Twice in the last two weeks AMC’s The Walking Dead has broken my heart.
For those of you who are fans of the show but have not seen the latest episodes, I urge you to stop here and return once you’ve caught up. If you have no idea to what I could possibly be referring, I suggest you walk away and come back in a few weeks when The Walking Dead frenzy has turned all fandom into cryo-walkers, stuck in purgatory awaiting the third season, and I return to my normal political and current events fare.
Dale had me at hello. I have always felt a kinship with Dale in that he sees the world, even a messed up conflict-ravaged one, the same way I do. Rick admitted early in episode 11 that the Randall decision needed to be made because people were scared. When Dale stood in front of the main survivors’ group, begging them to stand against fear, rage and hurt, and somehow find it within themselves to see the bigger picture—the risk they were all taking; the ‘humanicide’ they were prepared to perpetrate upon themselves—I positively howled through the entire scene.
He was right. He was right that you can’t murder someone based on the premise that they might in the future commit a crime. He was right that saying nothing, taking no position in the discussion, is as bad as pulling the trigger yourself. He was right in insisting that the group stop and take stock of what they were prepared to give up. He was right to say that killing Randall would equal saying there is no hope and that the rule of law is dead, there is no civilization.
He was right. And the group was wrong.
There were other options –but fear, mob mentality and battle fatigue had an iron grip on the group.
Jeffrey DeMunn was absolutely brilliant, and that discussion scene may have been the single most powerful ensemble acting of the entire series so far.
I thought I had howled myself past whatever horrors The Walking Dead might have in store for us once I cried out the loss of Dale.
But the interspersed images of Dale’s funeral and survivor group members slaughtering walkers with such obvious satisfaction, as Rick’s eulogy rang out over the images in the episode 12 opener, was just too much. How can Rick, or any of the survivors, delude themselves into thinking for even one second that this is what Dale would want? The anger and retribution towards the walkers is understandable, and we all know walkers must be put down, but the unnecessary brutality of it in Dale’s name had me gagging.
Shane had to die. We all knew that. That his death came amid an unavoidable final fall from grace was no surprise and Jon Bernthal gave this complex character real beauty from the first time he appeared in the series to the instant the gunshot ended his zombified existence.
What hit me the hardest was that while Dale died surrounded by the people he loved and would have done anything in his power to protect, Shane died virtually alone, accompanied only by the man he sought to betray as a crazed mind strategized the means to protect (and own?) those he loved. Shane died as he lived. An outsider. I guess it couldn’t have been any other way, but it was as if the show’s writers wanted to give that knife one extra turn. Guess what guys? It worked.
But which death will have the more profound effect on the group? Dale protected the group’s humanity. Shane protected their physical well-being—at least until he turned the corner to the Dark Side of the Force—the best way he knew how. Both of these men (characters) gave vital service to the group, both had strengths the group needs to continue. Fans of the show can only hope the group finds the best traits of Dale and Shane elsewhere to help them survive.