night’s episode? Who do you think will live and who will die in the coming battle? Let us know in the comments below.

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