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Recap | The Walking Dead:
‘Better Angels’

“Damn you for making me do this, Shane! This is not me! Not me!”Rick

Between an occasionally belief-defying escalation of tensions, an L.A. Noir casting report and a slip-up on the AMC website, it’s been clear for some time that Shane Walsh wasn’t long for this world. So it’s a testament to the writers of The Walking Dead, who have shambled, walker-like, through much of the second season, that they were still able to make the character’s death shocking, capping off an episode filled with drama.

Written by showrunner Glen Mazzara and Rescue Me alum Evan T. Reilly (who was responsible for “Cherokee Rose” and “Nebraska”), “Better Angels” is easily the best episode of the season, buoyed by the gravity of Dale’s death and the sudden realization that the growing zombie encroachment poses an imminent threat to the survivors (“With 50 head of cattle on the property, we might as well ring the damned dinner bell,” Maggie observes). Rick’s graveside eulogy, in which he pledges to honor Dale’s memory and do better, is intercut with shots of Shane, Andrea, Daryl and T-Dog wailing on walkers that have wandered onto the farm, juxtaposing the group’s feelings of sorrow and rage.

Realizing he should’ve made the offer earlier, Hershel invites the group to move into the house, tight quarters to be sure – he gives Rick, Lori and Carl his bedroom and claims the sofa for himself – but much safer than their exposed campsite. While the others pack and unpack, and fortify the farm as best they can, Rick plans to set Randall free, a final tribute to Dale. Shane, as is his nature, objects, making it clear their road trip did nothing to mend their rift. But just as it seems Shane might resign himself to being shut out of the prisoner release – Rick’s taking Daryl with him this time – and his opinion ignored by his longtime friend, he’s thrust once again into the father-figure role as a guilt-ridden Carl gives him Daryl’s stolen pistol and admits to his encounter with the walker that killed Dale.

If that weren’t enough, Shane’s approached by Lori, who’s abruptly sheds her Lady Macbeth guise in exchange for a mask of contrition. It’s maybe not the most believable scene, but it permits Lori to make the biggest understatement of the entire series as she admits, “I made a mess of things, I put you and Rick at odds.” Thanking Shane for all he did for her and Carl in those early days, Lori puts the metaphorical stake through his heart by saying she’s sorry for whatever happened between them. While only days before, Lori wanted Shane dead, now she simply wants peace, if maybe an uneasy one.

Presumably it’s this conversation, and the realization that Lori has made her choice, that finally pushes Shane to act against the man who took from him not just the group but his “family.” Or maybe it’s the strange exchange between Shane and Rick about Carl, the stolen gun and the boy’s guilt over Dale’s death. (We’re really expected to believe Rick was going to put the release of Randall ahead of his son’s welfare? Of course, given what happens, maybe he should’ve.) In any case, Shane makes his move, even if it’s not entirely clear what that move is: He heads to the shed intent on killing Randall, then suddenly shifts gears and instead takes him into the swamp, feeding the prisoner the unlikely story that he wants to join his larger group, where he’s told he’ll “fit in good.” Snapping the boy’s neck, Shane bashes his own face into a tree, setting up the tale of Randall’s “escape.” Obviously Shane parted company with clear thought long ago, perhaps as early as Rick’s surprise appearance at the quarry outside Atlanta, but his plan his half-assed at best, as he not only left the door to the shed padlocked behind them, but did nothing to disguise their trail.

Returning to the farm even as the others notice Randall’s disappearance, Shane offers up his fable about an ambush and a stolen gun before pairing up with Rick to search in one direction while Daryl and Glenn head out in another. Was Shane plotting from the beginning to get Rick alone so he could kill him, or was he merely hoping to discredit him with the group, demonstrating how their leader’s dithering once again put everyone at risk? Probably the former, but it’s unclear whether the holes in the plan are the fault of an irrational man or sloppy writers accustomed to leaps of logic. Whomever’s to blame, everything seems to come together, with a wary Rick probing Shane’s shaky story even as they stumble through the darkening woods, farther and farther away from the others.

Just as the skeptical Daryl stumbles upon clues that don’t match Shane’s tale – blood on the tree, the discarded blindfold, sets of footprints walking in tandem – he and Glenn are attacked by an undead Randall, who they soon realize has a broken neck but no bite marks. It’s a callback to “18 Miles Out,” where the zombified security guards showed no signs of bites or scratches, and probably further, to the Season 1 finale, when Dr. Jenner whispered something to Rick. It’s beginning to look that, as in the comic series, everyone is infected.

That reinforcement is a crucial setup for the tense, and beautifully filmed, showdown between Rick and Shane that, in a disappointing backslide into one of the show’s most annoying habits, takes place in a field just a stone’s throw from the farmhouse — because the story requires it to. (Seriously, after traipsing through the woods, Shane waits until they’ve circled back around to the farm to pull his gun on Rick?) In a dramatic back and forth that serves as a CliffsNotes version of their two-season conflict – “I’m a better father,” “I’m a better man than you” – Rick tries to convince his friend that there’s still a way to work things out, before handing Shane his pistol so he’ll be forced to shoot an unarmed man. Drawing Shane in close, Rick, the man we’ve been repeatedly been told can’t make the tough decisions, can’t do what needs to be done … does what needs to be done: He stabs and kills his childhood friend.

As Rick cries over his friend’s body, a shaken Carl appears – now you see why the writers needed them to make their way back to the farm – drawing the stolen pistol his father had returned to him only hours before. Seemingly aiming at Rick, who pleads that it isn’t what it looks like, Carl fires, downing a reanimated Shane, making father and son culpable in his death. It’s a little hard to swallow, frankly. The writers obviously want to exploit one of the most memorable moments from the comic series by having Carl “kill” Shane while also enjoying the payoff of Rick so brutally stabbing his friend and rival through the heart. (Heck, why stop there? Carl could’ve merely wounded zombie-Shane, giving Lori an opening to swoop in for the kill!) It’s another dramatic cheat that, thankfully, triggers immediate ramifications as the gunshot stirs a herd of walkers lurking just inside the tree line — yet somehow avoided by Rick and Shane in their search — setting up what’s sure to be an Alamo-like battle in the season finale.

Grade = A

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Comments

  • http://twitter.com/Ecovore Booster Gold

    Easily the best episode in this season or last! The opening sequence was great and explained things that should have been explained before (fence or creek around entire property). And, to me the flaws, though present, were much less noticable than in this review. Location aside, the Rick/Shane/Carl scene made even more sense than in the comics and less detrimental to Carl I think – poor kid. Can’t believe we are going to have to wait so long after next week. 

  • Huskie

    This is one of the few episodes where I felt everything came together. It was like Dale’s death finally got everyone to pull their head out of their behinds and start having some interesting moments. First episode where I didn’t hate Andrea too. Hopefully they can redeem her character so she’s a little closer to the comic. I really enjoyed the whole thing from beginning to end. Yes circling to
    the farm was weird but maybe it wasn’t as close as it seems and Carl
    saw them on the hill from his little look out he sits at. So guesses on who bites it next week? I’m saying TDog, Patricia, and Jimmy are all gone. Next most likely are Carol and Hershel.

  • Mel

    Hopefully they keep Hershel because in the comic when they reach the prison, he teaches them how to farm.

  • Mel

    Hopefully they keep Hershel because in the comic when they reach the prison, he teaches them how to farm.

  • Huskie

    Yea, I’ve read the comic too. I figured I’d refrain from posting about who I think makes it because of the comic. They’ll have to kill off a few people for the Herd’s impact to be felt, but I think they’ll keep most of the major players from the Prison story arcs (hence my predictions). I think Daryl will make it too cause everyone really likes his character.

  • Huskie

    Yea, I’ve read the comic too. I figured I’d refrain from posting about who I think makes it because of the comic. They’ll have to kill off a few people for the Herd’s impact to be felt, but I think they’ll keep most of the major players from the Prison story arcs (hence my predictions). I think Daryl will make it too cause everyone really likes his character.

  • Savonti

     I can’t agree that it made more sense than in the comic. I get why it went down that way, I don’t think anyone was sure that we were going to see a little boy shoot a grown man in the neck, but the fact that (in the book) Carl was the one to end it was a really big deal and helped form him into such a strong character.

    I’ve been worried that if it hadn’t gone down that way we’d be stick with Carl playing the little boy for the rest of the series. That said I’m alright with that was served up.

  • http://khiaao.blogspot.com/ khiaao

    Whos Next…?

  • Mark J. Hayman

    “It’s a callback to “18 Miles Out,” where the zombified security guards
    showed no signs of bites or scratches, and probably further, to the
    Season 1 finale, when Dr. Jenner whispered something to Rick. It’s beginning to look that, as in the comic series, everyone is infected.”

    I’m reasonably certain that everyone – the characters, the writers, and the fans, already know that “everyone is infected”; whether or not it’s been explicitly stated, these are “Romero”-type zombies (always the best).  Rick and Shane noted the unbitten guard but weren’t taken aback by the fact.  As to Jenner’s mysterious whisper, we’ll probably never know.  Or it was about Lori’s pregnancy.  Or it was a red herring (leading us back to “never knowing”).

    In fact, Jenner’s experiments made it clear that the virus/pathogen responsbile for regeneration was already present in the bloodstream, while the group would have drawn a similar conclusion via observation by then.

    Damned sloppy of Rick to not have administered a coup de grace on Shane before turning away, grief-stricken or not.  Shane nearly proved in death what he’d preached in life concerning Rick’s penchant to under-react to imminent threats.

  • http://www.spinoffonline.com Kevin Melrose

     “I’m reasonably certain that everyone – the characters, the writers, and the fans, already know that ‘everyone is infected’…”

    I don’t think that’s the case at all — as least as far as the characters are concerned. If they did know, Shane wouldn’t have pointed out the lack of bites/scratches on the security guards in “18 Miles Out,” nor would Daryl have done the same in this week’s episode. And, despite the generally haphazard nature of Shane’s plan, I don’t think if he possessed that knowledge he would’ve merely broken Randall’s neck, running the risk of him reanimating and sneaking up on him on his way back to the farm, or in his search of the darkening woods.

    What’s more, given the Very Special Episode approach to parts of this season — abortion, suicide, et al — audiences would’ve been subjected to at least a week of the characters promising to shoot each other through the head should they die of natural causes.

    Your comment does make me wonder, though, if Jenner did indeed whisper to Rick that everyone is already infected, why would he (even distraught) turn his back on the “dead” Shane. And why didn’t the two guys he killed at the bar in “Nebraska” reanimate before Rick, Hershel and Glenn could make their way out?

  • DanielP

    Because the two guys in the bar we’re both shot in the head.

  • Mark J. Hayman

    Now that Shane’s dead and we can dispense with the worry of spoilers in that regard, I do recall that it wasn’t until the prison that the group became convinced that anyone who dies (with the old brainpan entact) comes back.  This led Rick, still guilty about the death of his friend and wanting to put him out of his undead misery, to drive back to the original Atlanta camp to dig up Shane and cap him.  For all the TV-only folk, shortly after Rick first joined the group, Shane more or less lured him into the woods to kill him (over Lori), but Carl had followed and, having already been allowed to carry a pistol, shot and killed Shane to protect his father.

    However, that Kirkman neglected this rather central plot point until nearly, what, a year into the disaster, is a basic failing of the book, one of several that have been corrected in the show (like making for the CDC or *any* known or suspected military stronghold).  The simple, observable conditions involved in reanimation, such as anyone keeling over for any reason sooner or later coming back (much, much sooner in Shane’s case, here) would have been noted along the way, what with the sheer number of people dying every day.  Granted, these folks aren’t quite Rhodes Scholars, but to continue on month after month operating on the mere assumption that a bite (or similar external infection) is required seems foolish.

    That said, the fact that the question has arisen twice in short order could support your point that they just “didn’t know”.  Which would be a sad statement about the baseline intellectual capacity of the group.  It really harkens back to Romero’s Dawn where a scientist posits that perhaps the “brains” are all dead and only the “idiots” have survived.  Let’s just hope that enough of them are sufficiently clever to, oh, build and maintain a steam engine.