Warning — SPOILERS!
The very best shows have epic highs and frustrating lows. Think of LOST, BUFFY, THE SOPRANOS, and DEXTER. Surpassing the ordinary requires risk, THE WALKING DEAD takes those risks and they miss grandly sometimes. Last week was a near flawless episode, a home run in the truest sense of that tired analogy, this week’s episode ‘Better Angels’? Not so much.
It’s easy to blame my disappointment (and perhaps your own, if you feel the same way) on the execution and the timing of this weeks forever departure. The episode felt both sloppy and rushed, and certainly didn’t benefit from it’s proximity to the surprising gut punch that was Dale’s death last week. It’s settled wisdom that killing major characters can benefit a show. It’s a hard to swallow, but necessary pill that brings a story to places that would seem unimaginable without it. The thing is, THE WALKING DEAD has now killed two major characters in the space of two weeks, one week before the end of a season that was shaped (and a little marred) by behind the scenes turmoil. If the upcoming season finale sees more death (which seems inevitable), or if it chases this dwindling group of survivors from the farm, well, I don’t know that a seven month break will be enough to stop my head from spinning. In other words, and I’ll utilize another baseball analogy: sometimes when you swing a bat too hard, you miss the ball and the bat goes flying out of your hands and into the crowd. After tonight’s WALKING DEAD, I feel like I’ve just been hit by a flying bat and I’m really worried that I’m going to wince next time this show’s writers take a swing.
Lets take a look at where it all went wrong this week:
As I said, timing didn’t help this episode and I almost wish the producers had given us an episode to watch the group grieve and be slightly re-formed by Dale’s death. Instead, we get a tastefully done funeral scene with Rick saying thoughtful things followed by Shane throwing another tantrum, and Andrea and Glen sharing a moment with Dale’s RV. Sure, the rise of Hershel into Dale’s role as wise old-timer has begun, but evolving Andrea a little more should have been the priority, especially in light of what happened to Shane. I alluded to this last week, but Andrea is the key. She is the character most affected emotionally by Dale’s death and she is the one character who has drank Shane’s Kool-Aid.
How will Andrea react to Shane’s death? I have no idea and I don’t think we’ll find out this season thanks to the coming storm of roamers and walkers and dead heads (oh my). Maybe there is a method to that madness, maybe it’s all an allegory for how no one can be fully grieved anymore since longevity is more contested than we are accustomed too and a raging war for survival never takes a long enough break to allow people to catch their breath or cry their tears. Maybe, or maybe it’s just easy justification for all of that aforementioned sloppiness. In light of how uneven this season has been, lets say that it’s probably a little bit of both.
So, I guess he just finally snapped. Slapping at his head and concocting a pretty freaking stupid stunt to get some alone time with Rick. Sure, Shane was helped over the cliff by a moment with Lori, another dovish move by Rick, and the accurate perception that Carl is spiraling, but despite all that it really felt like he was given that last push because the writers suddenly remembered that they wanted to kill Shane before the season ended.
See Shane has become an iconic black hat on this show. A grand, seething mass of rage and violence, something like a charging bull who, in the end, gets put down by a knife to the gut in a moment where he loses his nerve after a go for broke scheme that backed him into a corner that he apparently didn’t want to be in. The problem is it felt so unnatural. Everything about Shane, from the very beginning of this season to the end, has been about how badly he wanted to be in that corner with Rick, how he wanted what Rick had, and how he was moving closer to seizing it.
The very best thing this show does is show us these awful decisions that people would, conceivably, have to make in this situation. Sure, we root for Rick because he feels like the hero, but has he really been more right than Shane? And what kind of leader changes his persona based on which direction the wind blows? If you think about it, every supposed “bad decision” of Shane’s has been justifiable on second glance and on second glance he may just be the better leader, the better choice for Lori, and the better father for Carl (Carl seems to agree, in that he pulled a gun on Rick when he saw that he had killed Shane). I’ve been opposed to the way the writers had Shane spin out of control, and the way he was built into this massive force that came into conflict with the rest of the farm because it pre-destined him for a quick, explosive end. Now that it’s happened, and now that my own blood thirst for Shane’s death has been satiated — I find myself thinking that the show may have made a bad decision that isn’t justifiable in any other way than, “Rick is supposed to be the hero”.
For those of you that didn’t stop reading or instantly sprint to the comment section, please allow me to qualify those remarks. I know what Rick Grimes means to the comics, but this is a different beast, a different medium and one that may need Shane more than Rick. I never imagined that I would write that because I’ve been rooting for Shane’s death for awhile, but I just keep waiting for comic book Rick Grimes to show his face and I sort of feel like the closest thing to that character just got a blade to the sternum and a bullet to the head.
Speaking of that bullet, please tell me you weren’t surprised by Shane’s brief return. It has become obvious that Dr. Jenner whispered something to the effect of, “We are the walking dead” to Rick at the CDC. Hell, I’ve even avoided speculating about it in my past reviews, but the show’s writing staff stopped believing in leaving breadcrumbs toward that realization long ago. Now they post big neon arrows that point us in that direction, so if they aren’t pretending that this will be any kind of stunning revelation, why should I?
Like the pre-plowed road to Shane’s death, the writers didn’t need to prepare us for this because in doing so they basically ruined it for us. Again, the comics are a different beast but I can’t help but recall how we learned about the dire eventual fate of all survivors in the comic and how we saw Shane die in the book. I can’t help but recall those moments or the impact of Dale, and feel that, despite the quality of the show and the memorable moments generated by it, the book is so much better. I don’t envy the writers of THE WALKING DEAD, they’re taking on the task of trying to adapt a near perfect story and in that endeavor there is rarely a gray area between success and failure, and rarely a missed swing that isn’t glaring.
A herd appears to be underfoot and Rick and Carl need to obviously repair their relationship. Here is a look at the big questions:
- How will the group react to Shane’s death?
- How will they react to Daryl and Glen’s discovery?
- Will Randal’s group make an appearance? Will David Morrisey debut as “The Governor”, that group’s likely leader whose casting announcement may have been a bit early to only affect season 3.
- Will the survivors abandon the farm?
Worthless and Stupid Prediction:
T-Dog and Jimmy die, and the farm falls to the Walkers.
Tune in next week to find out how wrong I am (and for a multitude of other reasons) and then check back here moments after the episode airs to see my take on things, because people foolishly let me do that.