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With Only the Finale Left, The Walking Dead Delivers Its Best Episode of Season Two

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We saw a perfect mix of compelling dialogue and intense action Sunday night, more screen time for characters we've wanted to see (great moments for Daryl and Andrea, FINALLY some dialogue for T-Dog!) -- you just might have to read an entire post of gushing, (well a shortened post, there was just way too much going on last night for me to wax too philosophic here, but my full take is at Donnybrook) but it's the positive kind of gushing, not the zombie-pus-filled kind, although there was a nice amount of that too.

Our group is coming to grips with the loss of Dale, who many believe was the heart and soul of the team. Rick struggled with Dale's last words -- that their group was broken -- and used Dale's funeral (a quiet moment nicely juxtaposed by the violent "Let's work out our anger at Dale's death in a veiled attempt at learning to kill some Zombies" opener) as a call to reunite and (mostly) everyone starts working together. Mostly everyone... cue Crazy Ass Shane!

No, I kid -- well, really I don't because we know Crazy Ass Shane was there the whole time and only pretending to be Let's Work It Out Shane, but at first it seemed like even he was on board with being a cohesive unit. Carl came to him and admitted he believed his actions last week lead to Dale's demise. He managed to find the lost gun and in what would prove a great thing for Carl, and a pretty bad move for Shane, he returned the gun to Carl, telling him to keep it for protection.

Lori tried to squash the Rick/Shane beef by telling Shane how grateful she was that he was there for her when she and Carl needed someone to rely on. She expressed regret at letting the whole thing get out of control, and admitted that Shane wasn't the only one who was developing feelings in their relationship. She made it clear (although this time less harshly) that whatever they had was over, but she would always be grateful to Shane nonetheless. In hindsight, I look at that scene as possible instigation for Shane's later actions -- perhaps Lori's attempt at an apology and her search for closure was actually misconstrued by Shane as a false sense of hope that the two of them might rekindle what they had if Rick were out of the picture.

Rick's decision to go out with Daryl and drop Randall off in the woods somewhere didn't sit right with Shane, and his comment that Rick should mind his own son only worked against him later, since Rick did in fact take a moment to go and talk to Carl about everything that had happened. While Rick was occupied having a heart-to-heart with his son in the barn, Shane went into the shed and discovered that Randall's been trying to pull his hands out of the cuffs -- so in a plot to get rid of both Randall and Rick at the same time, he leads Randall out to the woods, telling him he's tired of Rick's leadership and wants to join Randall's group. Randall then says something to Shane that could be important: if I'm remembering correctly, he tells Shane that his group is about 5-6 miles outside town -- which I think is about how far Hershel's farm is from town as well. I'm guessing that maybe Randall's group is just on the other side? Which would then mean that Randall's nasty "Robbing & Raping" crew is only a short 10 or so miles from our group? Again, totally guessing on that -- but I think that could be important.

Then Shane makes a fatal error in his plan -- first, he snaps Randall's neck, then he slams his own face into a tree to make it look like they were in a fight. If it were me, I would've slammed my face against Randall's before I killed him, so there'd be no trace of my blood anywhere but where it should be -- on Randall, then I would've found some kind of branch and driven it through Randall's skull, ensuring he didn't rise up as a Walker later. But if Shane had thought this through better, none of the awesome things that happened next would've happened, so let's give Shane a plot-pass!

Shane then runs back to the others and claims Randall escaped. T-Dog runs to the shed and sees the lock is still intact -- so how did Randall get out?? Rick tells T-Dog to keep the house protected in case Randall comes back with his gang of nasties, then takes Shane, Daryl, and Glenn out to search the woods. Pretty much everyone smells a rat -- but they go out and look anyway, splitting into pairs. Daryl, being a hunter, starts tracking the scene with Glenn and finds the spot where Randall was killed. He sees that both Randall and Shane were walking together -- so Shane wasn't chasing Randall like he claimed, and he also finds the blood on the tree.

They take out Walker-Randall, and Daryl inspects the body and sees its neck was broken. There's no scratches or bites on him anywhere, which means the blood on the tree isn't Randall's -- he died from that broken neck and Shane is lying. All of this is going on unbeknownst to Rick, who's still running through the woods with Shane. But Rick's no fool and he knows that something's up. Shane finally drops the act -- Crazy Town Shane's been here the whole time, and he wants Rick dead! Rick tries to calm the situation by dropping his gun, and in a great psych-out move stabs Shane in the gut when he tries to lunge at him.

There's this really great exchange between the two as Rick starts sobbing -- telling Shane that he brought this on himself. Suddenly Carl appears -- standing there with Daryl's gun pointed at Rick and Shane -- as Rick's approaching Carl, trying to talk him into lowering the weapon -- Walker-Shane begins to rise. Carl (who up to now I've seen have shooting practice maybe... what? Two times?) gets a perfect shot right past his dad into Shane's head. Rick and Carl take a minute to process or something -- whatever they're doing they're not getting the hell out of there! All the gunplay has raised the attention of a roving heard of Walker's just over the hill --and we're left with a cliffhanger wondering how are these two going to get away?!