Nikki: OK, enough of the chit-chat, I MUST talk about the ending of this episode (we’ll get to all that other stuff later). So. Let’s just get right to my initial reaction.
Now, I know I usually keep things clean on this blog, but I just can’t manage it this week. FIRST Shane kills Randall after giving up on the group discussions and the idea of keeping him alive for Dale’s sake. SECOND he holds a freakin’ gun to Rick’s head. And just as Rick was handing over the gun to Shane and I said to my husband, “Oh man, I bet Rick is going to flip the gun up at the last second and totally turn on him” and my husband said, “Nah, Rick’s not like tha—” Rick STABS him to death. A gunshot is impersonal; a knife stab is as personal as it gets. You have to get your hands dirty, you have to be holding onto the other person, and he was looking right into Shane’s eyes.
And then the screen went dark and I thought the episode was over. And just like with The Sopranos finale many years ago, the dark screen seemed to go on too long. I waited for it to cut to a commercial. And then there was a red flash and a screaming sound, and I thought it was a commercial for a horror film. And then Rick’s sitting there. “What?” I said. Another flash of zombie heads breaking through membranes, screaming, back to Rick sitting there with his head in his hands. “WHAT?” Another flash, and the camera focuses on Shane. “WHAT?!” (I really wasn’t trying to do a Tenth Doctor impression, but I was managing nicely.) The zombie virus was coming to life inside Shane. And he was about to turn into a walker.
Did Rick know he was going to turn and that’s why he was sitting there? Or did that come as a big surprise to him, too, and he’d just been sitting there out of grief? Did the knife he had in his pants have the zombie infection on it and he stabbed him knowingly, or did Shane already have it in him? After all, Randall’s now a zombie, probably because he’d tried to cut his ties with the knife that was used on the zombie (notice how the camera zoomed in on his bloody wrists). When Shane was cutting his hand with the same knife he’d just stuck into a zombie’s head back when he was trapped on that bus, did he infect himself? Some of us were talking that week about how zombie rules had been broken, but maybe they weren’t… maybe the writers had been planning this all along.
AND THEN Carl shows up, freaking out over seeing his father sitting over Shane’s dead body. AND THEN Carl holds up a gun and both my husband and I were freaking out that the little turd was going to shoot his own father because his loyalty was to Shane… WHAT?? But THEN he shoots Zombie Shane, who had just gotten up to lumber towards Rick. Was he originally aiming at his dad? He certainly appeared to be; after all, Shane hadn’t yet gotten up when Carl cocked the gun.
In. Sane. I can’t remember the last time the end of an episode caught me off-guard like that. Maybe it was “The Pointy End” in Game of Thrones (which, incidentally, was re-airing on HBO last night immediately following this episode of The Walking Dead).
OK, Josh… I’ve got questions for ya again. How exactly did that play out in the books? I thought Shane would be here for a long time. With Dale gone as the moral centre, and now Shane gone as the opposite end of that spectrum, does that mean we just have a bunch of middlemen now? Those two were great antagonists, and now Shane is gone. I hope next season isn’t missing something. (And can I just mention that I think Jon Bernthal has put in an amazing performance as Shane? I was actually really sad to see him go. More than with Dale.)
Your turn, my friend. I have to go sit in shock a little while longer.
Joshua: Well, needless to say, things played out considerably different in the comics. Nikki, activate SpoilerVision!
Shane dies very early in the comics, as I'm sure most folks know by now – word really got around when he made it through the quarry section alive last year, as that was the show's first huge deviation from the comic canon. In the books, he has a harder time dealing with first losing Lori and then his leadership of the group, and when it is obvious that Lori is siding with her husband, Shane snaps without much fanfare. Rick follows him into the woods, a confrontation ensues, and while he is threatening Rick at gunpoint, Shane is shot to death by Carl. Similarities, then, but only that. Deactivate SpoilerVision!
So. Shane's dead. Dale's dead. Randall's dead. We still have the season finale yet to go, and there is no way everybody makes it out of that farmhouse Sunday night. You're right that this leaves a real imbalance in what remains of the group, but considering the size of that herd of walkers descending on them, it doesn't look like we'll have much time to be impacted by the inequity, what with all the running and screaming and bloodshed. If nothing else, this two-ep shakeup should serve to fix those pesky issues of gender equality for a while, since there must be twice as many women left than men now, Carl included.
Reaching the point at which 'the other most levelheaded guy in the group' is Daryl, however, is probably not a great signpost for a period of coming prosperity.
I loved both Jon Bernthal and Jeffrey de Munn in these roles, and though I wish Shane's descent had been written with a bit more depth and that de Munn in particular had been given more to do this year, they will nonetheless both be sorely missed next season, and whatever comes next, the ensemble will be the poorer without them as a part of it.
But let's jump from the eulogy at the end to the one at the beginning, back to Dale's funeral. Last week's episode was practically a morality play, and in our analysis we talked a lot about what place morals can hold in a world as upended as this one, and here Rick is talking about it again, talking about seeing Dale's face when he makes decisions, honoring him by doing things “his” way – thoughtful, honest, virtuous. I believe him when he says it, too, believe that he came away from the events of the last episode genuinely affected. I think he learned the lesson that when there is no easy answer, you have to settle for the hard answer you can live with. Even if that means killing your best friend.
It's all there in the episode's title – “Better Angels” refers to Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address, specifically its last paragraph. Delivered on the eve of civil war, with seven states already seceded and more soon to follow, that speech was an entreaty, a call for unity, a last-ditch appeal for peace. But it was also a warning: remember yourselves. The “better angels of our nature” best win out, usher you to reason, or you will find yourselves at the wrong end of a bayonet.
“We must not be enemies,” Lincoln wrote. “Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” Tempers are running high. But remember yourselves, friends. Or we will be forced to remind you. Harshly.
It is worth noting that, historically speaking, the pretty words didn't work then, either.
Nikki: Ha! Loved your last line. You beat me to the Lincoln material. I didn’t realize off the top that the title referred to his speech, and simply googled “Better Angels” right after the episode ended and found it right away. And yes, it definitely resonates with this episode:
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 battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, 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.
Yes, next episode is going to be a MASSIVE hellfire of zombiedom, and the big question is, why? Where the hell did they come from? Was it from that place Rick and Shane went to? When they were there, they noticed the two cops lying on the ground didn’t have any bite marks on them. There was an insinuation in that one that they were simply infected another way. Could the zombie virus have mutated? I was discussing the episode with a friend of mine today and he suggested that maybe they all are infected, and it’ll only come out when they die, the same way it did with Shane and Randall. Both Shane and Randall turned after they died, which means they’d been infected for a few days at least. Did it happen when they were knifing zombies in the head? Maybe all of the characters are zombies-in-waiting at this point.
Could Shane have unleashed something when he smashed the window of that building and let the zombies loose? Maybe they were being quarantined for a reason. If Randall’s people were 30-strong, and those zombies were let out, they could have all gotten to Randall’s people, and now we’re seeing the army from town finally finding their way to Maggie’s farm. But then again, dumbass Lori probably laid a breadcrumb trail of smashed-up cars and hairbrushes right to them.
I had no idea that Shane died that early in the comics, by the way, that was really interesting. What I AM finding is among my friends who’ve read the graphic novels, they typically don’t like the show. Those who haven’t read them do. (And of course I’m not saying that’s the case with everyone, just the few people I know who’ve read them.) I’m also interested in the fact that Carl was the one who shot Shane in the comics. Do you think he was originally aiming at Rick in this episode?
Also, speaking of the eulogy for Dale at the beginning, I noticed three graves where Rick was speaking. Who’s the third? I was expecting two: Sophia and Dale. I don’t think the third would be Hershel’s wife (would they really have buried them next to each other?) and besides, if they buried the wife, wouldn’t they have also buried the son? Why three?
I’d like to talk about Shane and Randall for a bit. Despite saying last week that Randall was always a potential threat, and despite Shane holding a gun to Rick’s head this week, we actually see in the scene where Shane tells Randall that he wants to come with him that Shane’s instincts were bang-on. Randall is a total creep, and begins to tell Shane just how much fun he’ll have with the group, and you suddenly realize Randall wasn’t just a disinterested observer – he’s as much as problem as the others he was with. And now no one will know how right Shane was. What did you think of their conversation?
Joshua: You Googled it? What, they don't study American history in Canadian schools? We have to take Canadian history for, like, two full years of secondary school down here, learning all the finer points of colonization and culture, from trapping & fishing techniques and Métis curdcraft, to Robert Nelson and the invention of the hockey riot, to the Great Moose Migration of 1817, to memorizing the lyrics of every song by the Hudson Bay City Rollers. Hell, I was taking quizzes in seasonal tuque law before I could drive a car! Oh, well... I guess you guys just aren't as thorough up there.
I don't have much insight as to what's going on with the plague. In interviews from last year, creator/writer Robert Kirkman said that we would find out before the end of the season what Jenner whispered into Rick's ear at the CDC, so I'd imagine what we're seeing alludes to that pending revelation, whatever it might be. All we know for certain at this point is that everyone turns after death, which would lead me to believe that everyone is already infected, and that a bite or scratch causes a lethal infection but that apparently the virus-or-whatever is otherwise dormant while the host is alive.
Or is it? During the scene in which Shane first goes into the shed with the intention of killing Randall, we were given the first of several odd visual tics, the same sort of stuttering edits that were echoed in the resurrection sequence at the end of the episode (and I believe we saw it shortly before he breaks Randall's neck in the woods, as well). Of course, it is possible this trick was merely intended to reflect Shane's tortured state of mind, to link his rage to the mindlessness of the walkers, but I think it would be incredibly strange to employ two such similar visual gimmicks in the same episode with only the intent of a glancing symbolic connection between them. In my estimation, the cues were too direct and deliberate to be so inconsequential.
If this is true, then the implication seems to be that Shane was suffering some ill effects of the virus while he was alive. And that is bad, bad news, folks. That is seriously messed up. Is it completely random and uncontrollable? Is it based on some kind of emotional trigger? What if the trigger is genetic? Holy crap, what if the trigger is genetic and the baby Lori is carrying belongs to Shane?!? Third season awesomeness, that's what!
Or maybe I'm way off base with the crazy theorizing, and this is just another case of a sad former LOST junkie reading too much into innocuous editing tricks. But hey, maybe not. What do you think?
Speaking of visual cues, did anyone else think the scene between Randall and Shane in the woods was wonderfully evocative of the titular location in 'Miller's Crossing'? If only one of them had been wearing a fedora... Anyway, their conversation did appear to reveal Randall's true nature, but I still don't think he was smart enough to be much of a threat. My real concern is based on something I noticed about his behavior over the last several episodes, namely that Randall always seemed pretty coolheaded about whatever was happening to him, no matter how awful or life-threatening. Be it a knife digging into his terrible leg wound or someone actually holding a gun to his head in preparation to pull the trigger, he just never appeared as freaked out as I'd logically judge such baleful circumstances would render the average joe. At first I interpreted it as either mediocre acting or insufficient direction, but now I wonder if it isn't perhaps true to character. I wonder if this guy might simply be desensitized to that type of physical and mental abuse because where he came from, he was accustomed to much more delinquent behavior. And if that is the case, then woe be to anyone who survives that gajillion-walker herd. Because even awful can always be worse.
[The third grave, by the way, is Otis'.]
Nikki: Ah, see, I didn’t realize they’d erected a grave for Otis (presumably it was a memorial grave only). Or I forgot.
I want to discuss one last scene that I found particularly poignant and spooky in this episode. I’m sure you can watch it however you want, but when Lori goes out to talk to Shane by his truck and apologizes to him, she was more Lady Macbeth than ever before. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, that creepy scene of her wrapping herself around Rick and telling him Shane was a threat was definitely her manipulating the situation, and this week she did it again. She realizes her plan didn’t work, and despite her best efforts Rick didn’t get rid of Shane, who she sees as a threat. After she tells Rick that the baby is 100% his, that Shane thinks it isn’t, and that Shane could get rid of Rick to take Carl and Lori for himself, Rick… doesn’t act. So she realizes she’s got to go about this another way: Rick isn’t easily manipulated, but Shane is putty in her hands. So she tells him the baby COULD be his, and he means a lot to her, and that he really saved her and Carl and they owe their lives to him, and she’s so sorry that things turned out this way. BAM. That was exactly what Shane needed to hold a gun to Rick’s face and for Rick to realize Lori was right and fight back. Of course, that could have gone horribly wrong. Thank goodness for Rick’s quick-thinking.
As for zombie baby, that’s exactly what a friend of mine and I have been joking about. And I added that I hope it eats Lori as soon as it’s born. Ha.
So, zombiepocalypse next week. Who are you putting odds on dying? I’m thinking Carl’s gone (would “hoping” be too mean to use here?). T-Dog, definitely (that poor guy… every time I think of him I picture him in a red shirt, and I’m not sure if that’s because he actually was wearing one at one time or if I just know deep down that the guy’s had about 8 lines this season and was just trotted back out just before the zombie horde showed up. Subtle, writers… REAL subtle). Hershel? Hershel’s family? What if the entire family gets wiped out except for Maggie, which gives her the impetus to join Rick’s gang and continue on? I like her character (and the actress) a lot, so I think it’s possible she could stay.
Lori will stick around, and Rick, obvs. Andrea was someone I originally thought might go, but I like her as a foil for Lori. And that she’s the only woman who doesn’t think her place is in the kitchen or folding laundry. I thought Carol was annoying in the first half of this season, but I’m intrigued by her now, especially with Daryl. But maybe they’ll kill her off, too. Daryl will survive; he’s a fan favourite and writers know better than to mess with those. Glenn should survive, I hope. (Unless they kill him and Maggie is grief-stricken for the first part of S3? But it would be nice if both of them survived and had each other… they could derive strength from that.) What are your thoughts on that?
Oh, and may I remind you that in the only war against my country and yours, we kicked your sorry asses. We Canadians seem very polite and sweet on the surface, but don’t effin’ mess with... Nah, I just can't do it... my ingrained politeness will make me feel bad for reminding you of your great loss, and yes, we realize how insignificant we are to you. But seriously, yes, I had to google the actual speech. We actually do take years of American history up here, and I know your presidents and their speeches, but I haven’t read them since I was in university… you know, like three years ago or something. (cough) But yes, I totally believe you absolutely took Canadian history in school. I think it was called “The Evolution of the Timbit.” Heehee… (I still remember one time I was in Georgia and went out to dinner with several university grad students, and they actually thought Canada all looked like the setting in Northern Exposure. GRAD students, they were. I reminded them that that series was set in Alaska, which, last I checked, was a state.) ;)
But enough about polar bears and igloos, let’s get back to our zombies!! Take us home, Joshua “Rick” Winstead!
Joshua: You Northern North Americans... so testy. :)
That's a great observation about Lori's talk with Shane at the beginning of the episode. I didn't read it as conniving like that, but it could very easily be the case. Diabolical! To be honest, I hope you're right, because if she's truly that manipulative, then I suddenly find her character much more interesting.
Who will survive season two? I have learned that my endurance barometer is faulty when it comes to this show, so I've no ideas, really. T-Dog had several spoken lines in tonight's episode, and I sincerely can't remember the last time that happened, so I figure he's likely cannon fodder. Same goes for Patricia, Billy and Beth, none of whom have done much of anything this year. As for the core group, I think Lori is as good a guess as any, since it will be infinitely more difficult to kill her off once the pregnancy starts to show (that's damned unpalatable, even for cable), but I can also see Carol being lost, if for no more reason than to shake Daryl out of his pout somewhat. Factor in at least one heroic sacrificial death – which has got to be Hershel, considering his peace ceremony with Glenn and the pocket watch last week – and we're looking at a very small number of continuing cast members flying back to Georgia in a few weeks.
However, as the writers have already proven at several points this season, when it comes to The Walking Dead, you never can tell what's coming. You just board up the windows and try to prepare.
Have a great weekend, everyone. See you after the finale!