THE WALKING DEAD Recap: “Save the Last One”

     October 30, 2011

We’re now three episodes in to The Walking Dead’s second season, and before tonight’s episode, TV’s only zombie-centric series was 1-to-1 with critics (and snarky recappers).  The season premiere was well-received overall, but enough online grumbling existed afterwards to prevent the episode from being considered a runaway success.  Last week’s episode, on the other hand, was pretty much universally…well, if not “loved”, then “heavily liked”.  So, what’s the score looking like after week three—1-to-2 or 2-to-1?  You’ll have to find out after the jump, folks.

Last week, I tossed a crazy idea out there– what if The Walking Dead (the show) decided to separate itself even further from The Walking Dead (the comic series) by making Shane the lead?  The thinking behind this was simple:  Jon Bernthal—as Shane—is a helluva lot more compelling onscreen than Andrew Lincoln, who plays the series’ hero, Rick.  His character’s more interesting, as well.  Sure, he’s done a few bad things (including some rape-y bad things, which are never OK), but a character with a complex morality is always more interesting than a straight-up Boy Scout.

Anyway, the response to this question was about what I expected (I received a number of outraged emails– how dare I “rewrite history”, did I think I “knew better than [Robert] Kirkman”, and several other overreactions to a casual “What if?” scenario—as well as a number of emails from those that liked the idea), but I know suspect that even daydreaming about this scenario is a waste of time:  based on what we saw during tonight’s episode (“Save The Last One”), I’d say that Shane’s days are numbered.  Were I the type of man that used emoticons, there’d be a frowny-face one right here.

But I’m getting ahead of myself!  Let’s start at the beginning (Worth considering:  did this recap begin with a flash-forward because tonight’s episode began with a flash-forward?  Discuss), like reasonable people would.

When we last saw Shane and Otis (an always-welcome Pruitt Taylor-Vince), they had busted into a local high school to retrieve some medical supplies, stuff needed by the kindly doctor trying to save Carl’s life back on the farm.  They’d secured the necessary items, but had become trapped by the overwhelming number of zombies hanging out in the immediate area.  Tonight’s episode began with the aforementioned flash-forward, wherein we saw Shane shaving his head in a steamy bathroom (that one’s for you, ladies), and then we jumped right back to the high school, where Shane and Otis were still working on how the hell to get back to the farm.

A plan was hatched, and soon enough the two had split up with the intention of meeting back up outside the school’s gymnasium.  Before going their separate ways, Shane makes some throwaway remark about how committed Otis is to the mission at hand, and Otis says, “I’m just tryin’ to do right by that boy”.  The point?  This Otis guy?  Good people.

And Carl?  Well, he was still back on the farm, of course, passed out and gut-shot.  Rick (Lincoln) and Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) are worrying over him—as they are wont to do—and eventually Lori says what any reasonable person might be thinking in this situation:  why is so much effort being expelled to save this kid?  Yes, he’s their son, and yeah, being shot by Pruitt Taylor-Vince in a forest isn’t how any parent wants to see their kid go out, but what sort of life are they saving?  He gets better, and then he spends the next (indeterminate amount of time) hiding from zombies and parading around an apocalyptic landscape?  Doesn’t make sense.

Now, this scene’s notable for a few reasons.  For one thing, it might be the most reasoned, intelligent, non-bitchy thing that I’ve ever heard Lori say (like many of you, I read through recaps on other sites after posting my own here on Collider, and I noticed more than a few of my fellow critics reaching critical mass last week with Lori’s general shrewishness:  some of them even deigned to use the dreaded “B-word”).  For another, it raises a very interesting point about the idea of survival in this brave, new world our characters have found themselves in.  To start thinking along those lines is a slippery slope, of course (one that probably ends with a gun barrel in one’s mouth), but there is a lot of logic in it:  what’s the point of struggling to survive when even your calmest, most peaceful moments are wracked with tension and fear?  That’s not really a life worth living, is it?

Anyway, Rick reacts to this sentiment about how you’d expect him to, which is entirely understandable.  He argues that—even though the world’s gone to h-e-double-hockey-sticks in a handbasket– there’s still the possibility that their family could have some semblance of a meaningful life together (I mean, come on, Carl saw a deer.  What else do you need, Lori?).  I wasn’t sure that I was buying what Rick was selling as much as I was with Lori, but I understood—from the moment that Lori broached the topic—that this was where the conversation was gonna go.  The Walking Dead seems willing to go to some really dark places, but I did not (and do not) expect things to get so dark that two parents might just shrug and let their kid bleed out in a veterinarian’s house.  And thus, the decision was made:  they would continue their attempts to save Carl’s life.

Y’know, as soon as that medical equipment shows up.

Which brings us back to Shane and Otis, who were still making their way back to their ride outside the high school.  After reuniting, the two begin a long, shambling walk towards their car…and then…well, then the scene ended, and we didn’t see what happened until later.  We’ll get there, of course, but let’s take a moment to check in with the rest of the survivors to see what they’re up to.

Andrea and Sawyer…er, I mean, Daryl had decided to leave the comfort and safety of the RV to look for Sofia, who’s still running around out in the woods somewhere (presumably;  it’s my hope that she’s currently residing in a handful of zombie-stomachs, a fitting end for someone dumb enough to wander away from safety and into a zombie-infested forest).  The two talk about life and survival and blah, blah, blah, and eventually they came across a zombie hanging from a noose near a campsite.  Apparently, a dude got bit, decided he’d rather die than become a “geek” (C’mon, guys, just let ‘em call them “zombies”), and then promptly became undead after hanging himself.  Daryl and Andrea argue about whether or not to put the “geek” out of its misery, eventually Andrea wins, and they wander back to the RV.

Once there, Dale and Andrea have yet another tete-a-tete where Dale tries to speak to her reasonably and Andrea acts like a first class b—uh, Lori.  Andrea’s still sour about Dale taking her gun away when she was talking all fatalistically, but tells him—after he hands the gun over, of course—that she’s working on forgiving him.  Meanwhile, Melissa McBride’s character lays down somewhere and cries about her missing, somewhat-stupid daughter.  And that, my friends, is what the other survivors did this week.

Before we get back to the Shane/Otis-Rick/Lori stuff, let’s take a moment to look at the budding relationship of Maggie and Glenn.  In the comics, Maggie and Glenn meet-cute on the Greene family farm, hit it off, and become a couple.  It seemed like tonight’s episode was setting these two up for the same romance, and that’s…well, OK, then.  I don’t really feel one way or another about this.  So far, the series has separated itself from the comic series in many ways, and I’ve been grateful for the differences.  The show wouldn’t be interesting if it were a Sin City-style recreation of the graphic novels, so when it comes to things like the “Maggie-and-Glenn” thing, I can take ‘em or leave ‘em.  It’s nice that this continuity’s in place for those that like such things, but—if given the option—I’d always push for more differences from the comics than less.  All that said, I’m fine with it if Glenn wants to get some post-apocalyptic ass.  You go, Shortround.

To be perfectly frank, the episode up to this point didn’t blow my skirt up in the same way that last week’s episode did—felt like there was a good amount of wheel-spinning and pontificating going on tonight—but things did take a turn for the awesome in the episode’s final stretch.  So far, there hasn’t been much to spoil, but if you’re reading this before seeing the episode (which, by the way, is just weird), be forewarned that the rest of this post will be spoiler-laden.

Upon returning to the Greene farm, Shane hands over all the medical equipment needed to keep Carl alive, and Herschel—the doctor/vet—gets to work.  He explains that Otis didn’t survive the attack, and because we last saw the pair on the run from the zombies, we accept his explanation and get back to thinking about Carl’s recovery (earlier in the episode, Carl appeared to breakdance after briefly regaining consciousness, but Herschel explained he was having a seizure).  The doc fixes Carl, everyone’s happy, and then we see Shane stumbling around the area looking a little…out of it.  He wanders into Carl’s room, where Lori tells him to “stick around” (or something to that effect), and it seems to imply that Shane’s gonna take that advice:  rather than taking off on his own, he’ll stick around a while longer for…Lori’s sake?  I guess?  I dunno, guys:  were it me, I’d just give up already.  I’d probably go after Andrea:  she’s kinda badass, seems slightly less bitchy, and doesn’t have that “bag of antlers” look that Lori’s got.

But I digress.  After Shane gets his marching orders from Lori, he heads into the steamy bathroom we witnessed at the beginning of the episode and notices a wound on his scalp.  Staring at the scalp in the mirror kick-starts a flashback (little known fact:  looking at wounds, scars, or facial trauma in a mirror will always cause a flashback—it’s science), and we learn what actually happened to Otis:  Shane shot his ass and left him as bait for the approaching zombie horde.  Whoa.

The scene—and the reveal—were great, but it was also a sad moment, because I think this is the beginning of the end for Shane.  All along, fans of the series have commented upon how likable Shane is, how he’s the best thing on the show, and so on.  The writers were smart to write him a little more multi-dimensionally than Kirkman did in the original comics (where he’s basically a roided-out anger-machine), but it had a curious side effect:  it created the “Team Shane”/”Team Rick” divide.  I’ve maintained for awhile now that the writers would have to swing the pendulum back the other way—in the direction the comics took Shane’s character—to get the audience back on “Team Rick”, and it appears that they’ve begun that process.  One could argue that Shane’s “Roman hands and Russian fingers” pseudo-rape-scene during the season one finale was the true beginning of this process, but I’d argue that Shane was drunk, remorseful, and Lori probably had that coming (/sarcasm).  I guess the point here is, if you weren’t already on “Team Rick” after Shane’s pseudo-rapiness, you should be now.  Maybe if people still maintain that Shane’s the real hero of the show, The Walking Dead’s writers will have him eat a live baby or something.  Let’s see if we can get #TeamShane trending on Twitter, if only to see that play out.

Overall, I wasn’t thrilled with tonight’s ep…but I also wasn’t left with a mediocre taste in my mouth, as I was with the season premiere.  I’d call this one an “up the middle” success, and will hope that the “Next Week On” promos—which seemed to include something I’ll be referring to in the future as a “Well Zombie”—deliver all the viscera and somewhat-more-exciting shenanigans that they seem to promise.  If I had a gun to my head and were being forced to grade tonight’s ep, I’d give it a solid “B”.

Stay tuned, Walking Dead junkies and zombie-enthusiasts.  We’ll be back next week with another recap/review.  While you’re waiting on that to arrive, be sure to keep your zombie-hungry eyes peeled for my report from Mondo Mystery Movie IX, which took place last night here in Austin:  700 of us got on chartered busses, were led—by police escort—to a nearly abandoned mall, and watched Dawn of The Dead with George Romero.   It was, in a word, sofuckingawesomeyourheadwouldaasploded.  That report—which will include photo, videos, and pictures of the Mondo prints distributed at the event—will be going live sooner rather than later.