Written by Evan T. Reilly (“Cherokee Rose,” “Nebraska”) and show-runner Glen Mazzara (“18 Miles Out, “Bloodletting”) and directed by Guy Ferland (“Chupacabra,” Sons of Anarchy), the penultimate episode of The Walking Dead Season Two pulls together nearly all of the lingering plot threads from the first seventeen episodes and sets up the finale for what looks to be a house-cleansing. And after the death of Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) last week we get another major character biting the dust this time around.
In order to respect those who are spoiler-sensitive (and don’t complain about that Dale news above – you’ve had over a week to get caught up), I’ll refrain from discussing that until the end. But discuss it I will, so be warned.
I know that a few weeks ago I praised this show for pulling back and giving us silence instead of mourning at the mass funeral for the zombified family members, feeling that the silence was far more effective than any words could be for that scene. I’m going just the opposite this week, as we open with Dale’s funeral, cross-cut with Shane (Jon Bernthal), Andrea (Laurie Holden), T-Dog (IronE Singleton), and Daryl (Norman Reedus) going on a Walker Hunt.
This time out, the silence is for the hunters and serves as a very nice counterpoint to Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) final words about Dale. I admit that I wasn’t a big fan of this version of the character, finding him annoying and used more often than not as a plot device to stir up trouble, so I wasn’t too upset to see him go. But a character that is strident and morally indignant works a lot better as a remembered voice of reason than as a jealous, cantankerous kook threatening to dump all the guns in the swamp.
Dale can only look better in retrospect, if you ask me.
His death gives us the opportunity for a nice scene between Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Andrea. It’s not much, but despite the complaints about people standing around talking, there’s a lot of standing around saying nothing, and it’s when things really work best. The dialogue tends to be mundane and believable, except for those moments when they pander to that segment of the audience demanding melodrama.
This is a show mostly written for people in their thirties and up who like some gore with their being forced to realize human beings have to make their own meaning in a meaningless existence; people who remember that the greatest zombie films spend way more time with the living characters trying to deal with each other and the loss of everything they’ve ever believed in, before the zombie hordes swarm in and overwhelm them all.
But back to the show…
Not only is Dale laid to rest, so is being forced to sleep in tents. Hershel (Scott Wilson) finally relents and allows the gang to move inside – just in time for the finale, hint hint. At the same time, Carl (Chandler Riggs) comes clean to his da– oh wait, Dad’s busy getting ready to let their prisoner, Randall (Michael Zegen), go – Carl comes clean to Shane about stealing Daryl’s gun and goading the walker that attacked Dale into shambling into camp.
Moments like this are why I love Shane. He’s an ass with a ridiculously short-fuse, but I’ll be damned if he isn’t right on point when it comes to taking care of Carl. The man steps up when it comes to his extended family and I don’t care how off-reservation he goes, the man has his reasons.
To a point, anyway.
After being shut out by Rick for questioning his plans for Randall – and putting Rick right about his priorities with his son – Shane slips back into his shell and devotes himself to building up a watch tower. In a major misstep (but one a long time coming), Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), decides to rein in her bitchiness and treat Shane like a human being for the first time since Rick returned.
SPOILER SHIELDS ON
Who would have guessed that treating him like a person with feelings and reasons for his actions would be what it took to push Shane over the edge? It was heartbreaking watching Bernthal’s face as he worked through his emotions in that scene. Shane is a character that works on instincts and emotion. Rejecting him without any consideration has given him a focus for his resentment that helped to center his motivation on protecting the group – Lori and Carl in particular – and proving himself.
When Lori apologizes, all that goes away and he snaps.
When Lori apologizes, in his head, all that’s holding him back now is Rick.
And, in Shane’s head, Rick is not only a danger to the group with his bleeding-heart decision making, but he’s also neglecting, and thereby damaging, his family. His baby. Shane’s baby.
In Shane’s head, he’s a better father and husband to them than Rick can be in this new world.
So killing Rick is something he feels he has to do for the good of the group and for selfish reasons.
Forgive me for loving this, but we don’t get this sort of moral complexity on TV very often in the horror and sci-fi genres. There’s nothing black and white about what’s going on here and it has been fantastic watching Shane slide over the edge. I love the fact that it’s kindness that finally breaks him.
Shane’s plan is, of course, madness. There’s no way that anyone would believe that Randall killed Rick before Shane could stop him. It’s just too sloppy (so sloppy, in fact, that Daryl and Glenn have already backtracked and found Randall’s undead body). I suppose he could have tried to bluff it, but he’s clearly gone wrong in his mindtank.
That’s the only explanation I can use to justify the fact that their final confrontation comes so close to the farm that Carl is able to come running up, even though they’d been walking around in the woods for a while already. That nitpick aside, the confrontation is beautifully shot, with Rick and Shane facing off in an open field beneath a huge full moon.
I’m not going to compare this to the comic’s version of things, because the original happened so fast that it was surprising and very effective, but in the context of the show wouldn’t work as well. As it was, it seemed pretty clear to me that Shane was trying not to kill Rick, while forcing Rick into a position where he had to act on Shane’s level and be willing to murder to defend himself, his family, and the group. He’d lowered his gun for fuck’s sake, and then Rick stabbed him.
Granted, Shane’s a madman at this point, but that pretty effectively knocks Rick down a peg or two on the Holier-Than-Thou scale.
And having Carl shoot zombie-Shane balances out his own inability to get the job done on the random walker last week.
And putting zombie-Shane down took guts. That was his surrogate dad. The man he went to with his secrets when he couldn’t talk to his parents. Hell, Shane was really Carl’s best friend in the group.
That’s the sort of thing that makes this show so good, if you ask me.
Name me another show where a little kid had to shoot his adult best friend who had previously been sleeping with his mom and had just seriously considered killing his dad. Let’s see one of those stupid kids on Falling Skies or Terra Nova do that.
But it wasn’t all good. Almost, but not quite.
I’ve been letting T-Dog’s slide into the background go without much comment. It was pretty obvious from early on that the writers don’t know what to do with him. After an awkward burst of fever-induced racism fear, he’s been fairly quiet; stepping up when work needs done or zombies need killed. Outside of that, though, the T in T-Dog has pretty much stood for Token.
After two weeks of no real lines or presence in the narrative, this week he at least gets a joke or two. But he’s sent back to the house with the women and old-folks while Rick, Shane, Daryl, and Glenn (Glenn? Really?) head out into the woods at the end.
It’s just sad and annoying, really. The show really has too many characters to give them all adequate face time (see: The rest of Hershel’s family), and with the impending zombie smackdown that’s promised for next week, I’m curious to see if T-Dog makes it out alive. I don’t expect any of the Greenes but Maggie to head into next season, so hopefully that will be enough of a bloodletting to keep T-Dog in the mix and maybe, just maybe, develop his character next time around.
The other kind of annoying bit this week was the way suddenly, out of the blue, there’s an army of zombies just lurching over the horizon, ready to swarm the farmhouse. A gradual build-up over the past couple of episodes would have been more believable, especially with all the shooting they’ve been doing with their Barn Slaughter and training exercises. I have a hard time believing that Carl’s shooting of Shane was the straw that broke the camel’s back there.
I suppose an argument could be made that all the shooting had been attracting them to the area, but the long silences had kept them from moving on and discovering the farm, but that’s stretching credulity quite a bit. For a zombie apocalypse show, of course.
I’m hoping that next season, the zombies aren’t used simply as convenient plot points to force actions or artificially create drama. Having the dead wandering about should be more than enough reason to cause anxiety without forcing melodrama into the picture.
With all that said and done, I think my favorite scene this episode was when Rick sat down with Carl and told him that he wasn’t to blame for Dale’s death. Because every last one of them was going to die eventually. Nice.
Of course, that’s not really any different than before the zombie apocalypse, though. Is it?
Somebody should tell Carl to give Daryl his gun back, at least. Telling Carl to just keep it is not cool.