Recap | The Walking Dead: ‘Judge, Jury, Executioner’

“This new world is ugly, it’s harsh, it’s survival of the fittest, and that’s a world that I don’t want to live in. I don’t believe that any of you do.”Dale

The producers of The Walking Dead have a curious proclivity for the Very Special Episode approach to storytelling that dates back to at least Season 1′s “Vatos,” in which we learned not to judge a book by its cover. This season we’ve already had the Abortion Episode and, just last week, the Suicide Episode, in which earnest characters grappled with the Important Issue of the Week, presumably so they’ll never, ever have to talk about it again; we’re virtually in Blossom territory, people.

“Judge, Jury, Executioner” easily could’ve gone the way of “18 Miles Out,” with the survivors again wringing their hands over the fate of a character the audience cares nothing about (sorry, Beth, but we can barely remember your name). Thankfully, however, writer Angela Kang deftly frames the dilemma so that what’s at stake isn’t the life of an individual, or even the physical well-being of the group; no, instead it’s the moral fabric of the threadbare society.

This week the role of Beth is played by Randall, the young man who’s become fortune’s plaything, having been rescued from death (or worse) and nursed back to health by Rick, Hershel and the other survivors only now to be marked for execution simply because he might, some day, betray them. He’s undeniably unlucky and undoubtedly manipulative, but he doesn’t pose an imminent danger to the Greene farm, yet the question of whether he lives or dies weighs heavily on the group — well, more heavily on some than on others. Dale, who before he morphed into a glaring busybody served as the group’s quiet conscience, returns to form, dismayed that the others would so readily resort to torture — Daryl takes a particularly cruel turn as Jack Bauer — before so casually accepting Randall’s execution as a foregone conclusion.

There is, of course, something to the survivors’ fears, but as with so much on The Walking Dead, it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny: Subjected to Daryl’s fists and hunting knife, Randall reveals his group of 30 is heavily armed and pretty nasty, with some of the members raping some teenagers they found while out foraging for supplies. But there’s no indication that the marauding band, which Randall assures Daryl includes women and children, would come searching for him or that, at least before his torture and looming execution, he would be in any rush to reunite with them. Randall, like everyone else, was scared and searching for protection; he just happened to fall in with that group rather than with, say, the Atlanta survivors. No matter, though, he represents a threat to the farm, and therefore must be killed — as Dale points out, simply because it makes life easier. What’s more, despite being shackled in a shed, Randall must be killed soon, providing the episode with a ticking clock of sorts as Dale tries to sway each member of the group before the arbitrary deadline set by Rick.

As Dale tries to plead Randall’s case, Carl weaves his way through the episode, sneaking into the shed to observe the pleading prisoner with a cold, almost scientific detachment before being caught by an angry Shane, who shoos him headlong into an unconvincing confrontation with Carol (she’s gone from set dressing to weeping mother to irrational squabbler). After being scolded by his father, Carl snatches Daryl’s pistol and heads off into the woods, where he finds a walker mired in the mud, the perfect target for rock-throwing torment — at least until Carl gets too close and the walker frees one of its legs. Combined with Carl’s later appearance at the barn, where he encourages his father to execute the weeping Randall — “Do it, Dad. Do it!” — it creates a chilling portrait of, well, a young serial killer, a pint-sized sociopath with no regard for the feelings of others. As disturbing as it is, though, it also feels like a bit of a cheat: While the writers have dropped clues to a changing Carl since his recovery from the gunshot wound, again they’ve skipped a step or two, accelerating the boy’s descent into darkness because that’s what this episode requires.

Shaken by Carl’s encouragement, Rick issues a stay of execution, which would no doubt please Dale, who set off in the dark to be as far away as he could from Randall’s death. Stumbling upon a disemboweled cow gasping its last breaths, Dale comes face to face with the very walker that Carl taunted only hours before. Struggling with his attacker, poor Dale is himself gutted, barely able to comprehend what’s happening. Daryl tackles and kills the walker and signals for the others, who are unable to do anything for the dying Dale. Rick finds himself unable to put Dale out of his misery, but in a surprisingly tender moment, Daryl takes the pistol and mutters, “Sorry, brother,” before firing.

It’s a shocking sequence that I hope will have far-reaching consequences — far more so than the deaths of Amy, Jim, Jacqui (you forgot about those two, didn’t you), Otis or Sophia. Dale, as I wrote earlier, had been the conscience of the group, and occasionally its meddling Cassandra, warning everyone of the danger of Shane. What happens with him gone? And what happens now to Carl, who realizes his role in Dale’s death?

Grade = A-

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Comments

  • Jmac

    I gotta say, good riddance. I love Dale in the comic, but he’s been just the one note over and over in the TV show.  Wish they could have done more with him; he could be a lot more complex than they made him. 

    And I hope maybe this means good things for Herschel… 

  • http://twitter.com/B_2quared Ben Barnard

    You gotta love episodes where one zombie can wreak more havoc than the hordes zombie moves normally provide.  I also love how the show is going to hit the major characters and scenes from the comic but get to those landmarks in a completely different way.

    I have this suspicion that Darryl and Andrea will be a couple, with Darryl leading the group.

  • Savonti

     I can’t agree with you about Dale, he may have at times had the broken record treatment, but I think a good deal of that comes from Shane’s refusal to die at the end of season one like he was supposed to.  I mean if you think about it, they took all the gray out of Rick, leaving him the white knight while giving Shane the dark, if you will. Shane muted Rick’s characters, so what happens to the conscience and wisdom of the group when you have “evil rick” running around. 

     Dale could have done so much more (as we know form the books) but he was too busy watching “hurricane Shane”. That said no part of me saw this coming, them actually going through with it I mean.

     As far as Hershel I’m not sure anything will happen for him really, but I do expect that Carl isn’t going to become the hardass we know and love form the books. I think last night’s events have gone leaps and bounds to keep him away from awesome town.  I expected him to pop Randal all episode,  pity.

  • http://twitter.com/nickcooley Nick Cooley

    Carl had his own Peter Parker moment: “With great power, comes great responsibility…”

    Although who’s to say that it’s fair to put that on a kid as young and confused as Carl.

  • http://profiles.google.com/maskedmanissue1 Masked Man Issue 1

    But isn’t it a bit too early for Carl to become the hardass from the comics, we just got to Hershell’s farm! Granted, at the speed the show is going, it feels like ages – but in reality we just got here, these people need to change and will change a lot.I do think Hershel has a good chance to become a more sound moral compass for Rick and the group. Anything can happen, as last night’s episode showed.

    I think it was great to see Daryl stepping in for Rick, since he’s the one doing what no one else has the balls to do and what *really* needs to be done. And yet, as he’s about to do it, he just can’t! Well played TWD. 

    Now that all these pieces are in the right place for an all out confrontation with The Others, and Rick’s new drive to prove that they are “not broken”, can’t wait to see what the next 2 episodes will be like…

  • http://profiles.google.com/maskedmanissue1 Masked Man Issue 1

    Daryl leading the group? Daryl with the hanging ears and squirrels? Doubtful. I love the guy, but he’s more likely to join The Others when he finds out his long lost brother is the leader (either that or Ben Linus ;))

  • Mike

    Did T-Dawg even have a single line of dialogue in the whole episode? Stop killing off good actors who are playing good characters and get rid of the T-Dawg instead.

    I want to keep liking this, but I love the source material. If Kirkman and the others don’t care about the story we already know and love…why should I?

  • http://twitter.com/dmalted Dave Maltman

    There’d been speculation for weeks that one of the characters (portrayed by a Darabont regular) was going to be killed off, but I was really hoping it would be someone other than Dale. He was probably one of my favorite characters from the books, and I’ll miss seeing how things would’ve developed with him. His future with Andrea was a beautiful thing, and would’ve saved her from being the rotten, miserable bitch she’s turned into.

    With the show going off on a totally different track from the comics, I’m wondering if, with his guilt over the part he played in Dale’s death, the whole Carl versus Shane scenario plays out differently, as well. Maybe this is the time when Rick finally takes care of business, instead.

    Also, I’m calling it right now: I think The Governor is leader of Randall’s group. With all of the whining about them being stuck at the farm all season, I’m guessing that they skip the whole prison sanctuary thing completely. There’s too much story to get to before The Governor shows up, and not enough time/episodes to get all of it in.

  • Anonymous

    I concur completely. Dale’s endless monotonous After School Special speeches were getting tiring.

  • morganw

    You notice that most of the zombies are missing their mouths? it seems as though even after you die you have a hankering for an intense journey to second base. Or maybe it’s just one zombie that’s doing this. Sooner than later one of the survivors will catch on and it will become the underlying mystery of the season. Chris Henson will provide the narration.
    No? Just me?

    Thank you and yes, I am an idiot.
    M

    P.S. I find the second half of season two has been far stronger than the rest of the series. If they can manage to find a balance between strong character development and you know, zombies, this show would be boss. I also think it would be cool if they would leave more up for interpretation, sometimes the show can be too blunt with the message they’re trying to get across instead of discretely saying it. It would add a level of “rewatchability” (yes that’s not a word), to the show. Allow the viewer to get something new from it each time.

    I wish I had time to give examples. Example 1: watch the show. ;)  I wish you all a great day
     

  • Savonti

     I don’t think it’s too early at all, Carl’s path started in issue #6. That first step didn’t instantly make him the character he became but it was a very important first step and it did happen pretty early, well before they found the farm in the comics.

    As far as the farm, I agree they haven’t been there long at all really. I know many people have a problem with the “slow pace” but it’s really no different from the comics, just in a different place.

    I really do think Hershel’s done though, he rode his high horse for a while and we saw how it worked out for him. He may pick himself back up, but I suspect he’ll be an extreme Rick loyalist as we continue on.

    That said you’re right, anything can happen and I too am very excited about the rest of the series.

  • Ultras28

    I can’t possibly be the only one who falls asleep every episode, only to be woken by the inevitable gun shot that ends each episode.

  • Savonti

     I was figuring the Governor as the leader of Randall’s group too. As awesome as the prison was I have a feeling that we’re not going to get to see it either.  That said a few weeks ago I had figured that Fort Benning would be the “new” prison but now I’m betting we stay at the farm a good while longer.

    I think you may be onto something about Carl but I’m really hoping it doesn’t go down that way. If they’re not going to make Carl the Carl we (the comic fans) know and love, then just get rid of him like Sophia.

  • john

    I was thinking the same thing about Randal’s group being lead by the Governor. I’m also wondering if they take a page from the comics and mix in the show if we don’t see Merle with that group and Rick ends up loosing his hand as some so twisted payback for Merle cutting off his hand on the roof top. “You cuffed Merle and caused the man too loose his hand so it’s only right” type of twisted logic the Governor has as well as that group appear to be running up.

  • ziza9

    Best part of the show was watching whiny Dale die. Worst part, more indecisiveness and inability to follow through with the hard choices by Rick.

  • Cforshaw672200

    So far, they have encountered: a guy and his son; the survivors they still group together with; some gangsters protecting some old people; a suicidal scientist who didn’t really want to kill them; and Herschel and his family, who have offered them shelter and protection, despite getting off on the wrong foot.

    I mention this because the way they have just assumed that there are roving gangs determined to kill them has come off as more paranoid fantasy forced into the plot by bad writing to justify “drama”, rather than an organic sequence of events leading them to the natural conclusion that other people are dangerous to them.

    Think on it this way – had they come across butchered survivors two or three times during the first half of the series, that couldn’t possibly be victims of the zombies, then the idea of enemies out to get them would seem infinitely more valid. Or if Dale had gone with Rick instead of Glenn, and had been shot first by those two guys, giving justification for Rick to shoot them.

    At the moment, with Dale gone, it seems like they are skipping ahead to the current arc in the comics, where we see Rick’s group as weary survivors doing whatever is necessary to survive, but without the careful pacing and logical sequence of cause and events that brought them to this moment.

    The fact is that Rick’s group are the bad guys. They’ve forced themselves on Herschel, murdered one of his family, violated most every rule he had (such as not going in the barn), and put them in danger by murdering members of a violent gang. They’ve also used the first real opportunity at a settle location to start going, “Hey, let’s sack off all the rules we had previously!”

    Worse, the show presents this as an inevitability that it clearly isn’t, nor would it be for people who would, the zombie apocalypse being fairly recent, be trying to cling onto the dream that the world could be the same as it was before in some way. Heck, have any of them even tried to put their feet up and read a book since they got to the farm? It’s unrealistic.

  • Bclopper

    Was anyone else bothered by how much free rein Carl has to walk into the woods? What parent is going to let their child out of their sight with zombies roving about? Sloppy plot moves there.

    Brian Clopper

  • http://khiaao.blogspot.com/ khiaao

    Good Choice

  • Antoniogeoa

    After last nights episode I’ve decieded to drop the show. This may seem a little extreme but next to Rick, Dale was my favorite character in the comics and somehow still managed to be my 2nd favorite even in the show (yeah Daryl, Shane, and Herchel are awesome but Dale kicks their asses in my book.) And I was really into the show up until the last moments of last nights show. But killing Dale was a shocker that not only shocked, but turned me off to the show. Yeah I’ve been digging some of the changes but this was too much; anyone who’s read the comics should know how important Dale was to the series. In fact for me the most disappointing aspect of the TV show was the lack of Dale and Andrea’s relationship. Now we’ll never see that developed or the rest of Dale’s stand out moments. And the funny thing is as bleak as the comic has been, the show seems to be hopeless. Everyone sat on their asses and said nothing agreeing with something they all knew was wrong. Dale stood his ground when even Rick jumped on the bandwagon. It doesn’t make sense, things arent as bad as they’ve been in the comics but everyone is giving up their morality like it was never there to begin with. They might as well kill Rick and let Shane or Daryl take over. Call me crazy but it should not be that easy to kill someone and yeah I get that “the world’s moved on” but I would stand with Dale. The show is too different for me, and while this may interest a lot of the “what if Shane killed Rick” crowd, this ain’t the show I wanna see anymore. Yay or nay what do yall think?

  • Anonymous

    Ears are kill trophies, and squirrels are food.

  • Anonymous

    Agree.  I think Dale is one of the better acting characters, and he’s the only one in opposition of the group’s intents.  If Shane stays in line, then nobody in the group has a dissenting voice.  Even Hershel is bowing to Rick.

  • Hunterdan

     If you want the story told in the comic book read the comic book. It’s that simple.

      I like the fact that the comic book is exploring Kirkman’s world rather than following the source material verbatim. It gives me great pleasure to see where the show runners are taking us.  An example of this is the CDC, Kirkman states on the record that when writing the book he didn’t realise that the CDC was in Atlanta – when you move the story to the ‘real’ world, it makes perfect sense ifor the survivors to check it out.
    Another Case in point – we are all waiting for Shane to bite the bullet and yet he’s still around fueling the conflict.(Kirkman also admits that had he known that his book would still be going 100 issues later, he would of kept Shane around a lot longer).
     It was genius killing off TV Dale,as we the comicbook readers thought he was safe (for the time being) – and yet the point most people complaining seem to be missing is  TV Dale is not comic book Dale.
    These aren”t the same characters in the book, because people are shaped by their experiences and TV survivors are not experiencing the same situations of their comic counterparts..

    As for people sitting on their asses, today’s society is largely apathetic, do you really believe that come the  zombie apocalypse this attitude would change?

  • Billy

    Dale was, by far, my favorite character, and being an actor myself, Jeffrey DeMunn’s work is impeccable.  I like Rick, Darryl, Maggie, Herschel, but loved Dale.  Look for major changes in characters now.  This will be shaking up the snowglobe for them.  Dale tried to save Andrea over and over while he was alive.  It now appears, that in his death, he has possibly done so.  Look for Darryl to join more closely with Rick, and I predict the group of 30 men that are out there… they will be lead by Merle, who Darryl will go up against with Rick.

  • http://profiles.google.com/indiesixtynine harry k

    That was the only thing I didn’t like in this episode. The speed of Carl’s transformation. They could fix it with flashbacks, but it would feel like a filmed apology more than anything.

    I know people have been hating on Dale lately, but he was an early favorite character of mine. I’ll miss him. A lot. He was a great optimist that still felt like fairness and compassion could be achieved in the world, even as it’s falling apart around him. I notice that certain kinds of pipe dreams are tolerated these days while others are not, but this type of fantasy is somehow looked upon with more derision than it deserves in my opinion. Wide-eyed optimism isn’t very hip right now, is it? Dale was that “anything is possible” fantasy personified and it hurts that he’s gone now. Who will take over for him in his memory? Was anyone especially touched or moved by his big speech in the living room? I think the only reason Andrea sided with him in the end was because she sensed that he was being ganged up on and that’s something she hates. That and maybe some lingering loyalty. I was kind of looking forward to the unconventional pairing of Dale and Andrea.

    I’m really going to be bothered though if there are not some very big, real consequences for the loss of Dale.

    Lastly, are they really making Carl out to be a burgeoning sociopath? Does this gel with the comic on any level?