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TV Diary | The Walking Dead: “Judge, Jury, Executioner”

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TV Diary | The Walking Dead – Episode 2.11 – “Judge, Jury, Executioner” – Original Airdate: 3/4/12

Episode Grade: A-

That… was hard to watch. “Judge, Jury, Executioner” continued The Walking Dead’s powerful run of episodes since returning from its midseason break, ending in shocking fashion with the death of a major character for the first time this season [1]. Much of this second year has focused on how the central group of main characters is fracturing and perhaps no one person had put themselves on an island as much as Dale. From alienating Andrea (his closest ally) at the end of season one to emerging as the moral polar opposite of Shane this season, Dale has moved from being the fatherly moral center of the group in season one to an increasingly marginalized character this year. Personally speaking, he went from my favorite character to one who was more of, “Oh, yeah… this guy’s still on the show.” That’s not to take anything away from Jeffrey DeMunn’s performance – which has always been nothing less than sublime – but the Dale character had become rudderless so it probably was about time for the show to dispatch him into the ether, but not before giving DeMunn a final showcase in one of the better Walking Dead episodes of late. Much of the focus of “Judge, Jury, Executioner” was based around the group’s decision on how to handle the Randall problem. Do they let him free and thus raise the possibility that his own violent group [2] could happen upon the farm – especially since Randall claims to know Maggie personally and thus would be able to suss out the farm’s location at a future date – or do they execute him despite his professed innocence in the more sordid activities of his group at large in order to eliminate any chance of future harm coming to those now residing at Hershel’s farm? This question afforded The Walking Dead the chance to examine the place of moral ethics in a post-apocalyptic world as Dale played the role of the crusader most strongly opposed to Randall’s execution while trying to convince all of the other camp members to join his side. The backdrop allowed the show to go a little deeper than it normally does into big picture issues, painting both sides of the debate with equal validity. In the end, Dale essentially remained on his island as he was unable to sway enough of a majority to his side, leaving Rick to carry out the death sentence [3]. Unable to stomach the thought of seeing the possibly innocent Randall put to death, Dale refuses to take part in the proceedings and instead wanders out into the farmland on his own only to come upon a horse that had been mutilated by a walker. As Dale turns backward – presumably to head back to the farmhouse to warn the others of the imminent danger – a walker [4] is there to meet him causing him to stumble to the ground with the walker on top of him. After putting up as much of a fight as he can muster, Dale is eventually overwhelmed by the strength of his undead enemy who reaches into his midsection and essentially disembowels him in graphic fashion. Hearing his screams, the rest of the camp members frantically rush to his side only to ultimately realize that it’s too late for Dale to be saved, leaving Rick the unenviable task of putting Dale out of his misery though Daryl – sensing that Rick’s too distraught to do it – steps in, solemnly utters a “Sorry, brother,” and pulls the trigger himself. The last ten minutes of “Judge, Jury, Executioner” were as powerful and impactful as any sequence that the show’s ever done – from Rick’s inability to pull the trigger on Randall after hearing his own son urge him on to an (arguably) beloved character taking his last breaths and dying in brutal fashion [5]. As Hitfix’s Alan Sepinwall points out, the show’s moral compass is now gone [6], making the possibility that Rick can now be more easily swayed by Shane without Dale’s morality around to balance things out. Should be really interesting to see how the new dynamic plays out going forward. With just two episodes left this season, episodes like “Judge, Jury, Executioner” are making it clear that The Walking Dead is doing its best to force its way into the discussion as one of television’s best shows.

[1] Though her death was definitely impactful, Sophia was far from a major character so I’m not counting her. I’m talking specifically about the core group of characters that have spanned the entirety of the series thus far.
[2] He tells Daryl while being interrogated and beaten that other members of the group happened upon other survivors in the past and proceeded to rape a couple of teenage girls while forcing their father to watch. Definitely not guys who you want hanging around if you can avoid it.
[3] He ultimately backs out because of Carl, who we’ll get into a little later.
[4] A walker who was there because of, again, Carl.
[5] Not to mention the irony that Dale was the one arguing against killing Randall for the entirety of the episode yet he was the one who died after all was said and done.
[6] Which definitely fits with the growing nihilism of the show. You know that guy who best represents hope and humanity from the way things were before? DEAD.

Miscellany:
*Uh… did I miss the moment that Carl turned into a Grade-A little shit or was this episode itself that moment? From sneaking into the barn and getting too close to the potentially dangerous Randall, to approaching the lone walker in the woods and sadistically chucking rocks at it for his own amusement (and dislodging it and nearly getting himself killed in the process), to egging his own father on to execute another human person, to ultimately being the cause of Dale’s death, Carl was a little dick for most of “Judge, Jury, Executioner.” I think we’ve officially reached the point where he’s gone “cold” as Lori feared he would after increased exposure to the new world back in season one. Carl’s story ran concurrent to the Dale story for much of the episode’s run, demonstrating the new approach that The Walking Dead’s writers have taken to their storytelling. Which brings me to…
*The narrower focus of the last two episodes has been a very effective way for The Walking Dead to approach its storytelling. Speaking as something of a writer myself, it takes a while to find the style that suits your work best so hopefully the show’s writing staff has found that style because although I felt that “18 Miles Out” wasn’t as strong of an episode as “Judge, Jury, Executioner” was, the streamlining of the narrative in each episode is something that the show should most definitely stick with from now on.
*POTENTIALLY SPOILERISH: You may have missed it but it was announced a few weeks back that David Morrissey has been cast for the upcoming third season as a character known as “The Governor” who, according to the network is “the leader of Woodbury, a small settlement of survivors, and becomes the chief antagonist for Rick Grimes and his group.” Hmm… the character shows up in season three as a villain who heads another group. Certainly sounds like letting Randall live is going to come back to bite everyone in the ass, doesn’t it?
*So… Hershel giving Glenn a family heirloom pocketwatch and symbolically granting his approval of Glenn as someone worthy of dating his daughter means that Hershel’s the next to go, right? I mean, you don’t get to do that kind of thing and live on a show like this usually.
*Was it just me or did Daryl’s interrogation of Randall in the barn in the episode’s opening scene remind anyone of Sayid interrogating Ben Linus during his first appearance in season two of Lost? The same moral issues were there – do you take the seeming innocent at his word or do you take a more pragmatic and defensive approach? That Ben ultimately ended up being a threat also helped the suspense created here: The precedent had already been set by Lost that, in this type of situation, always expect the unexpected.
*In trying to secure Andrea’s support for his cause – and ultimately failing to do so – Dale mentions Andrea’s past as a civil rights lawyer. Is this the first time that’s been mentioned or has it just been so long since the show bothered to paint its characters in anything resembling a three-dimensional manner that I forgot about it?
*Shane seems to be coming closer and closer to the edge each episode, here suggesting the idea of a palace coup to Andrea after saying that they’re all screwed under Rick and Hershel’s leadership. That Rick was unable to finish the job on both Randall and Dale could be the final straw, especially with just two episodes left in the season.
*In retrospect, Daryl knowing what Shane did makes a lot of sense, particularly because he noticed that Shane said in his story that Otis covered him yet Shane came back with Otis’s gun. Daryl knowing yet not really doing anything about it speaks to the moral decay setting in amongst everyone on the show.
*While I’ve always really been a Dale fan, I love (loved?) the tone that Shane uses with Dale, showing that he’s just barely tolerating him.
*This week’s Walking Dead Extreme Gore Moment: Without question, it’s Dale’s death.
*”We reconvene at sunset. Then what happens, happens.”
*”The world we know is gone, but keeping our humanity? That’s a choice.”
*”They gonna pussy out and if they do we gonna have a big problem on our hands.”
*”Whole point of me coming up here is to get away from you people.”
*”Heaven is just another lie. And if you believe it, you’re an idiot.”
*”You’re not going anywhere. And I’m not going anywhere. So let’s talk about this like men.”
*”This is a young man’s life and that’s worth more than a five-minute conversation.”
*”If we do this, the world that we lived in is dead.”
*”This group is broken.

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Written by jeremylikestv

March 11, 2012 at 8:20 pm

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