(This recap contains MAJOR SPOILERS for the episode ‘Better Angels. Stop reading now if you haven’t seen the episode yet.)
Early on in ‘Better Angels,’ it looked like the untimely death of Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) had instilled in The Walking Dead survivors a sense of kinship that had been overshadowed by the constant internal squabbling, which plagued them more relentlessly than a group of walkers. With Lori apologizing to Shane and Hershel inviting his guests to share the house with the family, it seemed like there was an organized effort to not let the group’s proverbial moral center be buried with Dale.
Rick’s eulogy for Dale is inter-cut with scenes of Shane (Jon Bernthal), Andrea (Laurie Holden), T-Dog (IronE Singleton) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) all working out their various feelings and frustrations on a group of walkers that had managed to find their way onto the relatively zombie-less grounds of Hershel’s farm.
Later, Carl (Chandler Riggs) visits Shane to unburden himself of both Daryl’s handgun and his feelings of responsibility for Dale’s death. Partially reassured, Carl leaves the handgun with Shane, expressing a desire to never touch a gun again in his life.
Making a bizarre 180-degree turn from her Lady Macbeth-like urging of Rick to kill his partner, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), inadvertently antagonizes Shane with a short speech that was likely meant to sound like a thank you, but instead more closely resembles a goodbye. She leaves Shane heartbroken and on the verge of a psychotic break.
Before Rick and Daryl head out with Randall, Shane stops by to discuss what Carl had been up to and to deliver the stolen handgun, urging Rick to speak with his son about his actions. The whole thing once more devolves into Rick and Shane arguing over who gets to tell the other what to do, and proves that the relationship between the two men is without a doubt fractured beyond repair.
Rick does heed Shane’s advice, though, and has a surprisingly frank conversation with his son that begins with an apology for Carl’s childhood being ostensibly lost, but ends with the demand that the boy stow his childish behavior, because the world is just waiting to claim the lives of everyone he knows and loves. Rick concludes the talk by giving the boy Daryl’s stolen handgun once more, and urges Carl to keep his wits about him and to use the gun to protect himself and the others should the need arise.
Meanwhile, Shane pays Randall a visit and while he works through some pretty severe mental issues, comes to see the bloody evidence that the young man was trying to slip his cuffs. This apparently spurs Shane’s imagination, so he takes the prisoner into the woods and frees him under the pretense of wanting to join the group Randall is traveling with. We learn the group is much closer than previously thought and is as prone to violence and atrocity as the survivors had already feared.
But Shane has no intention of traveling any further than behind a tree to snap Randall’s neck. You have to admire Shane’s willingness to sell the lie that Randall accosted him by smashing his face into a tree trunk to break his own nose. Bloodied and dazed, Shane returns to the farm to find everyone already aware of Randall’s disappearing act, and he works quickly to mobilize a small team of Rick, Daryl, Glenn (Steven Yuen) and himself to track down the escapee in the day’s fading light.
The search continues well after dark, which leads to Daryl and Glenn stumbling upon a zombified Randall. After a brief scuffle, Glenn bludgeons Randall, and the two notice that although his neck is broken there are no clear signs of zombie infection – leading the two to question how that could possibly be.
Elsewhere, despite the inevitability and unfortunate spoiling of it, the confrontation between Rick and Shane still proves to be pretty tense – mainly because Glen Mazzara and Co. managed to have the situation play out slightly different than many had expected.
After holstering his weapon, Rick turns to face his would-be murderer and attempts to appeal to Shane’s sense of right and wrong, and assures him that whatever he had planned, nothing undoable has yet transpired. Despite the assertions that he is more fit to be husband and father to Lori and Carl, Shane seems willing to listen as Rick calmly closes the gap between them and gestures to hand over his sidearm. As Shane reaches for the gun, Rick plunges a knife into Shane’s chest, lamenting how Shane forced him to take this action.
Sitting next to his partner’s corpse, Rick is confronted by Carl, who brandishes the handgun his father had given him earlier – and for a split second the audience is left to think that Rick truly has the worst family in the history of television. All that is put aside, however, as Carl fires a single shot over his father’s shoulder, putting a zombified Shane down once more; at long last ending Shane’s emotionally taxing and harrowing journey with the Grimes clan.
‘Better Angels’ ends with the promise of more trouble ahead, as a large cluster of walkers make their way over a hill toward Hershel’s farm.
The season finale of The Walking Dead, ‘Beside the Dying Fire,’ airs next Sunday @9pm on AMC.