TV Diary | The Walking Dead: “Better Angels”
TV Diary | The Walking Dead – Episode 2.12 – “Better Angels” – Original Airdate: 3/11/12
Episode Grade: A
OK, Walking Dead. You’ve got me. I’m fully on board. I surrender. “Better Angels” was possibly one of the best episodes the show’s ever done and it moved the season’s narrative forward full throttle thanks both to the simultaneously unsurprising yet shocking death of Shane and the revelation that being bitten by a walker isn’t the only way to be turned into one of the undead. After slogging through much of the first half of the season, The Walking Dead has found another gear since returning from its midseason break and this increase in urgency is something the show wears very well. The oft-heard criticism from the masses of The Walking Dead was that nothing of consequence ever really happened, that the show was too content to keep with the status quo. I don’t know that I necessarily subscribed to that belief myself but neither was I on board with the hardcore fans who believed that the show was one of television’s best. I’m rapidly changing my mind, thanks in part to the seismic changes that the past two episodes have brought to the show. Dale’s dead. Rick’s struggling more than ever with being the leader of the group. Carl is hardening to the point where his parents have every right to worry about what he could turn into. And now, after “Better Angels,” Shane is dead at Rick’s hand after attempting to kill Rick and co-opt his family as his own, only to turn into a walker himself and then ultimately being shot in the head by Carl. Whew. Almost the entirety of the episode was based around Shane finally reaching his boiling point with Rick and putting his plan to kill his former best friend in cold blood into place. While Rick was preoccupied with the logistics of how Randall was going to be released, Shane skulked into the barn unbeknownst to anyone and spirited Randall away under the pretense of telling Randall that he was fed up with the group and wanted to join Randall’s collective. Eventually , after making their way deeper into the woods, Shane snuck up behind Randall and snapped his neck and followed that by bashing his own head into a tree to create the appearance of a struggle. After making his way back to the camp, he spun a story of Randall escaping with his gun after getting the drop on Shane knowing full well that everyone would spring into action to track the fugitive down. And, indeed, Rick immediately orders search tandems (Rick and Shane; Daryl and Glenn) to go into the woods as darkness has fallen to attempt to find Randall. As soon as this happened, I said to my wife, “Oh, shit… Shane’s gonna try to kill Rick,” and as the sequence played out and Daryl and Glenn discovered that the tracks they’d located were in tandem – indicating that Randall wasn’t alone only to encounter a walker-ized Randall later on – it was clear that one of either Rick or Shane wasn’t making it back to camp alive. And after Rick and Shane each laid their cards on the table – Rick needling Shane about what he was about to do; Shane trying to force Rick’s hand – Rick plunged a knife into Shane’s midsection, dispatching the show’s ostensible villain and a man that Rick once claimed as a brother. High tension and drama there, but that wasn’t the end – Carl happened upon the scene to see his biological father killing the man who served as a surrogate father, leading him to raise his gun to Rick until, suddenly, Shane sprung back to life as a walker forcing Carl to deliver the killshot himself. And just then… an army of walkers off in the woods began making their way over the horizon to the farm suggesting that next week’s finale is going to be crazybananasinsane. I’m exhausted just writing that recap, let alone watching the episode itself. Again, for everyone who criticized the languid pace of the show for much of its first year and a half, the patience that the show utlilized served to make the events of the last two episodes all the more impactful. It’s in large part because of those choices that I’m as invested in the show as I’ve ever been. This Sunday’s finale can’t get here soon enough.
 After mentioning that he wanted to throw his lot in with Randall’s people, Randall seemed to finally drop the façade he’d been employing with Rick and everyone else when telling Shane that he’d fit right in and that things could get “crazy” at times. Seems to suggest that he was complicit in everything he said he had no part of, which seemed (for the moment) to make it appear that Shane was actually doing the right thing in killing him.
*So beyond Shane’s death and the void it creates as Rick’s second-in-command (Daryl, anyone?), “Better Angels” showed us definitively that being bitten by a walker isn’t the only way to end up as an undead flesh eater. The screen fading to black as Shane died, only to flash back with quick-cut scenes of violent walker activity was a deft touch that showed that the process of transforming into a walker can occur as soon as someone dies, provided that they haven’t suffered major head trauma. The question is, has the virus or whatever caused the zombie apocalypse in the first place mutated to the point where it’s airborne, or is it something that’s latent in all survivors’ bodies that’s only triggered upon death? Maybe we’ll be clued in a little more next week during the finale. Either way, it’s a game-changing development that’s sure to have massive repercussions going forward.
*As will the insanely gigantic swarm of walkers on the horizon as Rick and Carl attempt to flee the field. Hoo boy.
*I really loved the way that the final showdown between Rick and Shane was shot with their silhouetted bodies standing with the backdrop of the field and the full moon behind them. Absolutely gorgeous image.
*My incredibly eloquent words in my notes as Shane rose again as a walker: “What in the fucking fuck?!”
*Was it just me or did it seem like (outside of Carol, of course) Dale’s death had much more of an impact than Sophia’s did on everyone? That’s not to be taken as a criticism because Dale was an such an integral part of the show for a time so it was very nice to see how affected everyone was by his sudden and shocking demise. His spirit was present for much of the episode, from the intercutting of his memorial with the shots of Shane, Andrea, T-Dog, and Daryl annihilating a group of walkers, to the symbolic scene with Glenn and Andrea reminiscing about Dale in his Winnebago. It almost seemed to suggest that Glenn could be the one to fill Dale’s role as the show’s moral barometer. But that could just be me.
*Lori’s apology to Shane for her actions of late seem to have been the final straw that lead to his decision to permanently dispense with Rick. Some have said that her apology ran counter to the fact that she pulled a Lady MacBeth at the end of “Triggerfinger” by trying to convince Rick to kill Shane before he got too out of hand, but I think that it had more to do with the fact that Dale dying caused everyone to reassess their priorities and ultimately that’s why Lori did what she did here. Obviously, she didn’t realize that it would have the consequences that it would but that makes for great drama, no?
*Or maybe it could have been that Rick seemed more preoccupied with Randall’s fate after Shane came to him with concerns about Carl after Carl confided in him about his part in Dale’s death that finally forced Shane’s hand. “Freeing that prisoner… more important to you than Carl,” he spits at Rick. Again, there’s been criticism of the Shane character this year but while he has devolved into cartoon villainy at times, The Walking Dead’s writing staff has also made sure to humanize Shane to the point where there have been numerous occasions this season where he’s been in the right. Definitely a smart choice by the writers to paint their characters in shades of grey instead of as simple black and white caricatures.
*”Better Angels” really telegraphed the Rick/Shane development in many ways, one of which was that when Rick/Shane and Daryl/Glenn were on their search for Randall, Rick and Shane hardly said a word to one another while Daryl and Glenn were chatty. Well… as chatty as Daryl can be, anyway.
*Despite being given the fatherly stamp of approval by Hershel last week, Glenn is still reluctant to resume his romance with Maggie, here turning her down after she invites him to put his stuff in her room after everyone decides that the safest plan is for Rick’s group to move out of their tents in Hershel’s field and into the house proper.
*Meanwhile, Hershel being the class guy that he is, gives up his room to Rick and the family. This selfless act – coupled with last week’s acceptance of Glenn – means that I think Hershel’s biting it next week.
*Michael Zegen’s accent as Randall was really terrible. That needed to be said.
*This T-Dog line of dialogue sure stood out, based on the casting news of a few weeks ago: “The Governor called. You’re off the hook.”
*This week’s Walking Dead Extreme Gore Moment: Andrea taking a rake to a walker’s head.
*This week’s Walking Dead Extreme Gore Moment #2: Shane cutting the top of a walker’s head off with a shovel.
*I’ve been avoiding most knowledge about the comic series but this interview done with comic creator/series co-creator Robert Kirkman sheds some interesting light on the developments in “Better Angels.”
*As does this exit interview with Jon Bernthal, better known as Shane.
*”Dale could sure get under your skin. He got under mine.”
*”I couldn’t always read him, but he could read us.”
*”He said this group was broken. The best way to honor him is to un-break it.”
*”Every time I leave the farm all hell tends to break loose.” “Then maybe you should stop leaving.”
*”I’m never touching another gun.”
*”Ain’t no reason you should do all the heavy lifting.”
*”So this is where you planned to do it?” “It’s as good a place as any.”
*”Come on, raise your gun.” “No, I will not.”
*”You got a broken woman. You got a weak son.”
*This was you, not me!!”