The Walking Dead, Season 2, Episode 12: “Better Angels”
Written by Glen Mazzara and Evan T. Reilly
Directed by Guy Ferland
Airs Sundays at 10pm ET on AMC
That’s more like it. “Better Angels” is not only the best episode of The Walking Dead in recent memory, it’s likely the best episode of the entire season. Besides the fact that it’s probably the show’s most economical installment ever, Guy Ferland’s confident, supremely cinematic shooting style here really elevates the material. Even the great Bear McCreary steps up his game tonight, filling the hour with moody, suspenseful pieces that complement the intensity of the episode perfectly, not to mention capping it all off with a novel, percussive new take on the theme song. This is the show everyone wishes The Walking Dead was every single week.
Last week we said goodbye to Jeffrey DeMunn; this week, it’s heavier hitter Joe Bernthal, who’s always been one of the show’s most consistent players. His showdown with Rick – just one of many deliriously dark-in-every-sense scenes near the end of the episode – is a nicely nasty way for him to go out, with Rick opting for an underhanded (but effective) solution that’s devious by even Shane’s standards. Of course, he’s not really out, as it’s in this episode that it’s finally, definitively established here that everyone who dies comes back a walker, a revelation that should have considerable psychological ramifications on our cast of characters.
Even the usual annoyances aren’t particularly bothersome here: Carl is just as present as he was last week, but Ferland seems to have a surer hand with young Chandler Riggs than most of his peers in the director’s chair; he’s almost a credible character for once. Lori really only gets one scene, and while it’s a little dodgy in context (wasn’t she basically trying to get Rick to kill Shane just a couple of episodes ago?), it’s still one of her most dramatically effective scenes in a while. Glenn and Andrea’s scenes remembering Dale are sweet and effective. Most of what threatens not to work comes together nicely. The opening of the episode is a real doozy as well, with Dale’s solemn funeral intercut with a savage outing in which we get some of the vilest walker killings yet. As much as they’d like to honor the “better angels” like Dale, that animalistic tendency towards extreme measures remains.
But really, what sets this episode apart, particularly from the second half of the season, is its no-nonsense, no-excess execution. As soon as Shane goes all Miller’s Crossing on Randall, it’s clear that some kind of endgame is underway, and the show follows through with that sense of mounting dread quite wonderfully. And considering how unpleasant and violent the episode should be, what really makes it all work is, once again, Ferland’s smart direction: the way Randall’s exact fate is obscured by a tree, the slow crane of doom that ends the pre-credit sequence, and the other slow crane of doom that ends the episode, heralding the arrival of the walker versions of Randall’s gang (we can assume). Last season featured a strong penultimate episode that was followed up with a weak finale; let’s hope that’s not the case this season.