The Walking Dead 2.12 Review: "Better Angels"

By John Keegan and Gregg Wright

The-Walking-Dead-iconI think it's safe to say that this season hasn't been as impressive, overall, as I'd hoped it would be. There have been some high points, to be sure, but the bulk of the drama unfolding at the farm has been disappointingly bland and underwhelming.
The problem, I think, is that the writers don't know how to properly take advantage of a full, 13-episode season. They don't have enough good ideas to support a season of this length, so we end up with a lot of bickering to pad the running time and little actual plot progression. The character development has been disappointingly minimal. Shane has had the most well-developed character arc of the season, and consequently, he's been a bigger plot-driver than anyone else.

For that reason, "Better Angels" is more satisfying than most episode of the season have been, as the conflict between Shane and Rick finally reaches its ultimate, inevitable conclusion. Shane's death was spoiled well in advance, and sadly, I was among the spoiled. It was unavoidable. And even before then, I'd been spoiled about Shane's fate in the comics multiple times. It's impossible to know now whether I would have predicted Shane's death or not, but I would certainly have expected some sort of confrontation between Shane and Rick to occur at some climactic moment.

The-Walking-Dead-Better-Angels-Season-2-Episode-12-2-550x365The show has been leading up to that confrontation since Shane was first introduced, so there is a certain degree of satisfaction in seeing it finally play out on screen. What has really surprised me is how many fans have taken Shane's side in the Rick vs. Shane conflict. Shane is a strong character, but in my eyes, season 2 has crafted into someone who could essentially be seen as the main villain/antagonist of the show. But I couldn't imagine myself actually rooting for Shane, given how blatantly destructive, selfish, and sadistic his motivations have been. Rick certainly isn't an example of perfection, but if given the choice between the two men for a leader, Rick wins by a landslide.

But for those who wanted the group to have a leader who's more like Shane, they may very well be getting their wish. Rick's murder of Shane, justified or not, pushes him into much darker territory than ever before. Ironically, Shane's constant accusations--that Rick just isn't as good a man or a leader as he is--probably played a big part in driving Rick to the point where he was capable of murdering Shane (though there were other contributing factors, of course). Simply put, Shane underestimated Rick, and ended up paying for it with his life.

This major character death comes just on the heels of another one. But I think that this brings to light an interesting contrast. Dale's death was shocking, and probably saddening for many viewers, but I think that his death actually adds very little of value to the story. The same could be said for Sophia's death as well, to a lesser extent. Both moments seem devastating and world-changing as they happen, but then go on to have surprisingly little effect on the status quo. I will not miss Shane, but his death, in addition to being the natural conclusion of a very important story thread, actually has the potential to dramatically alter the group dynamic and the direction of the story and characters.

Given how important that final scene is, it's easy to fall into the trap of discussing nothing else about the episode, as I have done so far. So let's back up a bit. The bulk of the episode is dedicated to two things: the fallout from Dale's death and the buildup to Shane's death. That might be oversimplifying it, but I think it allows for easier analysis of the episode's strengths and weaknesses. For the most part, I found the buildup to Shane's death to be far more interesting and compelling viewing than the fallout from Dale's death.

The grief over Dale's death isn't the grief of losing a beloved elder of the group. It's more like the kind of grief felt over losing that annoying old uncle who no one knew very well, but was basically family. There's just not a lot of emotion involved, aside from Glenn's brief breakdown. And Glenn's a bit of a softy by nature, anyway, so I suspect that he would cry like that over just about anyone in the group. There's something of an attempt to invest meaning in Dale's death by showing how it unifies the group again, but it doesn't seem to work as well as it should. It's the right direction for the show to go in the wake of Dale's death, but the effort feels halfhearted.

Still, the scenes in which Shane decides to act are some of the best that I've seen on the show in a while. The scene in the forest at night with Daryl and Glenn splitting off from Rick and Shane are particularly good in how it utilizes the "show, don't tell" rule to impart all the needed information to the audience. The last time we saw something like this was in the bar at the end of "Nebraska"; an episode that was, not surprisingly, also written by Evan Reilly. This is the first time Reilly has written for the show since that episode, and here he's co-writing with Glen Mazzara. I think the show would benefit greatly from having more Reilly-penned episodes.

By this point, I already had a rough idea of how Shane's death played out in the comics, so I was able to notice some of the similarities and differences that fans of the comics are now discussing. I'm not really in a position to judge the merits of one version of Shane's death scene over another, but I liked the TV version well enough. I'm also intrigued by this discovery that seemingly explains why Rick and Shane found Walkers in a previous episode with no bite marks. From what I'm hearing, this may be yet another connection to the comics.

As expected, now that we're approaching the finale, things are getting a bit more interesting. With a horrifying large Walker hoard headed toward Hershel's farm, more character deaths seem inevitable. I wish that I were more attached to the characters at this point, so that their deaths might be more emotionally affecting, but I do still have my favorites among the cast that I'd like to see survive. Naturally, I want Daryl to survive. T-Dog needs to survive as well, because killing him off at this point, after how much he's been pushed to the sidelines this season, would be infuriating. Other than that, I don't have much in the way of preferences. Let the bloodbath begin!

John Keegan is Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth, a partner site of SciFi Vision. Gregg Wright is Critical Myth's reviewer for The Walking Dead.

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