This episode begins with a flash-forward of a buff, shirtless man standing before a sink, shaving his head. As his face is perfectly framed by the mirror, we realize that it’s not a sneak peek of next season’s Breaking Bad but instead our very own Shane Walsh. Shane flashes his most convincing Full Metal Jacket glower and then we’re peeling back to a few hours before, when Shane still had both his hair and his soul.
The theme of this episode is clearly "choice," because the characters can’t stop saying it. Dale chooses to give Andrea back her gun and apologizes for taking away her choice back at the CDC. Daryl doesn’t want to put the hung zombie out of his misery because the guy made the choice to “opt out” (which doesn’t actually make sense, since the sign said he was bit and so what was he supposed to do?). Grimes pleads with Lori to make the choice to try to save Carl or to allow him to die. Only Andrea admits that, not unlike the zombies, she is surviving purely out of habit, that sometimes what might seem like choice is actually just pure instinct in the face of desperate circumstance.
I’m sure that’s what Shane will be telling himself in the days following his sacrifice of Otis, that he had no choice but to do what he did (it’s the second time Shane has left another man to die while he lives, all in the name of saving Carl). I didn’t quite predict how Otis would go out (I knew something was up when they didn’t show his death but didn't see this ending coming), and so I felt a pleasant jolt of shock. Such a great twist, though, deserved to be executed more tightly. Last season, the reason Amy’s death felt so tragic was because we were able to buy it from beginning to end. She went to the bathroom, was caught off guard, and got bit. We were as unsuspecting as she was and were thus able to mourn her death free of plot-hole white noise. With Otis’s death, it was crucial for us to believe that he and Shane were truly backed into a corner; otherwise, any analysis of Shane’s decision just gets tied up in the fact that it looked like they both could’ve escaped pretty easily. The zombies looked like they were pretty far behind them, didn't they? (And why could they run in the beginning of the episode, but only lope at the end? Robert Kirkman's recent explanation that the undead were evolving to learn how to run seems pretty arbitrary in this situation.) Shane could’ve forced himself to run on his sprained ankle. That school bus right in front of them seemed like a fine place to scramble into and lock the doors and formulate a new plan. Shane might not be better than the monsters in a moral sense, but he should still be able to outthink them. By shooting Otis, Shane failed to factor in the key distinction between being a human in a zombie world and being a zombie is that he has a brain while the undead merely eat them.
Then again, strategy has never played a big part in this show, despite two of the main characters being cops. It is still unclear what the plan is, on both a micro and macro level. Are the people positioned at the RV going to just keep wandering around the pitch-black woods, talking about how it’s actually preferable to be lost during a zombie apocalypse because the handful of human beings still alive will come looking for you? Are they ever going to stop convincing people not to kill them just so they can the live to talk about how much they wish they were dead? And why is it that, with the exception of Glenn’s crush on the appealing Lauren Cohan, the gang has so little interest in the discovery of other living humans? It was hard to listen to Lori’s speech about how they should let their little boy die so he wouldn’t have to “end up just another animal who doesn’t know anything but survival and who just runs and runs and runs” without thinking, "Or you could just all move into that delightful farmhouse with its abundance of soft lighting and hot water." (“There seems to be a lot of electricity in the world,” observed my friend Will, who was watching the show for the first time.) Considering how often these characters ask for a sign, they sure are lousy at recognizing them when they appear. The grass may be greener on the other side, but it’s also crawling with zombies, so they best be staying up on that porch for a while.
• I’m not relishing the thought of the show finding Sophia alive and then going to great lengths to convince us of how this is plausible. At this point, they need to wrap up that search-party story line immediately. The most gutsy and heartstring-pulling move would be for Sophia to pop up at the Farm as a zombie, but we’ll see if that happens. I’d also be fine with them pretending like she never existed the way they did with that family last season who just walked off into the woods without food or water to go on a family vacation to Birmingham.
• I can’t help but wonder if Frank Darabont watches this episode now and feels a kinship a with the sold-out Otis. Especially in light of this quote by Jon Bernthal, who plays Shane, about Darabont’s firing: “Look, I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t a very tough, jarring thing for us to go through That being said, this cast and this crew loves the heck out of each other, we love the heck out of this show, and nothing was going to slow us down or keep our eyes off the prize.”