Rick and Shane face off in the season's penultimate episode, and Carl learns a valuable lesson about gun control

By Darren Franich
February 27, 2015 at 07:51 PM EST
AMC
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From the beginning, one of the most enjoyable and frustrating things about The Walking Dead has been the sense that it doesn’t know what kind of show it wants to be. I’ve noted before that Dead sits uneasily in between two very different modern traditions of TV drama — inquisitive, slow-paced, quote-unquote “serious” dramas about the human condition (like The Sopranos) and pulpy entertainments that cheekily throw adult-content thrills in your face (like Spartacus.) Both type of show can be incredible, and some of the best current dramas thread the needle between the two: Think Justified, or Game of Thrones, or even Breaking Bad. Now, Walking Dead has almost always nailed the fun pulpy stuff, mainly because makeup guru Greg Nicotero seems endlessly capable of conjuring new and ever-grosser zombies. Unfortunately, the vast majority of this season has seen the characters asking “deep” questions about the meaning of existence on a boring farm — it feels a little bit like your local community theater performed Our Town and decided to shake things up with occasional zombie attacks.

In the last couple of episodes, though, it feels like the show is beginning to set aside the bargain-Milch dialogue and embrace its pulpy core. At least, that’s the vibe I got from last night’s episode, which brought a pair of long-simmering storylines — the potential danger represented by the captive Randall and the slow-motion downward spiral of Shane — and brought them to a boiling point. The episode kicked off with Rick giving a speech over dear departed Dale’s grave. It was one of those inspiring Deep Blue Sea speeches that seemed intended to chart a new way forward for our gang of survivors — and while Rick was speaking, we kept crosscutting to Shane, T-Dog, Andrea, and Glenn going on a little zombie hunt. (The sequence ended with Shane digging a shovel into a zombie’s head, which I guarantee is not something you’re going to see on Luck anytime soon.)

The Grimes Gang was preparing for winter — moving into the house, establishing a new perimeter, generally trying to plan ahead. Hershel noted happily that he has “fifty head of cattle on the property.” We’ve never seen them, but I assume they’re hiding in the same place that Hershel keeps his twenty wacky step-children. As part of the new way forward for the Grimes Gang, Rick was attempting to limit his interaction with Shane. He was treating Andrea like his new lieutenant, and Daryl was his new away-mission buddy.

But Rick’s attempt to mitigate Shane’s role in the household was undercut by his own son. You see, Carl has been feeling a little bit guilty about his role in Dale’s death. (Personally, I think the kid deserves a medal. Now, if only he could accidentally kill the other annoying characters, we’d really be getting somewhere.) Carl gave Daryl’s gun to Shane and announced, “I’m never touching another gun again.” Just a few minutes later, Rick’s wife also had a meaningful conversation with Shane. She told him how thankful she was for his role in saving their lives; she apologized for just how messed up their lives had become after Rick’s return; she concluded, “I don’t even know whose baby this is. I can’t imagine how hard that is on you.”

This was, I think, Walking Dead at its most emotionally intricate. It’s easy to forget that all of these characters have essentially experienced the end of the world, witnessing the breakdown of everything they have ever understood constituted real life. Unfortunately, scenes like this mixed awkwardly with scenes showing the Grimes Gang moving into Hershel’s home. I’m fascinated by the decision to set this entire season of Walking Dead in the one part of the world that is completely untouched by the end of the world. It literally feels like the cast is at the world’s most boring sleepaway camp. At one point, Hershel offered Lori and Rick his bedroom. T-Dog said, “If you two can’t decide, I’ll take it!” Oh, T-Dog, what a kidder! No, you’ll be sleeping in the refrigerator.

NEXT: The ol’ Jack Bauer neck-twist

The episode took a sharp turn when Rick went to talk to Carl. They sat together in the barn and stared at the farm — for a brief moment we saw them silhouetted against the sky, and even if it wasn’t intentional, it felt like a brief homage to John Ford. For the first time, Rick and Carl shared a dialogue that felt real and emotional. Rick didn’t try to paint a pretty picture for his son. He told him that death was everywhere in their new life. “I’m going to die,” he said, “Mom’s going to die.” When Rick said “I wish you could have the childhood I had,” Rick’s sadness felt remarkably relatable. (You wonder how many fathers are saying the same things to their sons now, in our miserable modern moment of weary decline.) Rick insisted that Carl keep the gun, but he didn’t try to inspire him. His concluding thought was, “I’m tired, son.”

(COMIC BOOK ASIDE: In the Dead graphic novel, the interaction between Rick and Carl basically becomes the central relationship of the whole story. And for me, this scene marked the first time the TV show has managed to translate their fascinating dynamic: The sense that Rick is teaching Carl to be the next protagonist of The Walking Dead. Basically, Rick is to Carl as Cruise is to Renner. END OF ASIDE.)

Meanwhile, Shane was plotting. He walked into Randall’s prison cell, and stared at the captive, and for a few moments the only noise on the soundtrack was Shane’s heavy breathing. His face seemed filled with rage — you almost felt like Shane was about to rip off Randall’s arm. Instead, Shane took Randall out for a walk. He asked Randall where his camp was located, and he didn’t ask nicely. “Five miles away, by the highway!” said Randall. Shane told him that he wanted to join up with the Raymond-James Gang. “I could definitely fit in with your renegade gang of supporting actors from failed TV series,” said Shane. “I was a regular on Eastwick, and I was also one of those guys from The Pacific.” Randall exclaimed, “Dude, I love The Pacific! I feel like people gave it no respect because it wasn’t as much fun as Band of Brothers, but it was supposed to be darker and weirder. Like, The Pacific is the Empire Strikes Back of the Tom Hanks Does World War II franchise, y’know?” “That’s what I keep saying!” said Shane.

None of that actually happened. Instead, Randall walked offscreen, and Shane followed him, and there was a loud “crack” sound. We didn’t actually see it happen, but I assume Shane gave Randall the ol’ Jack Bauer Brand™ Neck-Twist. Then Shane pulled a Norton and kicked his own butt, mashing his head against a tree like a pachycephalosaur that dreams of being a woodpecker.

Meanwhile, T-Dog was opening up Randall’s cell. This was a big week for T-Dog. By my count, he had six separate lines of dialogue. A new record! Unfortunately, according to my notes, one of those lines, “Oh, hell no.” There’s no nice way to say this, so I’ll just say it loudly: DEAR WHITE PEOPLE ON THE WALKING DEAD WRITING STAFF, PLEASE GIVE T-DOG SOMETHING TO DO OR JUST KILL HIM, LOVE DARREN.

Shane came running back and claimed Randall had gotten the drop on him and stolen his gun. Everyone freaked out. Rick enlisted Daryl, Glenn, and Shane in a search party. He told everyone else to get in Hershel’s house, which had fortunately been converted into a super-secure fortress thanks to the hard work of Hershel’s seventy kooky nieces and nephews. Then they set off, two by two.

NEXT: Ill Met By Moonlight

Visual storytelling on The Walking Dead can be hit-or-miss. On one hand, you can point to events like the zombie freeway herd or Daryl’s fall down the mountain — sequences that played out almost silently and slowly built up tension. On the other hand, there are entirely too many scenes where characters walk through a desperately uninteresting forest and say something to the effect of “Hey, the tracks go this way!” The search for Randall played out more like the latter, but fortunately there was plenty of intrigue. Rick and Shane split off on their own, and Rick seemed to know immediately that Shane was planning something. There was one moment when the two former friends shared a long look, and I honestly though they were going to point their guns at each other.

Meanwhile, Daryl and Glen managed to track down Randall. Or rather, they found where Randall’s trail ended, and then Zombie-Randall attacked them. In a shocking twist, Daryl Motherf—ing Dixon shot at Randall and missed. (This is so unlikely that, after much internal debate, I have come to the conclusion that Daryl missed on purpose as a kind of Dead Poets Society-esque gambit to inspire Glenn, who wound up killing the zombie with a knife to the head.) The two men examined the dead Randall, and figured out that he hadn’t been killed by a zombie.

This is a fascinating new development, one which is familiar to readers of the Walking Dead comic. People don’t get “infected” by zombies. They already are infected: They just don’t experience the effects until they die. I’ll be intrigued to see what the TV show does with this new development, especially since last season concluded with an extensive PowerPoint examination of the zombie virus (which did not occur in the comic book.) Question to Ponder: Is the TV version of The Walking Dead ultimately going to be about curing the zombie epidemic?

Shane and Rick emerged on an empty field. The moon was shining down on them. The evening was quiet. It was a bright and stormless night. Rick holstered his gun and said, bluntly, “So this is where you planned to do it.” Shane didn’t try to fall back on some notion that he was killing Rick for the good of the group. This was for him. He told Rick that he was the better man. He said, “You got a broken woman. You got a weak boy.” Just a lot of hurtful things being said by everyone.

Now, I know there are plenty of people who think that Shane is a flat-out villain. But I found this whole sequence interesting, and I’m struck by the fact that — in the end — Shane was never really a bad guy. He kept on asking Rick to draw his gun, and you got the sense that Shane didn’t really care which one of them walked away from that field. Indeed, Rick even managed to talk Shane down. The two friends went in for a hug…and then Rick pulled out a knife and stabbed Shane straight in his traitorous heart, screaming, “This was you! Not me! You did this!”

The brutality of Shane’s death was striking. Everything about the scene seemed to be preparing us for an old-fashioned western showdown; instead, Shane died coughing up his intestines while his best friend yelled in his ear. Then something interesting happened: We saw flashes of walkers, apparently from the perspective of Shane’s dying brain. I admit that I’m kind of fascinated with the implication of those images. (Is that what the inside of a walker’s brain looks like? Or was that just the last sentient thought Shane had?)

Rick turned and saw, to his horror, that Carl was there. Rick tried to explain, but Carl drew his gun. He fired…and killed Zombie-Shane, who was just a few feet behind Rick. This amounts to a rare double play: The two Grimes Boys share this episode’s awards for Human Kill of the Week and Zombie Kill of the Week, with poor Shane a fatality twice over. Rick and his son slowly approached the doubly dead dude…and, in a thrilling closing shot, we saw a herd of zombies walking towards them, attracted by the sound of Carl’s gun.

Now: That last shot was ridiculous, logically speaking. (Are we meant to understand that a few hundred walkers just happened to be walking by? At this time of year? At that time of day? In this part of the country? Localized entirely within Hershel’s kitchen?) But it portended an apocalyptic season finale. Walking Dead is on a roll right now. Two regulars and a recurring character have been killed off, with the promise of more on the way. (I’m looking forward to the montage where we see zombies eating every one of Hershel’s wacky step-children.) But don’t take my word for it! What did you think of the episode, fellow viewers? Were you sad to see Shane go? Do you enjoy the fact that Carl has indirectly killed two series regulars in two consecutive episodes? Who should the homicidal tween assassinate next?

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.
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