Please Note: Spoilers ahead. 

From the ominous opening music and accompanying shots of Shane shaving his head frantically while a steaming shower fills up the bathroom to the episode’s ending explanation of said frenzy, episode 3 “Save the Last One” is filled to the brim with drama and tension. It is one of the better episodes of the season so far. Jon Berenthal does such a great job of making Shane a grease ball, a character easy to loathe but also easy to cheer forward. This episode may change the latter crowd’s mind. The episode is filmed in retrospect, and the first scene and the last scene are identical bookends with plot in between.

In the previous episode the audience was left wondering what would become of our erstwhile heroes Shane and Otis, pinned down by the zombies behind a security gate while on their quest to retrieve medical equipment to save Carl. While the camera shows Shane running through the halls of a school with hordes of zombies chasing him, Rick narrates a story about Shane stealing a principal’s Hyundai coupe in high school, while looking over his injured son, Carl, with his wife Lori.

This part of the episode disturbed me, not because of its framing with the juxtaposition of a dying Carl with some nonsensical story about Shane but rather because of its blatant advertisement of a Hyundai car.

I’d noticed a Hyundai SUV prominently, in immaculate post-apocalyptic condition mind you, during the last episode. Surely we would not be so egregious as to work in a Hyundai story into the plot would we? If a reader of the graphic novels could please correct me if I’m wrong, but I doubt that a Hyundai coupe and a high school principal factored in prominently in the graphic novels in any way.

In fact, using my very weak powers of arithmetic, I surmise that Rick and Shane are probably children of the eighties, and no principal worth his paycheck of any caliber would be caught dead in a Hyundai coupe in the 1980′s. I’m glad Hyundai makes quality cars now, but let’s not have revisionist history here. The Hyundai’s of the 1980′s made eyes bleed and mothers cry.

Speaking of wailing, the episode then features that poor bald woman crying over the  literal, not euphemistic, loss of her daughter, Sofia, while Andrea puts together her gun with Darrel Dixon looking on. These two would make a bad ass couple and would be a way better pairing than dry fart Dale’s unlikely pairing with hottie Andrea – or Shane and Andrea’s growing attraction via their growing, mutual disaffection with the group dynamic.

Darrel and Andrea volunteer to go out in the woods in the middle of the night to search for Sofia while soppy cries and Dale objects again. His objections are ignored. Meanwhile, literally back at zombie high, Otis, again an awesome and awesomely fat character, volunteers to be a hero by jumping off the bleachers and distracting the horde of zombies away from Shane while Shane escapes through the window above. Example one of his being heroic.

This scene is filled with tension and illustrates why the show works when it works. The zombies, while slow and stupid, are horrifying in their numbers and dogged pursuit of living flesh. The twisting of everyday settings, like the high school gymnasium with its bleachers stacked up and serving as a kind of elevated safe zone from the zombies, is awesome in its execution.

Lori’s philosophical diatribe about survival is poignant in both its truth and display of motherly reasoning – something no one can accuse her of displaying effulgently. She does not want Carl to grow up in a world where he has to run and survive, constantly in terror, like an animal. Rick does not accept this line of reasoning and sees Jenner’s actions at the CDC as a form of surrender.

Rick would rather keep his child and go on while Lori implores him to logically explain to her why Carl’s survival and life in this world would be better.

I really like the fat man, Otis, who shot Carl, not because he shot Carl although it welcomingly ruined the saccharine character of the deer scene, but because he’s awesome. The scenes at the high school just testify to this.

Dale and Sofia’s mother Carol are absolutely worthless as characters in so many ways. The zombie hanging from the tree is quite a ghoulish little diversion.  Thus far the farm scenes have proven to be needed yet meaningless interludes between the search for Sofia and the quest for respiratory equipment.

The interplay between moments of high tension and slow plot development make the show palatable without it becoming overwhelmingly terrifying or boring. Rick’s struggles with coming to grips with his reality mark him as the series’ hero but also are unbelievably optimistic given the grave situation in which the characters find themselves. There are glimmers of human beauty however, such as Herschel and his family’s attempts at saving Carl’s life.

Shane’s demons seem to have utterly consumed him, especially in his brutal betrayal of Otis. His motivations for his abhorrent actions with regard to Otis are not really best explained by his potential feelings for Lori, but also speak to Shane’s innate sense of self-preservation. It is his instinctual selfishness that has preserved him this far, and it will carry him through until a likely horrible end. Watching the erosion of his soul as a character has been one of the highlights of the series so far.

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