The Walking Dead continues to slowly but surely improve itself, as the penultimate episode of Season Two continues the hot streak that has defined the sophomore season’s back end.  As our group of survivors mourns the shocking death that befell a primary character in the last episode, yet another main character must face death in the bleak “Better Angels.”

The Players:

  • Director:  Guy Ferland
  • Writers:  Evan Reilly & Glen Mazzara
  • Cast:  Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, and Laurie Holden

Episode Title: “Better Angels”

[Spoilers ahead!]

The group of survivors holds a funeral for Dale, and prepares to stockpile for the coming winter.  Rick, in an effort to appease Dale’s final request—that Randall be set free and not killed, despite his connection to a dangerous group of Other Survivors—and plans to let Randall go.  Before he can, though, the more fatalistic Shane takes Randall into the woods and breaks his neck, and then returns to the farm to announce that Randall has escaped.  Later, Glenn and Darryl discover Randall has become a walker, and put him down.

Elsewhere, spurned by Lori, Shane confronts Rick in the woods at gunpoint, insisting he would be a better, more decisive husband and father than Rick.  Ricks convinces Shane to put his gun down, and then stabs Shane in the chest, killing him.  An armed Carl then arrives and kills a now undead Shane; the gunfire then attracts a forest full of the walking dead.

The Good:

  • Shane:  After straddling the line between anti-hero and villain for an entire season, Shane finally crosses over into the dark side (if only for one episode) in a way that is both convincing and understandable—he’s not a bad guy out for world domination or loot; rather, he simply believes Rick’s leadership will kill them all, and desperately wants the love and familial comfort he shared with Lori and Carl before Rick returned to the group in Season One.  Though his death wasn’t entirely shocking—news had already leaked that Shane was making an exit—like Dale’s death, Shane’s end upped the ante on The Walking Dead, showing that not even a primary character is assured a long life on the program.
  • The Walking Dead:  Even in TWD’s weakest moments—I’m looking at you, first half of Season Two—one thing this show always does well is, well, the walking dead.  Zombie setpieces are always powerful in TWD, and the dread-filled image of a forest full of zombies closing in on Rick and Carl is a memorable and terrifying zombie moment in a drama full of them.  Also: it is now confirmed that death (not just being bitten) automatically leads to a person becoming a walker.

The Bad:

  • Logic:  It wouldn’t be a Walking Dead episode without at least one or two moments of lazy writing, and “Better Angels” is no exception.  This episode’s two moments?  First:  Shane barely gets Randall into the woods before killing him and leaving him there, and then returns to announce that Randall has escaped—not exactly an airtight murder plot, as Randall is found minutes later in the show.  Shane may not be a rocket scientist, but it was moment that smacked of a writer’s room more set on crafting the shock of discovering a zombie Randall rather than a logical and coherent episode.  Second:  Rick and Shane’s confrontation is deep in the woods… and somehow Carl hears the commotion and wanders out there with a gun?  Not as egregious as the first moment, but it once again felt like inorganic plotting wedged into the episode.

Overall:

Well, we’re at the end of Season Two, TWD fans, with only one episode to go.  Season Two has made numerous improvements over the past several episodes, and “Better Angels” was no different.  It was another episode of hard choices and dark consequences for our characters, and, like the best televised dramas, The Walking Dead has stopped trying to avoid those consequences, and is fully embracing them, no matter how many primary characters die in the process.  While the show still stumbles now and again getting us there, it has finally begun to live up to its dark premise.

Rating:  7.5/10

The Walking Dead airs Sundays on AMC.