Monday, March 5, 2012

Review: The Walking Dead "Judge, Jury, Executioner"

Non Spoiler Review:
I'm pleased to say Judge, Jury, Executioner marks a return to Walking Dead greatness. After the lean and mean episode last week, this one was full of character moments. Randal's fate provides the conflict among the group who debate the philosophical questions relating around executing him for crimes he might commit in the future. Meanwhile, everyone else (except T-Dog, actually) get some time to argue, yell, or storm off in a huff. The end delivers a classic Walking Dead shocker that changes the group dynamic again.

With only two episodes left, the show is firing on all cylinders. These last two are no doubt going to bring Walking Dead back to the dark and horrific series we love.

Spoilers Now!
Daryl has taken to interrogating Randal, which means beating him up. He gets information that there were 30 in his group with heavy weapons. They took Randal in—a whole group of men, women and children. The men would go out and scavenge, and one night they found a campsite where they raped two women while making the father watch. But Randal says he's not like them.

Daryl reports back, so Rick opts to eliminate their threat. Dale protests immediately and tells him they're throwing away their whole civilization by making such an arbitrary decision. Dale wants one day to talk to everybody and says he needs to set an example for Carl. Rick gives Dale until sunset.

Dale goes to Andrea for a favor—guard and protect Randal. If Shane finds out he'll likely just shoot him. Andrea agrees he's a threat, but Dale reminds her she was a civil rights lawyer. Andrea doesn't see them as all that civilized anymore, but Dale counters keeping their humanity is a choice they have to make. She agrees to watch him.

Carl wants to see the kid they caught, but Shane tells him it's grown up stuff. Shane asks Andrea if she'd stop him if he just walked in to take care of it, and he thinks they'll all back off at the last minute when push comes to shove. Rick's the leader and it's Hershel's farm, Andrea points out. Shane suggests they can take over, but she's a bit alarmed at how out of hand that could get. Randal's been listening to the whole thing from inside the barn, then finds he's not alone—Carl's silently watching up in the loft. 

Randal talks his ear off, but Carl says nothing, when Shane walks in ready to shoot him. Andrea calls him off and Shane orders Carl not to go near him again. He doesn't want him to tell his parents. If you let your guard down out here, people die, Shane explains. 

Rick's planning on hanging Randal. Lori supports him if he thinks it's best. She does want to know what happened on the road with Shane, but he's not that forthcoming.

Carol finds Carl at Sophia's grave site, assuring him she's in a better place. Carl tells her heaven is just another lie and angrily walks off. Carol tells Rick and Lori their son is disrespectful, then flies off the handle with Lori. Rick confronts Carl about his backtalk. Whether he believes in heaven or not, Carol just lost her daughter, so think next time before he talks. Carl asks if he's going to kill Randal. 

Carl goes on to find Daryl's motorbike and a gun in the bag, which he takes. He proceeds on into the woods where he sees a walker by the creek, caught in the mud. Carl first tries to run, but realizes it's trapped. He sits and watches, then throws stones at it. He finally takes out the gun to make an attempt to shoot it, but the zombie frees a leg and knocks Carl down. Carl scrambles free and runs away.

Dale goes up to Daryl's new remote campsite away from the group, worried about him just like Carol is. Daryl already figured out Shane had killed Otis. But the group is broken, he says. Dale next goes to Hershel, who plans to just leave it to Rick. He wants Randal away from his girls and doesn't want to know. So he finally goes to Shane to change his mind and talk it out like men. Killing Randal doesn't change the fact there's still 30 men out there, but it does change them. Shane tells him he's wrong, but he'll let him talk to the group and if Randal kills somebody it will be on Dale's head.

Beth's in better spirits, and Glen has a chat with Hershel. He tells Glen he thinks he's good enough for his girl and gives him a watch that's been in his family for generations. 

As the day ends, Rick is ready to carry out the death sentence. Dale has his chance to address everyone and get his vote. Dale admits he's the only one who wants him spared. But if they do it, Dale says that means there is no hope and the rule of law is dead. Carol is sick of the arguing. She didn't ask for deciding on something like this and wants to be left out of it. Only Andrea finally turns around and agrees with Dale that they should find another way. Dale walks out, and agrees with Daryl the group is broken.

Randal is blindfolded by Shane as Rick prepares to shoot him. Carl walks in and watches from the doorway and tells Rick to do it. Shane ushers him out. Rick can't shoot and tells Daryl to take him away. Shane storms off. Rick takes Carl back to camp and informs them they're keeping Randal in custody for now. Andrea goes off to find Dale, while Lori tells Rick it's all okay.

In the meadow, Dale comes upon a wounded cow at the edge of the woods, and is suddenly attacked by a zombie. He struggles to hold it back but it rips open his stomach before Daryl arrives to kill it. The rest of the group gets to him, but Hershel tells them there's nothing he can do and Dale is in a lot of pain. Carl sees that it's the walker that he freed from the creek and runs off. Rick realizes he has to put Dale out of his misery. It's Daryl who takes the gun from him and does it himself. Dale understands.

The Verdict:
Wow. Walking Dead returns to it's first season greatness with an episode chock full of nice bits, development for upcoming stuff, and heated philosophical debate. It seemed like the writers were catching up with the absence of characters last week by having everyone have some sort of scene—Glenn and Hershel, Carol and Lori, Andrea and Dale, and so on. All this talk of the group got some extra emphasis with everyone assembling in the house to talk it out. Even if a few only got a single line, if any (T-Dog, why are you still here?).

Is Randal genuine or just playing them all? I'm leaning towards the latter given his rather odd mention of being privy to the rape of the two girls but not participating. Either that or he's just really bad at judging what to tell people. I'll be surprised if he survives, though.

Dale's death is quite the twist, of course made quite ironic given he was the caretaker of the group's humanity. Given the rumours that one of the actors wanted to be let go of their contract after Frank Darabont was fired, I'd assumed that would be Jeffrey DeMunn, but then the rumor mill shifted to another character death, leaving Dale's departure quite the surprise. In the grand scheme of the books, that leaves us without a Dale/Andrea pairing, and though he died in somewhat the same way (mercy killed) perhaps it doesn't hurt that some of his story was accelerated to its end. Though I'll miss him (and the actor).

Despite all the drama surrounding Dale's last hurrah, it was Carl's scenes that I really got into (given what could be on the horizon for him). Carl's been left in the background so much lately I was concerned he wasn't going to be a focus. The actor really pulled it off, mixing normal kid behaviour with the messed up post-apocalyptic sociopath that's waiting to come out. If Dale had to die, the added touch of having Carl be responsible for freeing the walker that killed him was just a deliciously torturous element to add to that character.

I'm happy it was Daryl who had to step forward and put Dale out of his misery, with the touching look of understanding he gave him that he was doing the right thing. They really set Dale up as the last spokesman for the old world. I'm guessing things will get a lot darker without his conscience guiding (and annoying) the group. Maybe Daryl can step up to the plate.

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