S2E12: Excuse me while I catch my breath for just one second. It's understandable that after the pace we've seen this season on The Walking Dead, this pre-Season 2 finale episode is a bit of a shock to the system. It's got guts from minute one; it's got betrayal and suspense. And ultimately, it's got a tragic yet inevitable conclusion. Even if last week's accidental spoiler ruined the truth of the episode, the actual execution of the poignant final moments are strong enough to take any viewer's breath away. And while it's certainly a shocking scene, the episode's big death isn't exactly surprising. Our fallen character has been asking for this fate all season.
And if the heart-wrenching decision Rick has to make in those last five minutes aren't enough, there's the added layer of intrigue in the apparent insta-zombie issue. Not one, but two dead bodies reanimate as walkers within minutes of death without sustaining bites from the living dead in this episode, but it seems the writers are determined to make that answer the series' next big mystery. Don't expect an answer any time soon.
The medical mystery, combined with tragedy, makes this episode feel very much like a season finale, which means that next week's full out zombie barrage is going to be nothing short of massive.
"We're not broken. We're going to prove him wrong. From now on we're going to do it his way. That is how we honor Dale." -Rick
As Rick speaks words about peace and humanity at Dale's makeshift funeral, we see cut scenes of Shane, Andrea, T-Dogg and Daryl busting up a dozen zombies, brutally hitting them repeatedly, and taking out their frustrations on the afflicted folks. In that short, emotional scene we see the two ideologies that will come blows one final time by episode's end.
As Rick and Hershel make preparations for moving the group into Hershel's home Shane makes one last call for killing Randall. He insists that Dale's death and the prisoner are two different things. But Rick is set on his plan to take Randall out to pasture on the open road. Hershel expresses fear at leaving Shane alone with Daryl or Rick to stop him, but Rick says he's a good man - a belief that will be harshly tested in just a few short hours.
In the meantime, the group is doing its best to be unbroken. Hershel offers up his bed to Lori and Rick in light of Lori's pregnancy. Glenn, still hesitant to commit to his feelings for Maggie, takes a moment to bond with Andrea when they fix Dale's RV. Rick thanks Daryl for offering to shoulder the burden of euthanizing Dale, to which Daryl replies "I don't see why you have to do all the heavy lifting." All this togetherness seems to inspire Lori to take a moment to have a heart-to-heart with Shane. Dale's death made it all so real, and she blames herself for the tension between Rick and Shane. She gets emotional and thanks him for saving her and Carl when the apocalypse began, but while she was just doing this to be a good human, Shane seems to use this heartfelt apology and gratitude as fuel for his twisted, diabolical fire.
"No more kid stuff...People are gonna die. I'm gonna die. Your mom..." -Rick
Carl confesses to Shane that he saw the walker that killed Dale in the woods and that he failed to kill it. He says he's sorry for doing it and gives Shane the gun, but Shane insists that Carl learn to protect himself, making sure to say that Shane, specifically, can't always be around to save him. He really believes that he's the only one protecting Carl and Lori. Still, Carl throws a fit and refuses the gun.
Shane tells Rick about Carl's encounter in the woods, and encourages him to postpone his trip with Randall so that Carl can talk to his father. For once, Shane is right about something. This is something Rick and only Rick can discuss with Carl. Unfortunately, this is the last decent thing Shane will ever do.
Rick does what Shane says and takes a moment to find Carl in the hay loft under the noose they had planned to use for Randall. And with the first mention of Rick's father and what he was like, Rick hands Carl a gun. Without an eloquent speech he very simply asks Carl to take it so he can protect himself. This is huge. All season, Rick and Lori have fought this inevitability, saying Carl deserves a real childhood. With Dale's death, Rick realizes that a real childhood isn't a possibility. They can't protect him from the gruesome truth. After an entire season of fighting for his innocence, Rick finally gives Carl what he really needs to survive: harsh reality.
"I ain't all about you." -Shane
Shane bursts in on Randall in the shed, ready to shoot him in the head. Shane seems to physically fighting himself, breathing angrily and hitting himself in the head repeatedly. He doesn't shoot Randall, but he does drag the poor kid out into the woods to interrogate him about the whereabouts of his group so that Shane can join them. But he's already tried to leave once and he couldn't do it because of Lori. When Shane takes Randall behind a tree and out of the view of the camera, it was anything but a surprise to hear him snap Randall's neck. He immediately comes back into the scene and smashes his own head against the tree.
While it looks like another one of his self-harm outbursts, it's all part of his bigger plan. The one that "ain't all about" Randall. He returns to the farm with blood on his face, claiming Randall escaped, clocked him, and stole his gun. He convinces Glenn and Daryl to split off in order to find Randall more quickly, but it's obvious from this level of deception that this is it. Shane is about to execute Rick.
Before we can get to the final showdown, Glenn and Daryl find the site where Shane's tussle with Randall went down, and Daryl sees the signs of the fight. But it's not long before a walker comes after them - and it's Randall. They struggle, but kill him and Daryl examines the body and find that he wasn't killed from a bite, but a broken neck. But if he doesn't have any bites, how he is a zombie? Just like the two biteless security officers Rick and Shane found a few episodes ago, Randall seems to have turned into a walker almost magically. Of course, this is science fiction, not fantasy so there is a somewhat logical explanation to be found.
"Damn you for making me do this to you, Shane. This was you, not me. You did this to us." -Rick
Finally, it's the showdown we've been building to for two seasons. Before the real duel of egos commences, we're stricken with a shot of Rick and Shane standing in the moonlit field; Rick with his back to Shane, who's ready to draw on his best friend. It's the picturesque, eerie calm before the storm.
The former best friends finally have it out: Shane says he's a better father. He says Lori and Carl will get over Rick. He calls Lori broken and Carl weak, and says Rick can't fix it. After trying and failing to shoot Rick without giving him a chance to fight back, what's left of Shane conscience demands that Rick engage in this old world duel. But Rick won't do it. He's still good Rick, he doesn't want to participate in this violent ritual. Instead, Rick tries to talk Shane down, but it doesn't work. And just as Shane is finally going to shoot him, Rick stabs him and kills him.
And while the action of Rick finally making the tough decision and getting rid of the Shane problem is jarring and gripping, it's the emotional rollercoaster Rick goes through immediately after. As he sits motionless, leaning over the man who was his best friend once upon a time, he sees flashes of walkers. They're certain to come for Shane's body, but how can Rick take it back and explain his actions to the group? To top it off, Carl has witnessed at least some fraction of what went down between Rick and Shane and he comes after his father with the gun he gave him. At first, it seems like Carl is going to have to wrestle with the fact that his father just killed his pseudo second father.
Instead, Shane has become an insta-walker like Randall did and he's coming after them. Carl finally pulls the trigger and hits Shane right in the head. Father and son momentarily forget the dinner-bell quality of a gunshot and mourn Shane, but we see that the gunshot has called a barrage of walkers their way. It looks like next week will offer no time for anyone to come to terms with Shane's final turn and his death - something that is sure to create some deep-rooted issues to fuel a few Season 3 episodes.
Did you see Shane's death coming? Do you think he deserved his ultimate fate? What do you think they could do next week to top this episode? Let us know in the comments or get at me on Twitter @KelseaStahler.