“No more kids stuff.” — Rick Grimes
Fans of the comic book that The Walking Dead is based on have either been excited or up in arms about the major changes and deviations the show has taken from the source material. It’s a major point of contention that probably has lost some of the hardcore fans of the comic book. I can understand why they would bail on the show. They love the comic book with such a passion that any changes made from pages-to-screen is seen as a betrayal for their hard-earned loyalty through almost a decade of reading the series. On the other side of the equation I do believe that the changes have been a good thing for the tv series. It’s kept things unpredictable to the point that long-time readers cannot predict what will happen as the show moves forward. It’s this know knowing aspect of the tv series over the comic book source material that should keep things fresh for everyone.
“Better Angels” is the penultimate episode for season 2 and it’s another good step towards rewarding the show’s fans for sticking with the show despite a first half to the season that’s been called very slow. It’s cold opening was a nice balance of the quieter moments that the first half had been mostly about as Rick and the group buries Dale and the rest of their dead. Balancing this is a montage of Shane leading a hunting party driving around the outskirts of the farm to destroy those zombies who are too close for comfort to the farm. It’s an opening that will lead the two men the cold opening focused on to finally hash out their differences by episode’s end.
Glen Mazzara (the show’s new showrunner after the firing of Frank Darabont halfway this season) co-wrote this episode with Evan Reilly and it’s going to go down as one of the best episode of this season, if not one of the best in this series’ short history, so far. The first half of the episode shows how some have been dealing with Dale’s death in the previous episode. We get Carl feeling more than just a bit guilty about his role in getting the group’s moral compass killed to Glenn and Andrea exchanging some fond memories of the old coot as they try to fix and start Dale’s old RV. Even Daryl looks to have been affected by Dale’s death as he becomes much more helpful in this episode as if he understands that the group may be broken, but it won’t be because of what he didn’t provide.
If there was ever a reason to believe that this show has turned a corner in terms of storytelling since Darabont left the show then this episode just strengthened this second half as an almost reboot to the season. It closed off one major story arc as the showdown between Rick and Shane finally came to a head in the last ten minutes of the episode, but it also went a long way into finally answering just what exactly Dr. Jenner whispered into Rick’s ear at the CDC at the end of the last season. It puts a whole new set of problems for these survivors and also adds a new level of anxiety to the series. The fact that just dying even when not bit by a zombie will cause a recently dead person to come back to life adds to the hopelessness echoed by Jenner at last season’s finale.
With just the season finale left the series has quite a bit of storylines to deal with. The episode ends with Rick and his son Carl over the body of the former’s best friend and the latter’s surrogate father and as the camera pans into a wide shot we see that just beyond the crest and unknown to father and son was a herd of zombies emerging from the nearby woods. We also have the lingering danger of the dangerous group of survivors that may be camped just a few miles from the farm who may pose a much bigger danger to the group than the zombies themselves. No matter how the season ends it looks like the group’s time at the farm may be coming to an end and that’s as welcome a turn as the speed by which Mazzara and his writers have changed the pacing of the story.
- Just have to say that tonight’s episode had some great scenes from the wide shot of Rick and Shane at the top of a crest with a very large looking moon back-lighting the pair.
- Interesting how Rick voices the one thing many people have been complaining about Dale’s character during his eulogy over his grave. Yes, Dale got under the skin of not just fans of the show, but it would seem the others characters in the show itself.
- The cold opening of the group giving Dale and the others the group has lost (both Sophia and the friends and family of the Greene’s in the barn) was paralleled by Shane, Andrea, T-Dog and Daryl driving around the farm’s perimeter destroying the zombies they come across. This was something that was long overdue and it was great to see just well this group destroyed the zombies when they had the upper hand and weren’t outnumbered. This is a major point of topic for zombie lore fans who know that when it small numbers zombies are pretty easy to avoid and/or fight when one keeps a cool-head.
- That final zombie before it got the top of it’s head smashed open by a shovel strike from Shane got a very cathartic beatdown from everyone. It’s as if these four were taking out their frustrations on this last zombie.
- It looks like Hershel and his family have finally seen the light and allowing Rick’s group
- Great scene (brief as it was) between Rick and Daryl early in the episode. We’re seeing just how much Rick appreciates Daryl for doing what needed to be done with Dale at the end of the last episode. Even Daryl is starting to figure out how much of the “heavy-lifting” Rick has been doing since he joined the group. No matter what Shane fans may think about him being the only one who made the hard decisions I think Daryl would think differently as he sees Rick as the one who was the true leader even if he didn’t agree with everything Rick said or do.
- Speaking of Shane, it looks like Dale’s death may have finally pushed him over the edge. Seeing the one person who was all about keeping the group from losing their humanity die not because of the group’s descent into amorality but because of the very danger that has no use for high principles and moral high grounds. Shane finally sees that he’s been right all along and it doesn’t help that Lori looks to be trying to make amends with him.
- We see that Lori as a character continuing her turn as the Lady MacBeth of the series as she continues to try and manipulate the situation between Rick and Shane to her advantage. Whether she prefers Rick or Shane becomes even more cloudy.
- In this episode we’re seeing Rick beginning to lose more and more of his need to hold onto the world before he woke up in this zombie apocalypse. The quiet scene between him and Carl in the hayloft was a good example of this. Rick knows that Carl will not be able to grow up in a world where children have a chance to act like kids. Him handing Daryl’s gun back to Carl is the first step in Carl finally losing that youthful innocence. Whether Chandler Riggs can pull off a Carl that’s becoming more and more adult at such a young age would be determined in the coming episodes and seasons.
- We finally get the Randall story-arc ended as he becomes the excuse for Shane to get Rick alone with him and solve the problem his best friend poses.
- The revelation that just dying without being bit or scratched by a zombie has now changed everything for the worst for the group. Even the escape of non-zombie death doesn’t stop one from coming back and joining the innumerable legions already roaming the countryside. It’s another acknowledgement that The Walking Dead has been following the zombie lore rules set down by the grandfather of the subgenre, George A. Romero himself.
- With Shane and Dale both gone it will be interesting to see just who will replace their roles in the new season. I can see The Governor (David Morrissey cast in the role) taking on the villanous role that Shane occupied this season, but Dale’s voice of reason may just be a much harder one to replace.
- T-Dog actually got more than just a cursory cameo appearance in this episode real early in the episode. He also got more than just one line. He was actually part of a real conversation. Maybe there’s hope for him yet (doubt it).