Walking Dead Report: Judge, Jury, Executioner

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2012-03-05 17:28

The Walking Dead - "Judge, Jury, Executioner" (3/4/12)
Written by: Angela Kang
Directed by: Greg Nicotero

Reviewed by: Brett G.

The Walking Dead report will is a weekly series that recaps the show's most recent episode; spoilers and speculation will follow.

This week, Rick’s lesson for Carl was to think instead of talk, which is ironic on a couple of levels; for one, there was a lot of talking this week, and, two, Carl now has some explaining to do in the wake of the episode’s shocking finale.

But first, let’s talk about what everyone talked about for most of the episode: the fate of Randall, a debate that soon became Dale vs. the world. In typical Walking Dead fashion, it was pretty easy to see everyone’s side here, at least for a while. From a practical standpoint, killing Randall has its purpose since his gang of thirty men could easily descend upon the farm if he were to ever escape; from a moral standpoint, it’s tough to justify killing another human being in cold blood. This dichotomy is pretty clear, and it should be considering we’ve been stuck with it for the past three episodes.

However, Dale really won me over during the climactic scene where everyone attempted to decide what to do with Randall. With everyone against him, he stood up and delivered an impassioned speech that Jeffrey DeMunn absolutely crushed; I’ll be the first to admit that Dale has bordered on being a touch annoying lately, but that’s probably because he (like a lot of ancillary characters) had been reduced to basically poking his nose into everyone else’s business. Here, though, he reminded us that he’s always been the heart and soul of this group, and maybe even its conscience; this may have been one of the show’s best moments so far, and certainly among its most genuinely emotional. Everyone was laid bare here, and it was maybe a touch on the nose, but Dale provided a stark reminder of why they were surviving in the first place: to uphold some semblance of civilization, and he didn’t want to live in a world where that was lost.

Shockingly, he may have been granted his wish one way or the other; Rick of course pussed out and couldn’t bring himself to shoot Randall in cold blood once Carl conveniently showed up (more on that in a bit). When everyone else heard this news, Andrea couldn’t wait to tell Dale the news, and that’s exactly where my mind was as well--I feel like Dale finally came into his own and provided a refreshing, alternative voice to Rick and Shane’s dialogue. If you were to read this as a political allegory, one might say that Dale was the ideal, possibly naïve third party candidate that wandered into a strictly bipartisan conversation.

And then that happened. At first, I thought Dale’s death was just a curveball to possibly divert our attention from the fact that the show once again spun its wheels a bit (in the grand scheme, we’re still hamstrung over Randall’s fate); however, upon reflection, seeing Dale eviscerated like this feels like an eerie precursor to what may come. If he was the soul or conscience, if the group is “broken” as Daryl insisted, then where are they without him? Dale’s presence has been rather diminished lately, but this episode brought his importance into sharp relief; in many ways, he was the ideal and maybe even the most naïve member of the group, so to see him get gutted signals even darker times ahead.

“Judge, Jury, Executioner” will be known as “the one where Dale bites it,” and I suppose we’ll have to wait and see the fallout before surveying this turn of events. In the context of this episode, does feel a bit like shock value--they finally built Dale up just to bring him crashing down, and I’m not so sure it was completely earned, at least in terms of how it happened. Plus, he’s not actually going to be around to either pay penance or be vindicated by whatever happens with Randall, so it seems to be a bit premature. I like that the show once again bared its teeth and reminded us that pretty much all bets are off, but the manner here was a bit uneven and not all that coherent on a thematic level--wouldn’t it have made more sense to have Dale go out as a result of something that Randall did or didn’t do?

Instead, it had more to do with Carl, who, as we’re discovering, probably isn’t even as naïve as Dale was. He’s sworn off God and heaven and even encouraged Rick to shoot Randall. We’re seeing what this world is doing to those raised in it, and Rick rightfully balked at this. He doesn’t want his son growing up in a world defined by frontier justice; unfortunately, the world probably won’t comply. So much of this episode felt like a futile resistance against this cruel, harsh existence, which is why it countered with that swift gut punch in this episode’s closing minutes.

With only a few episodes left this season, The Walking Dead is headed to some interesting and foreboding places. I’m very interested to see the fallout from this, especially since Carl is ostensibly at fault. For all Rick and Lori have tried to do to raise him in these circumstances, he’s irrecoverably changed now. Even the shotgun blast to his stomach was patched up; this, however, will probably leave a deep wound from which he’ll never recover, having now known real guilt and shame.

Maybe this serves as another fracture point for the group; I’m sure we’re set up for future episodes with some characters saying “Dale would have wanted it this way,” while Shane will tell them all to man up; there was certainly no love lost between he and Dale (which is another reason why Dale’s death came out of left field--Shane offing him would have made more sense). Then again, this group seems like they’ve been on the verge of completely splintering for pretty much the entire season, and we all know the payoff will likely come with Rick and Shane’s big confrontation--I just hope AMC is smart enough to handle that correctly because without that central tension, I’m not sure what the show has.
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