Deep breaths, Walking Dead fans.
We all had the wind knocked out of us from tonight's epic stunner of an episode.
So how about a little
walk talk therapy—by reviewing the tragic events of "Better Angels"?
(Spoiler Alert: If you haven't seen this episode, do not read any further. Even if you were spoiled by AMC's accidental leak, nothing can prepare you for what went down tonight.)
Rick (Andrew Lincoln) killed Shane (Jon Bernthal)!
It was a Shakespearean showdown between the alpha males on a meadow not far from Hershel's farm. There, under a full moon, Shane planned to murder his former partner "in cold blood" and resume his place as the group's leader, Lori's (Sarah Wayne Callies) lover and father of her Carl (Chandler Riggs) and her (probably their) baby to come.
But the men weren't alone. Carl emerged from the shadows, pointing a gun at Rick. We'll never know whether Carl would've avenged Shane's death by patricide, because Shane rose from the dead behind Rick—and Carl shot him instead.
So what brought the trio to this tragic killing field? And what terrifying truth did the survivors learn from his and Randall's deaths?
Well, first, Rick reasserted his leadership and, with his new pal Hershel, marginalized and emasculated Shane. To "honor" Dale, Rick decided once again to free their prisoner rather than kill him. "It was the right plan first time around—just poor execution," Rick said. Was he actually blaming Shane for that epic fail?
At least Shane wasn't alone in questioning Rick's leadership. Andrea (Laurie Holden) delivered the series' most satisfying smackdown after Deputy Grimes told her to babysit Shane while he drove miles away to "execute" Operation Release Randall 2.0. "I need to know that when I leave the farm all hell doesn't break loose," he told the feisty blonde, who snapped back: "Then maybe you should stop leaving." Preach it, sister!
Meanwhile, even though his father is still on the farm, Carl sought out Shane for solace, confessing that he stole Daryl's (Norman Reedus) gun and provoked and freed the zombie that attacked Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn). The only reason Rick himself even talked to his son is because Shane guilted him into it by saying, "Freeing that prisoner [is] more important to you than Carl." Rick basically told Carl to man up, whined that he is "tired," and begged his son to keep Daryl's gun—symbolic of so much these past two episodes—and help him protect the group.
Lori also approached Shane, tearfully apologizing (!) for not acknowledging how much he sacrificed to save her and Carl—and admitting that Shane could be the baby's father. Whatever her motivation (Guilt? Fear that Rick wasn't as interested in protecting her family?), Lori's kindness and compassion gave Shane hope, however misguided, that she might choose him over her husband after all.
No wonder then that Shane snapped and made the rash decision to kill the prisoner, convince the others to go on a futile manhunt—and murder his best friend.
Shane's impulsive plan was deeply flawed from the beginning: after the initial adrenaline, no one would really believe the prisoner (aka "the package" in one of the lines T-Dogg's was actually given this episode) really escaped from his handcuffs, stole out of the barn when it was still securely locked on the outside, overpowered Shane and took his gun.
Especially with Daryl tracking Randall's escape and reconstructing the crime, CSI style. If Shane had gone through with his plan to kill Rick, it was only a matter of time before the group deduced his guilt.
Even if you're Team Rick (ahem), you can't deny that Lori and Carl are Shane's first priority, while Rick's moral code drives him to abandon them to rescue others—including redneck Merle, Hershel and the man who tried to kill him. He has a valid argument when he tells Rick at gunpoint, "I'm a better father than you—better for you than Lori."
Carl's own allegiances are clear: He was pointing the gun at his father long before Shane's corpse reanimated.
So while Daryl and Glenn (Steven Yeun) determined that Russell's cause of death was murder by man, not walker, Rick and Carl also saw that Shane became a zombie without being infected by the undead. (Also hinted when Shane and Rick saw no bites or scratches on the dead guards at the school.)
Is this what Doc Jenner whispered to Rick at the CDC—that everyone becomes a zombie no matter how they die?
What could possibly happen in next week's finale after this epic ending?
Stagger on down to the comments to share your reactions to "Better Angels." Did Shane achieve redemption? How will his death affect the remaining survivors? Do you think Rick knew all along that they'd all become zombies in the end?