I don’t know if I want to live. Or if I have to, or if it’s just a habit.
It seems a bit redundant to mention that on a show about the survivors of the zombie apocalypse that this week’s episode was all about survival, but it was and not in the base mechanics of doing it. It’s about the ethics of survival and the morality of the new world order, what we do and how we do it in order to keep living. “Save the Last One” is lightyears from the clear-cut right and wrong of season one’s early episodes. That’s because the focus swung from Rick, who has a definitive idea of morality, to Shane, whose guidelines have been steadily progressing from “murkily defined” to outright “survival at any cost.”
What happens with Shane is obviously the juicy topic for discussion, so let’s get our B-plots out of the way first.
Sophia is still missing. The survivors who are not at the farm have decided to spend another night at the highway before moving on. Daryl is trying to sleep, sandwiched between Carol crying to herself and Andrea angrily loading and unloading a clip. He gets up and decides to go looking for Sophia again. He says it to Carol to get her to stop crying, he doesn’t bitch about heading out in the middle of the night. He recognizes that Carol is in pain and does what he can to alleviate it. Most importantly, he’s not trying to be the hero. Andrea joins him on the walkabout because if she doesn’t, then we wouldn’t have any more Daryl scenes for this episode.
They come across another suicide tent ““ this one comes with a handy rhyming note and a now-zombified camper hanging from a tree. Andrea and Daryl discuss their lives BZ and the ethics of checking out of the world. They don’t find Sophia.
Lori and Rick are struggling with the meaning of surviving as well. Carl’s condition is deteriorating ““ they have a very small window of time they can wait for the medical supplies to arrive. After that, they need to operate and the odds of Carl surviving it without a respirator are very slim. In a quiet moment, Lori asks if it’s right to save her son’s life. This isn’t a world of infinite possibilities anymore ““ all he has to look forward to is a hard scrabble life that will either end in the arms of a walker or at the business end of a gun. But Rick ““ honorable, hope filled, Rick ““ reminds her that in the brief moment Carl was conscious, he didn’t ask about the zombies, he talked about the deer he saw right before he was shot. Something beautiful, something living, Rick says. If that’s what Carl is remembering about this world, maybe there’s some hope after all.
Maggie and Glen exchange a few thoughts on the place of God in this new world. There’s something brewing between them ““ and why not? How many potential romantic partners are you liable to meet in this world?
And so we come to Shane.
The episode opens up with Shane in the bathroom at the farmhouse. The shower is running, his bloody clothes are stripped off, and he’s unearthed a pair of clipper to shave his head down with. As anyone who has ever watched any TV show ever knows, shaving your head is an indicator of Character Development. Things Have Happened. Changes Are Made. We just don’t understand how ominous these clippers are until the end of the show.
Otis and Shane are chased through the high school by the horde, finally ending up trapped on top of the closed bleachers. They agree to split up, Otis trying to draw the zombies towards the locker room while Shane takes the medical supplies and makes a break for some windows at the top of the gym. The first part of the plan goes off hitchless ““ but Shane takes an unscheduled, zombie-prompted fall from the window, wrenching his ankle in the process. When he is backed up against a fence, walkers on all sides of him, Otis appears to save the day. The two of them hobble their way towards the truck, the walkers swarming behind them.
Things look bleak. They trade off taking shots at the horde until Otis mentions he’s down to his last bullet. “Me too,” Shane says. You can see Shane running the mental gymnastics in the seconds he take to stop, look at this man who just saved his life, and shoot him in the leg. I don’t really give him any consideration for uttering “I’m sorry” right before he does it.
It’s important to underline the exchange that happens because “down to my last one” means more than just being out of ammo. In this world, you save the last bullet for yourself. It’s come up over and over again in the course of the series (and is practically zombie-movie canon at this point) ““ dying isn’t the worst thing. It’s becoming one of them that is untenable. The last bullet is meant for the brain pan, so you don’t come back, don’t turn on your friends and family, don’t shamble around for eternity as your body rots away. It’s your last chance at dignity.
Otis and Shane each have one bullet left. Shane uses his to shoot Otis in the leg so that the zombies will be distracted by feeding. And it has to be a non-lethal shot for the distraction to work ““ Otis needs to be screaming and alive. Shane struggles to get the other pack away from Otis before the horde reaches them, causing Otis’s gun to go off harmlessly and getting scratched up and hair pulled before finally wrenching the supplies away.
There are arguments to be made that Shane is making the “right” choice here. Otis dies so that Carl can live. Otis is paying for the predicament he put Carl in. But while Shane will tell himself that he did this for Carl’s survival, I don’t buy it for a second. Shane crippled Otis for Shane’s survival. Saving Carl is a happy happenstance. Worming his way back into Lori’s graces is even better than saving Carl, but luckily, saving Carl is his way back into Lori’s graces. The mental math that Shane did all comes down to Shane coming out on top ““ survival + medical supplies = hero.
And so we get back to the head shaving scene, which could be read as guilt or remorse on Shane’s part. While I don’t dispute that Shane looks hella guilty at the end of the episode and practically has a breakdown on the front lawn, it’s important to note what Shane was doing before he pulled those clippers out. He was checking himself for wounds. Shane shaved his head to cover up the patch of hair Otis pulled out in their fight. He’s covering his ass.
How long it stays covered is anyone’s guess. I’ve pretty much given up guessing what direction the show is headed ““ but next week’s preview hints that Shane’s mental state continues to deteriorate. I’ll bet that his affair with Lori comes out way before anyone finds out what he did at the high school.