The Walking Dead
AMC, Sundays, 9/10 PM
“Save the Last One”
Written by Scott M. Gimple
Directed by Phil Abraham
“The choices that I made for you were not mine to make.” – Dale
The characters trapped in the zombie apocalypse of The Walking Dead have not had to make very many hard decisions lately. In Season One, they decided to leave Merle behind, regretted that decision, and went back for him. Which led to all kinds of mayhem, which apparently Shane Walsh has remembered, even if no one else has. Beyond that, however, most of their decisions have been simple: where to go, which zombie to shoot first, and so forth. The great moral questions either don’t arise or get talked about until they are trivialized. Even Andrea’s suicide attempt has now been analyzed, discussed, argued about and thrashed out until I want her to either shut up or pull the trigger. Tonight’s episode, however, confronted head-on two fundamental questions that arise in any similar crisis: why do you want to survive, and what are you willing to do to survive? Finally, our characters get a chance to address these issues.
“Maybe this isn’t a world for children any more.” — Lori
The pre-eminent crisis, the one that primes all other questions in this episode, is Carl’s struggle. Still fighting for his life, he wakes long enough to recognize his mother – and natter on about seeing a deer. No one bothers to explain what is happening to him or what might happen to him; in characteristic fashion Lori ignores the reality around her and just babbles to him about deer and how everything will be all right. I hate this woman. I really do. Last week, she sneered at Dr. Hershel’s credentials, as if the good vet weren’t good enough to operate on her precious son. This week, she’s telling Rick that maybe it would be better if Carl died. I find her so annoying, so common-place, and so downright stupid that I have to resist the urge to fast-forward through any scene she is in. While she mumbles on about whether or not she should let her son go, her former lover is risking his life – and perhaps damning his soul – to save Carl’s life. With wisdom and insight well beyond what he has shown so far, Rick finally puts it on her to make the decision. He’s been staunchly fighting for his son, willing to drain his last drop of blood for Carl while Lori weeps and whines and goes all defeatist, so when push comes to shove he more or less tells her to fish or cut bait – let the boy die? Or go ahead with a risky operation? For most parents, this is a foregone conclusion, but how typical for the character of Lori that she actually has to think about it.
“Please don’t make me regret this.” — Dale
Meanwhile, Otis and Shane are fighting a horde (herd?) of zombies, trying to get away with the medical supplies that will save Carl. Like Han Solo and Luke Skywalker rescuing Princess Leia, they got into this situation but didn’t have a plan to get out again. Instead of saving a couple of flares to distract the herd, or using the truck to get close enough to the medical center to escape quickly, they have to limp/run/stumble inches away from a crowd of walking extras, er, dead, to get away. When it becomes obvious they are not both going to make it, Shane urges Otis to take the medical supplies and run. Otis refuses, insisting that they both have to get out. Shane, realizing that Otis is not only going to get them both killed, but will be condemning Carl to death as well, shoots Otis and runs away, while the zombies devour the screaming man. This was a horrendous scene, not for the gore and the screams (not much of either, thankfully) but for the resolution Shane comes up with. It’s practical, resourceful, and efficient, but morally appalling. I wondered briefly why Shane didn’t shoot Otis in the head, at least to spare him some suffering. But earlier in the episode, we’d just been reminded that the walking dead do not eat the dead, preferring the living. So Shane cripples Otis and leaves him for bait, and possibly damns his soul forever. I was enjoying the apparent rehabilitation of Shane Walsh in this season, as he tried manfully to do what he could to make up for past mistakes. But in this no-win situation, he acted on instinct and it may have destroyed him. Shane returns to the farmhouse in a state of shock, sweating, unable to look anyone in the eye. He visits Carl long enough to affirm that the boy he may have damned himself for is at least still breathing, but then escapes to face himself in the mirror. Not liking what he sees, he shaves his head – an attempt at changing himself as well? Travis Bickle would have understood.
“His brain isn’t getting enough blood.” — Hershel
Shane is one of the two interesting characters on The Walking Dead. It would be easy to damn him as a black-hearted villain, after some of his actions. But Shane is also the workhorse of this show. It’s Shane who has to give up the woman he loves. It’s Shane who has to find the medicine to save a boy who isn’t even his. It’s Shane who has to, in a split-second decision, make the hardest of choices. His reward is Lori’s continued contempt and the shame of knowing he has betrayed (unknowingly) his best friend. Rick spends his time talking to Jesus on a wooden cross or discussing Bambi-sightings with Lori over Carl’s bedside; Shane field-strips weapons, makes sure everyone is appropriately armed, and at least plans to leave the group to allow Lori to re-bond with her husband. He tries to do the right thing (by his lights), and earns nothing but frustration, dismissal, and a broken heart. I don’t know if I can root for a man who left another human being to die a horrible death, but I can understand him. He is, by far, the most interesting man on this show. I give full credit to Jon Bernthal for a first-class rendering of a man who is not introspective, who does not usually question his motives, but who is now faced with an inner moral crisis. The head-shaving scene in the bathroom, as Shane confronts his own image, shows the torment in his eyes without a line of dialogue. I could see the hell Shane is in. Well done, sir.
Got bit/Fever hit/World’s gone to sh*t/Might as well quit. – Zombie Piñata
The other interesting character is Daryl. Frankly, I don’t know why he’s still hanging around with this group of losers, and I suspect Daryl is starting to ask himself the same question (maybe he’s sticking around ’cause this is where the wimmins are at). He’s the only one who can kill a zombie quietly, quickly and efficiently. He’s the only one who sees foraging opportunities rather than opportunities to ponder existential questions. He has evolved from the first season into a man of humor, courage, and – in his own way – compassion. We learn a little more about his horrific childhood as he searches for Sophia with Andrea. I am even more impressed that a man who grew up so neglected that he could go missing for nine days and no one would notice is now the only person of this group still actively looking for Sophia. Sophia’s own mother can do nothing but moan and cry; Carol does nothing to actually look for her own daughter. Daryl, however, applies a little practical therapy on Andrea and gives her something to do. In a few minutes, he makes more headway in bringing Andrea to a sense of possible hope than all of Dale’s maudlin musings. And he makes her laugh – for which he gets extra points. The scene where he and Andrea find the zombie piñata (a camper who hanged himself but then woke up as a zombie) is maybe the most shocking and blackly amusing in the entire series so far. And it provides an excellent opportunity for Andrea to act – she bargains with Daryl to shoot the zombie in order to put it out of its (or her) misery. At least Andrea accomplishes something, and Daryl made that possible. I also notice that no one, including Andrea, thinks it at all unusual to ask Daryl to shoot a small, moving target in the dark – or that he actually accomplishes this feat.
“I don’t know if I want to live, or if I have to, or it’s just a habit.” — Andrea
This was a pretty merciless episode, in a good way. My major problem with this show all along has been that it focuses a ridiculous amount of time on navel-gazing, and too little time on the zombies. In this episode, we finally got some tough decisions, some hard choices. We still got way too much discussion – I am so bored with Rick’s weepy mumblings about deer I want to turn him into a zombie piñata. Lori, Carol and T-Dog can become zombie chow for all I care. And I am really, really tired of all the discussions about “faith” from people who have more important considerations. Like, where is all this electricity coming from, that powers the farmhouse? Why is this farmhouse lit up like the Vegas strip, when we know lights attract zombies? There is something very suspicious about that farmhouse, yet no one in our bunch of survivors seems to wonder where all this food, hot water and so forth are coming from. Maggie is so nonchalant that she sits out on a lighted porch at night without so much as a whistle, let alone a gun, to warn of approaching zombies. I think there is more here than meets the eye.
“You wanna live now? Or not?” — Daryl
Given that the show broke all standing, running and jumping records for viewers on the first show of this year, it will shock no one to learn that AMC has already renewed the show for a third season. The previous cable rating record for a drama was set ten years ago (The Dead Zone), so clearly there’s a hungry group of viewers out there who relish the macabre. Good thing for AMC, which has a winner on its hands. I can only guess that the nearly five million folks who are watching The Walking Dead are more patient than I am.