So here’s the thing about this show. “Save the Last One” was a great episode of The Walking Dead. There was a solid balance of important character moments, nice action and one stunning reveal. My mouth was literally agape for the last couple of minutes of the episode, because I have really melodramatic reactions to fiction. “Save the Last One” boasted very nice performances and better writing than the show usually employs. But I have to say that I’m growing pretty tired of using an adjusted gauge of quality for this show. I simply don’t think a great episode of The Walking Dead is good enough.
But let’s talk about the good parts first. I think Lori was written as an actual human this week. She’s still a human that I don’t like very much, but I thought her situational responses were justified and understandable for perhaps the first time ever on the show. Her despair and belief that none of this fighting is worth anything is perfectly reasonable, and she expressed it in a way that didn’t make me want to throttle her. She and Rick had some great moments between the two of them, even though it’s occurring to me that Andrew Lincoln is a really bad actor. And one thing I like about Lori is that she’s always the first to comfort someone when they’re grieving, as she did after Maggie found out about Otis. (Oh, and I realized this week that Maggie is Bela from Supernatural! I like her southern accent; it’s pretty cute.) I loved watching the seeds of Glenn and Maggie’s relationship and mostly just enjoyed the fact that Glenn and T-Dog had lines this week.
I think Daryl was wonderful in “Save the Last One.” Norman Reedus is a strong actor and the writers seem to be aware of it. Devin was concerned last week that they’d turn him into the comic relief/forest guru, and I think this episode proved that they have more planned for the character than that. His moments with Andrea were lovely; their different responses to the hanging geek were revealing, and I like that Daryl was able to make the “compassionate” choice without showing any real compassion, simply to make a point to Andrea. He’s a compelling character, and I can’t get enough of him.
I still hate Dale, but in a way that I find interesting. His attempts to make up with Andrea were pathetically transparent. “Here’s your gun back; I’m sorry I made your choice for you. But I’m going to do it again, so don’t make me regret returning your gun, okay? Now, do you forgive me since I totally sort of did what you wanted for purely selfish reasons?!” But every week I like Laurie Holden’s performance as Andrea more and more. She’s dark without being bitchy like Lori; disconsolate without being whiny like Carol. Andrea is strong and honest, and I think once she moves past her grief and despair, she’d make the strongest leader in the bunch. While Carol lies around sniffling about her daughter, Andrea and Daryl take off to go find her. I just rewatched The Mist this weekend and was surprised to discover that Melissa Suzanne McBride (Carol) plays the exact same character in that movie as she does in The Walking Dead. She’s all, “I screwed up and lost my kids! Help me find them or I will make you feel guilty about it because I’ve decided this is somehow your problem even though you don’t really know me!”
So anyway, most of that was engaging, but the Shane storyline was absolutely terrific. Jon Bernthal is a great actor; he gave a performance that was varying degrees of heartbreaking and chilling. As the episode developed, I found myself touched by his bravery, loyalty and compassion and I actually teared up as he and Rick hugged upon his return–but I was always subconsciously aware of that ominous opening scene in which Shane glowered at himself in the mirror. I knew he’d end up doing something fucked up by the end of the episode, but I had no idea precisely how fucked up it would be. I gasped aloud as he shot Otis, broke his limbs and left him to die by the geeks after the two men had such a trenches-bonding experience throughout the episode. That was a truly astounding reveal, and as Shane shaved his head, leaving him to physically resemble his character from the comics more closely than ever, I found myself immensely intrigued to witness his character’s corruption in upcoming weeks. Last week, Shane was so dreamy that I was convinced he would sacrifice himself soon; now I realize that the writers were only setting up the devolution of his morality, which is far more compelling.
It’s clear that Shane didn’t betray Otis in such a brutal manner for purely his own escape; his desire to save Carl overwhelmed every other impulse. That’s what a father would do; damn himself, betray everyone he knows if he has a chance to save his own child’s life. But I don’t believe for a second that Shane’s motivations were entirely selfless. He wants to win Lori’s affection back, to gain her forgiveness that she’s withheld ever since learning that he’d lied about Rick’s being dead in the hospital. (And he clearly did win her forgiveness and affection, as she whispered from Carl’s bedside for Shane to stay and he mutely agreed.) I think those are two incredibly revealing actions of Shane’s: leaving Rick in the hospital and telling Lori that he’d died so they could escape, and injuring Otis and leaving him as walker bait so he could get the medical supplies to Carl. Even the story Rick tells about the principal’s coupe: Shane may not be the irredeemable character from the comics yet, but he’s certainly an amoral character. He’s clearly a rule consequentialist, believing that the ends justify the means. But I don’t even entirely believe that he’s only an amoral consequentialist; while his dubious actions have resulted in saving those he loves, they’ve also gotten him closer to his selfish, unspoken goal of stealing his best friend’s wife.
Goddamn, is Shane an interesting character or what?! I could talk about him for weeks, and that’s good television. So I know, it sounds like I really liked this episode, and I did. But I can’t escape the nagging belief that The Walking Dead is still just not a very good show yet. Although the characters are starting to resemble humans and the action is starting to resemble action, and the art design and make-up have always been wonderful and the pacing’s improving–none of that changes the fact that the writing sucks. All of the “dialogue” reads as a series of impassioned speeches by rotating characters, and the other characters just wait for their turn to make an impassioned speech instead of listening or responding to the speech at hand.
I guess I only feel that if this is the best episode of The Walking Dead yet, and it very well may be, then it should have been better. But it can still get better–so far every episode this season is better than the one preceding it, and the premiere was already miles better than anything that aired last season. So we’ll see, right? Henri and Devin, take it away. Was this episode an unqualified level of good, or just good enough for The Walking Dead? What do you think of Shane’s motivations in throwing Otis to the wolves? Selfless, selfish or amoral? Were you able to go an entire episode without wanting to muzzle Lori?
And readers, join the conversation in the comments!