The Walking Dead! You've entered your most truly compelling episode of the season into consideration and have, over 40+ minutes, created a compelling villain and a lot of interesting character dynamics that may well carry you through to something that is wholly watchable. The upside of "Save The Last One" is that it's the best episode front-to-back of the year. We have Shane's soul-losing, turning-to-the-dark-side, Anakin-to-Vader moment. (Watch that clip and then explain to me how 3 Jedi get slaughtered so quickly. Sure, the Emperor is a tough guy, but he's still 70 or so. You'd think he'd do something a little cooler, like electrocute them...) But we also have to deal with a lot of somewhat forced dialogue about life and death and what living means in a world devastated by zombie apocalypse. "Save The Last One" is the kind of episode that turns a series like this one into a must watch, rather than a wait-and-see. It is really the most intriguing and unsettling episode since the series premiere, too. But, it's still not perfect.
First, the good: Shane killing Otis, or at least turning Otis into time buying bait by shooting him in the leg is the first real character development we've seen since Rick met Morgan and Duane and we saw the torture that is deciding whether to kill a loved one to spare them permanent decay and waste. Andrea killing Amy was a close second, but in this episode, by featuring a simple narration by Rick with footage of Shane and Otis bravely making their way through the FEMA station/high school, sets the stage for something particularly harrowing. That, in addition to the opening, in which Shane pulls a Deb (from Empire Records) to demonstrate how torn he is about something bad having happened, creates something this show needed badly, a villain that's more than Chaos. When, at the end of the episode, we discover the truth, it's all the more shocking. We've only seen Shane trying to be a better man and do right by Rick this year, and we were due for an outburst that kept the ante rising. First, it was sleeping with Lori. Second, it was beating the shit out of Ed (a noble deed given Ed's rapier/abusier qualities). Now, he sacrifices a comrade, albeit a non-main-cast comrade, but a decent fella just the same in Otis.
Oh, and they saved Carl. So that was cool. But good mostly because we ended that storyline. Carl will be fine. Rick and Lori are bonded over a closer tragedy of the familial variety. And Andrea and Daryl take a walk. We also hear from Glenn again, talking with Maggie about faith. But really, all of these things feel like stalls. Carl is only particularly cared for (by the audience) because he's a kid. He's the next/last generation. But knowing that the series will go on for at least one more season means he's obviously not expendable. Not yet. Instead, he's a means to an end. His predicament means that we talk about death, and more giving up. It's important, sure, but those are the times when the writing is so thick with monologues and messages that it's clear nothing will burst in to cause Chaos, and that makes those parts a little less interesting.
So, back to Shane and Otis. After a successful escape from the high school gymnasium, the men are separated and Shane clearly fears that Otis didn't make it, until a few covering shots save his life. It's a great moment of "rah rah" for Otis. And for a second, we all get to think that the group finally has another competent leader. But, when Shane and Otis are making a final break for the truck, and run out of ammo, excepting a single bullet each, Shane turns and pulls the trigger. When Otis goes down, it's a moment of utter sadness. He's a good man, trying only to make amends for his mistake. Otis is the capable, last vestige of social order. He's a hero. So as he's fighting Shane for his life, and we already know he didn't make it, there's a moment where we MUST root for him to take Shane down, or at least drag himself away to a safe place. Instead, Shane beats the man back and leaves as a horde convenes on Otis's face, tearing him to pieces. A good man dies, by another man's hand, and a whole new problem arises. When will Shane lose his shit? What humanity is left in him? And who will he be able to convince to turn with him? We're in double-agent country now, folks.
"Save The Last One" does great with its scares and gore. And the Shane and Otis section feels particularly tense. It's too bad that the rest does not. Even the lone, hanging zombie that Daryl and Andrea encounter adds no tension, even if the design and execution were excellent. High marks to the bulk of this episode. It's a roller coaster, though, not really for Carl's situation. He's fine. He was always going to be fine. So there's that.
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