“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 cords of memory will swell when again touched as surely they will be by the better angels of our nature.” — Abraham Lincoln
Dale’s death is cause for reflection for the entire group, as tragic deaths are often the catalyst for the living to question what it means to be alive. Rick implores the group to heal themselves, to come together and put aside their squabbles, to honor the humanity that Dale was so concerned with. The speech and the episode title is harkening to the Lincoln quote I included above.
The first season was about raw survival. The second is about the quality of our survival. Every episode raised the question in some form or another. Does continued existence trump compassion? Mercy? Love? What’s the worth of a little girl in this world?
The deliberate juxtaposition of Rick’s eulogy over the border patrol led by Shane sets the tone for everything to follow. We get a glimpse of what Shane’s leadership would be like – there would be an eye to protection, but a rule of dark emotions, of brute strength and harshness. He’s the one who leads in kicking that walker to death and then he steps back and watches the others join in. They were grieving Dale, yes, and taking out their emotions, but they were given leave to by Shane’s actions. These are the shots in the show I find it hard to stomach – the walkers are predators, yes. But they were once human. They may not feel pain like us, love like us, remember us like we do them, but for the grace of god goes any of the survivors. Put them out of their misery.
But for the stomping death of the zombie, most of the group appears to take Dale’s death to heart. T-Dog gets more involved with the group decisions and planning. Hershel brings the survivors into the house. Randall will be let go, somewhere far from the farm and given provisions, instead of being left in a parking lot somewhere. Lori apologizes to Shane, though her good intentions are clearly warped into something else in Shane’s mind.
There’s a beautiful scene between Andrea and Glenn, as they work on getting Dale’s camper to start. It was a highlight of the episode and apparent turning point for Andrea. She tells Glenn the truth that Dale was proud of him even if not in the exact moment Glenn voted to kill Randall. It’s a hard truth, but something he needed to hear. Great moment, fantastic acting.
Rick and Shane both should have taken her lead. Carl confesses to first Shane, who he obviously trusts more than his own father, and then to Rick, that he stole Daryl’s gun and let a loose zombie run around on the farm. Their advice is shockingly similar. Both tell the boy that he wasn’t responsible for Dale’s death (except that he has some culpability in it) and that he should just keep Daryl’s gun for himself. They’re insisting that he joins the ranks of the fighters, in their own way, and when Carl resists both times, they each insist on it. Carl is just able to walk away from Shane in a way he can’t walk away from Rick. In ordinary circumstances, I wouldn’t think twice about assuaging Carl’s guilt for his role in Dale’s death, but these aren’t normal times. Carl’s actions have immediate repercussions – he needs to understand that.
All these small interactions build up to the showdown we’ve been waiting all season for. Shane has been teetering on the edge since Rick showed up at Camp Fear so long ago. In “Better Angels,” he finally goes full cuckoo. Lori’s apology clearly sets off new hope for Shane that he could be with Lori. Rick doesn’t help things by being so focused on Randall that he refuses to listen to Shane when he tries to explain what’s going on with Carl. Part of the reason Shane has been so compelling is because he’s not-wrong (which isn’t the same as being right) a lot of the times. Calling out Rick is one of those times.
Shane has got it firmly in his head that he will be a better husband, a better father, and a better leader than Rick. So he takes Randall out of his jail cell, leads him off to the woods, pretends he’s going to free him, and then snaps his neck. This is not a plan. This is Shane going off half-cocked. His story is just as flimsy as his story about Otis, but in the heat of the moment, everyone somehow buys that a 16-year-old kid who has been tied up for days and has a bum leg, overpowered Shane and stole his gun. We’ve all seen enough of Shane’s chest this year to know that’s some bullshit.
In the woods, Daryl and Glenn peel off to “find” Randall, while Rick goes with Shane. Quite against Shane’s plan, Daryl and Glenn actually find Randall, just Zombie Randall. The fact that he reanimated as a zombie without being bit is a huge surprise (hinted at in “18 Miles Out,” though I bet Rick already knew about this).
Anyone paying attention to Rick’s face as they walk through the woods knows that he knows Shane is leading him off to his death. I don’t know if Shane is lucid enough to get that Rick is onto him, but by the time they reach one of the fields, under the full moon, it’s too late to matter. The showdown is what the entire season has been leading up to. It’s gorgeously composed, minimal external sound (no music to tell us how to feel), big sweeping shots of the two of them in the field lit by the moon. There’s a shot of Rick putting his six-shooter in his holster – the show owes just as much to the trappings of cowboy movies as it does to horror films.
Last week, Daryl said that the only reason Rick doesn’t know that Shane murdered Otis is because he didn’t want to know it. That was one of the reasons the group was fracturing – Rick’s hope that he could fix everyone by being everything to everyone, and blind to the real issues. So what does it mean for the group that Rick offers Shane his gun while saying the kind of things you’d expect Rick to say – we can work it out, we can make it better – until he gets close enough to stab Shane in the heart.
It’s an intimate way to kill someone, up close, with his hands. This was a man he loved. Rick cries while killing him, blames Shane for pushing it to this end.
And then there’s goddamn Carl, out of the house, out in the field, close enough to see his father killed Shane but not close enough to see what precipitated it. Carl points his stolen gun right at his father’s head. I don’t know if he would have pulled the trigger on Rick if Zombie Shane hadn’t risen, but things are so damaged at this point I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had. Carl shoots Zombie Shane with the gun Shane insisted he carry.
Next week is the final episode of Season 2. We know that it will involve a zombie attack, since they were already streaming towards the house at the end of “Better Angels.” The group had at least parked the cars for a quick get away and boarded up the windows on the lower level, but I predict we will see the end of the farm with the season. I’m gonna bet that we lose at least one of the farm people, likely the blonde mother whose name I never learned. I’d even guess that T-Dog is in jeopardy, but with losing Shane and Dale already, I can’t see the show killing off any more of the main cast.
I’ll also bet that we learn that what Dr. Jenner told Rick at the end of “TS-19“ is that the virus has gone airborne and everyone is already infected. It would be in keeping the revelations of the last two weeks and, frankly, what else would he bothered to have whispered before dying? “I really miss The Golden Girls“?
I’ll be doing a Season 2 wrap-up the week after the finale. If you have any questions, comments, theories or errata to bring up or ask me, let me know in the comments and they’ll be addressed in the post.