The Walking Dead, Ep. 2.12: “Better Angels” rise to the occasion

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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.

Simon Howell

  1. Staindslaved says

    Like I said a few episodes back anyone who’s ever read the comics knows that The Walking Dead consists of mostly build-up but always has incredible pay-off. This season did drag at times but it was a problematic production. I think these final two episodes are the reward for everyone who stuck with it.

  2. sillytee says

    great episode yes!!! and a little trivia:
    did you know that the actors who play Dale, Andrea, and Carol are all in Stephen King’s ‘The Mist’???????

  3. xombi says

    How could you have not liked TS-19!

  4. Ken from Chicago says

    Oh, nice the show acknowledged Dale Face “that look he had”.

    Altho what do you mean Bear McCreary stepped up? He’s been the most consistantly good to great thing in the series. He’s always bringing his A game.

    That said, yeah, the remix of theme at the end was cool.

  5. Ken from Chicago says

    Great review of a great episode, arguably their best since the pilot.

    Btw, there’s a typo:

    “Dale and Andrea’s scenes remembering Dale are sweet and effective.”

    Going forward, mixing up Dale and Daryl is far less likely.

    And yes, I loved the opening voice-over intercutting the funeral with the walker patrol. It reminded of the first half of the season where we had the voice-over intercutting Rick’s telling Lori a story of Shane in high school with present-day Shane and Otis escaping from a high school full of zombies. The contrast was tasty.

    [Hmm, maybe “tasty” is a poor choice for discussing zombies.]

  6. Mario in Philly says

    Yes, this week’s episode rocked from the start! The opening walker killings made me glad I had an early dinner. The pitchfork to the head was particularly gruesome. And you could just sense that the beautifully lit scene with Rick and Shane in the field and the bad moon rising meant their time together was coming to an end. So the dead come back alive as the walking dead – how does that happen? Is there something in the air or on the ground? Or will that be another fact we will never know and just have to live with?

    BTW, Lori’s (Sarah Wayne Callies) photo in the opening credits shows her smiling and always seems out of place with the rest of the credits sequence, and the with the show. Doesn’t it?

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