Author’s Note: This post is two weeks late. I have no excuse, only an apology. There will be spoilers. This review was originally posted at the Media Junk Food Blog and has been mirrored here with permission.
Thus far, Season 2 of AMC‘s breakaway zombie hit The Walking Dead has been lackluster, to say the least. The season began interestingly enough with the tense and thrilling “What Lies Ahead”, the emotionally-charged “Bloodletting” and the unforgettable “Save the Last One”, before sinking into the emotional quagmire of “Cherokee Rose”, “Chupacabra” and “Secrets” (though “Chupacabra” did have the admittedly funny scenes featuring the walker in the well). We had the relative high point of “Pretty Much Dead Already” followed by a rapid descent back into stupidity with “Nebraska”, the almost-badass “Triggerfinger” and the mindless plot cul-de-sac “18 Miles Out” (which I have already covered extensively in my last review). Finally, we come to the final three episodes of the season, beginning with “Judge, Jury, Executioner”.
Remember how I trashed on “18 Miles Out” for promising MAJOR resolutions and not delivering on any of them? Big fight between Rick and Shane that, while admittedly awesome, went absolutely nowhere? Dragging that poor nebbish Randall an arbitrary number of miles away from the barn only to drag him right back at the end of the episode? The suicide plot that came out of nowhere and vainly attempted to make us feel some shred of faux emotion for a character that had never been developed – or even properly introduced – in a prior episode? (Did I mention you could pretend that episode never existed and get the same plot development out of the season? Huh. I really should’ve mentioned that last time…) Well, get ready for more, ’cause we’re about to have needless character assassination, and it’s Dale’s turn on the grassy knoll!
Dale has always been one of my favorite characters since I started reading The Walking Dead, and his portrayal in Season 1 was flawless. He was perfectly written by that season’s writing staff and masterfully portrayed by Jeffrey DeMunn (a favorite actor of previous season showrunner Frank Darabont; the role I most remember DeMunn from, however, was his brief yet wide-eyed portrayal of Dr. Bronschweig, a minor character from The X-Files: Fight the Future, though I’m getting off topic). He brought an easygoing rationality that the series needed, and I actually liked DeMunn’s portrayal better than I liked the character from the comic.
Then Season 2 came along and gradually chipped away at all the goodwill I had for his character. Thanks again, Season 2 writing staff. No, really, thank you for fucking up a character I once enjoyed. It takes real talent to fuck a character so thoroughly, and you guys definitely have it! Cheers to you all! “What the hell are you going on about, dune?” you ask. For starters, we’re all friends here. You can call me “Batty” (or “DB”, if you like). Second, let’s examine Dale’s major character actions from this season to see what I mean:
- In “What Lies Ahead”, Dale was forced to defend his actions in last season’s finale “TS-19″ (which were perfectly in character for him) to Andrea. Dale refuses to give Andrea her gun out of fear that she’ll attempt suicide with it, a fairly rational explanation for his actions. Shane, of all people, supports Dale. God, you know the situation is dire when Shane supports you… The episode is still relatively awesome because much of Darabont’s work is still present in the script, but AMC’s budget cuts and writer replacements are slowly creeping in. (Did I mention the original version of the episode would’ve shown how Dale rescued Andrea and her sister Amy? Or that it would’ve re-introduced the group to new viewers as it would’ve explored how they first fled from Atlanta and set up the survivor camp outside city limits? Or that there were deleted scenes that were filmed but never used that would’ve featured Sam Witwer, a.k.a. “Starkiller” from the Star Wars: The Force Unleashed video game series, reprising his role as the zombie soldier in the tank from the pilot episode? No? Yeah, AMC practically cut an entire episode featuring an important character introduction flashback for new viewers in order to save money. No, I’m not bitter in the slightest…)
- Dale returns the gun and apologizes to Andrea in “Save the Last One”. So far, so good…
- Dale tells Andrea not to be so hard on herself after she accidentally shoots Daryl in “Chupacabra”. Ever the peacemaker, Dale also tries to: convince Hershel that keeping walkers in the barn is a bad idea and even offers to help Hershel reinforce the barn only to be rebuffed; attempts to comfort both Glenn and Lori; and even stands up to Shane for what Shane did to Otis! (See why I love him, folks?)
- Then we come to “Pretty Much Dead Already”, which is where things go downhill for Dale. He successfully convinced Glenn to let the others know about the walkers in the barn, but warns Andrea about Shane’s increasingly unstable behavior and she doesn’t listen to him. Dale then steals everyone’s guns and hides them in the swamp until Shane confronts him about it. He stands up to Shane at first, then pussies out at the last moment, tossing off a whiny warning that Shane is losing his humanity. I guess the new writers finally ran out of Darabont’s old character notes and started writing Dale’s dialogue and actions themselves, because it’s all downhill for Dale from here on in.
- In “Nebraska” (the episode named after a fucking Springstein song), Shane bitches that he’s keeping the group safe (so, Dale’s constant keeping watch over the group from the top of his RV – which he keeps in constant repair in case the group need to get moving at anytime – is nothing to you, Shane?) and then threatens him, and Dale has to defend his actions to both Andrea and T-Dog. After this, Dale finally tells Lori about what Shane did to Otis back in “Save the Last One”.
- In “Triggerfinger”, Dale plays blind Cassandra again and attempts to warn Andrea. (Is anybody else getting tired of his obsession with Andrea? Sure, they shacked up in the comics, but the television version of Andrea isn’t worth fighting for, in this reviewer’s opinion.)
So far, it has been a watershed season for Dale. Sure, he has had those good moments that remind me why I loved his character, but he has also had his really stupid moments, too. Come on, stealing everyone’s weapons? The obsession over gaining Andrea’s approval? Not to mention the various ineffectual ways he tried to stand up to Shane, then warn everyone about Shane’s erratic actions, none of which goes anywhere until he finally tells Lori about it. Seriously, when you have to alert Lori about the dangers of a situation, you aren’t very good at getting people to listen to you. The Shane/Lori/Dale thing meandered almost as much as the overcooked red herring that the hunt for Sophia became, and it was an utter waste of three good characters. (Well, they were good characters in Season 1.)
All this has led us to “Judge, Jury, Executioner”, the penultimate Dale episode. You would think a Dale episode would really give the character – and the actor – a chance to shine, and he does at first, but Dale barely glimmers like rusted silverware by the end of this episode. Hang on, folks, it’s only going to get more painful from here on in…
We begin the episode’s gruesome festivities (the character assassination, not the zombie-killing) with the torture of Randall, the hapless prisoner Rick saved in “Triggerfinger” who was needlessly jerked around last episode. (Seriously! Watch this entire season from start to finish without “18 Miles Out”! Missing that episode really doesn’t change anything at all!) The acting from Norman Reedus (Daryl) and Michael Zegen (Randall) is spot-on as always, the directing – done by special effects guru Gregory Nicotero (yes, he directs, too!) – is superb in this scene, and the script – penned by relative newcomer Angela Kang – is well-done. Unfortunately, due to Reedus’ performance, Daryl’s big line didn’t seem nearly as menacing as it was written and had me cracking up:
“You ever pick off a scab? You start slow at first, but sooner or later you just gotta rip it off!“
Nevertheless, the scene is still effective and well put-together. Cue the Intro, and on with the show we go.
Daryl reports his findings to the rest of the group: Randall ran with a group of 30 armed males, rapists and murderers all. Rick immediately declares Randall a threat and decides – in agreement with Shane from last episode, if you want to pretend like last episode actually mattered – that Randall has to die. Dale doesn’t like this idea at all and pleads with Rick to give him the rest of the day to discuss the matter with the group and find an alternative. Rick, still reluctant to take a human life, agrees to give him the time he requested. So, that’s the set-up for the episode: the group have to decide whether or not to put a man to death for being a potential danger to them all. Dale has almost the rest of the episode to convince everyone else that killing Randall is wrong.
To be perfectly honest, this is exactly the kind of episode that Dale is perfectly suited for. Dale, at his best, is the group’s idealist; he represents the better nature of all of us, the kind of decent human being we all strive to be. If anyone in the group still believes society can be restored after the zombie apocalypse, it would be Dale. In another life, he would be the perfect senatorial candidate. Unfortunately for him, he’s stuck in the bleak world of The Walking Dead, but thus far he has taken it all in stride and refuses to give up his humanity or his hope for a brighter tomorrow.
To me, Dale is the heart and soul of the group. In this episode, Dale is faced with a particularly difficult task: defend a man who was shooting at Rick, Glenn and Hershel only two episodes ago, a man who has confessed to running with the lowest sort of people. (While we may take Randall’s claims that he did not rape or kill anyone at face value, he also did nothing to stop those who did the raping, killing and pillaging.) Sure, Randall did help Rick and Shane last episode, but he also tried to convince Rick to leave Shane behind (though I consider that justified) and spends all his screen time this episode trying to convince people to let him go right back to the evil rapists and murderers. In short: Dale has an uphill struggle, and that hill seems pretty steep.
In the hands of a talented screenwriter, this episode would be a cake-walk. If you know the sort of person Dale is, you don’t write dialogue for him; you let the character speak to you and the dialogue will flow naturally. While Dale does have some admittedly good lines this episode and he does make some strong points, some of his scenes simply don’t work and don’t seem like the Dale I know (though they do seem like the ass-hat “Bizarro world” version of Dale who hid the guns in “Pretty Much Dead Already”).
I could also debate the merits of what Dale is doing in this episode. Many viewers were angered by Dale’s attempts to save Randall’s life (if my perusal of that evening’s #walkingdead Twitter stream was any indication). The viewers I heard from all seemed to agree that Randall was a threat to the group that needed to be dealt with, that putting him to death was the right idea and that Dale was foolish for trying to convince the group otherwise. My roommates – both of them avid survivalists – were especially incensed at Dale’s actions, which they deemed close to mutiny. “He’s causing dissent,” one of my roommates snarled, and in a survival situation dissent might as well be suicide.
Naturally, that is the beauty of Dale’s character: he is supposed to make us question ourselves and what we would do if we were in Rick’s shoes. What kind of group would we organize? Would we try to make the group democratic, or would we appoint one leader and follow him or her without question? If the leader did something truly dark and vile (like the Governor does in the comics, though I’m getting ahead of Season 3 by even mentioning him), would we step in and say something – like Dale – or follow along without question – like Randall? We are supposed to question our beliefs about survival and the loss of humanity inherent in dire situations, how much of our “inalienable human rights” (to borrow a phrase) we are willing to relinquish to keep ourselves safe, and what lengths we are willing to go to just to stay alive. That is the point of the episode, and one of Dale’s lines to Andrea sums it up better than I ever could:
“The world we know is gone, but keeping our humanity? That’s a choice.”
My roommates could also see where the writers were going with Dale’s words and deeds, but the manner in which he was written made Dale come across less like Atticus Finch bravely fighting for his ideals against a cold, uncaring world and more like a stereotypical well-intentioned yet mildly annoying college activist passing out neon flyers for the campus’ cause of the week, making the episode come across more like a post-September 11 conservative parable than the writers of the episode probably intended for it to. Naturally, this was more off-putting than endearing. Shane, on the other hand, was making excellent points, in his own slightly sinister way. As he says to Andrea:
“Look, I just… I want to know what it’s like to sleep without keeping one eye open, okay? Ain’t that what we all want?”
I find it ironic that most viewers (minus this reviewer) agreed with the emotionally unstable Shane than with the level-headed, clear-spoken Dale. What does this say about society? Does it echo the points made in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight? Are we willing to throw away ideas such as justice, fairness and trial by jury of one’s peers in order to safeguard our safety? (I find it ironic that some conservative conspiracy theorists who wish to do away with FEMA might answer this question with a resounding “yes”. To clarify: I am not mocking either conservatives or conspiracy theorists when I say this, as I remain the former and have been the latter. I am merely making a point.)
In a balls-to-the-wall survival situation, would we forget the immortal words of one of America’s Founding Fathers, the orator Patrick Henry?
“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
Or does it say that Dale is so poorly-written this episode that we, the viewers, are given no choice but to agree with Shane because Dale has yet to offer any viable alternative? As for Dale’s “seditions” behavior, couldn’t Shane’s behavior also be considered “stirring dissent”? Last episode, Rick had decided to set Randall free. Shane has done his best to sway Rick to his way of thinking, and he attempts to reinforce this by getting to Andrea (and, at times, Lori). Do we see Shane’s view as “correct” because of the situation alone? Why do we not consider Shane a rabble-rouser in this episode, but we see Dale as being one? I will posit no answers, of course, nor shall I give you my opinion. I am merely asking questions in the hope of provoking thought and introspective. In the end, the group’s decision and Dale’s reaction foreshadow the last scene in a grim manner… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
In the RV, Dale asks Andrea to guard Randall. He doesn’t trust Shane around their prisoner, and he wants to ensure Randall’s safety before Dale has had a chance to affect the group consensus. Naturally, while he’s there he attempts to sway Andrea over to his way of thinking. She remains non-committal toward the Randall issue (though she hints at agreeing with Shane), but she promises Dale that she will watch over Randall.
By the next scene, Shane is already outside the slaughter shed where Randall is being held, his way being barred by Andrea. (Well, Shane didn’t waste any time, did he?) Shane asks Andrea if she would really stop him, were he to decide to waste Randall that very moment, and she assures him he would. The way this scene plays off, though, you’d think Shane and Andrea were flirting while discussing the fate of another human being! (She truly is perfect for Shane. They’re both emotionally and mentally unstable.) Shane feels Rick isn’t man enough to put a bullet in Randall’s head and accuses Rick of being the cause of most of the group’s problems, while doing his utmost to forget the times Rick has been useful; see Season 1′s “Guts” and “Vatos” (include “Wildfire” and “TS-19″, if you keep in mind that Shane’s option – Fort Benning – was already overrun with walkers by then, and the Atlanta CDC at least gave the survivors a warm meal, a hot shower and a good night’s sleep) or Season 2′s “Cherokee Rose” (Rick did convince Hershel to let them stay, as debatable as that decision was), “Nebraska” and “Triggerfinger” (Rick did convince Hershel to return, and he did get them out of the bar intact) to see what I mean. Shane posits the question, “Every time we have a problem ’round here, who you think’s behind it?” Andrea turns the question back on him: others have pointed the finger at Shane, and in two notable cases (unleashing the walkers in “Pretty Much Dead Already” – which led to the heart-wrenching discovery about poor zombie-Sophia, who only Rick was able to put down – and again unleashing the walkers, albeit accidentally, that nearly killed him and Rick in “18 Miles Out”) Andrea is spot-on. Their conversation ends in a stalemate.
Meanwhile, everyone’s favorite little moron, Carl, has snuck into the slaughter shed, where Randall nearly convinces him to let Randall go free. Shane discovers Carl and sends him off, scolding him: “Quit tryin’ to get yourself killed.” I don’t feel that Shane’s words truly sunk in with Carl at that moment. The Carl from the comic was a relatively stable young kid compared to the television series’ Carl, who is turning out to be quite the little cowardly asshole sociopath.
I see one major reason for this massive difference in attitude: Sophia. In the comic, Sophia is still alive. Her influence gives Carl a sympathetic peer, and he is as protective of her as Rick is of the entire group. Without Sophia to keep him grounded, the televised version of Carl is as adrift without an anchor as Shane and Andrea, and Carl is just as unstable at this juncture. We will see this instability and self-centered mindset – one of the hallmarks of a sociopath – play out throughout the rest of the episode. While “Judge, Jury, Executioner” can really be thought of as a Dale-centered episode (the “A-plot”, if you will), Carl’s personal development is definitely the episode’s “B-plot”.
Next up, Dale approaches Daryl, who refuses to agree with either Dale or Shane. While Daryl is still upset over his fruitless search for Sophia, the reason he refuses to get involved becomes clear through their conversation: Daryl knows Shane killed Otis, and while he isn’t saying so, Daryl obviously doesn’t trust Shane. Dale acts like Daryl’s intuition about Shane and Otis is a major revelation, which seems really silly, if you think about it. Dale already figured out that Shane killed Otis back in “Secrets” (he confronted Shane about it in the very next episode, “Pretty Much Dead Already”), and he even told Lori as much. None of this is new information for Dale or the audience (except for the fact that Daryl doesn’t trust Shane, which foreshadows Daryl’s increasingly important role in Season 3). Why is Dale acting like this is news to him? Is he doing so for Daryl’s benefit? Ultimately, Daryl closes the conversation by reiterating his earlier statement: “This group’s broken.” That will become the catch-phrase of the episode.
Lori has a chat with Rick in the barn, where Rick is tying a noose (before ultimately deciding that shooting Randall is “more humane”; actually, either one can be pretty gruesome and offer a painful, lingering death, if either are performed incorrectly). Rick asks Lori if she supports him, and she gives him a very non-committal response: “If you think it’s best.” (Nice way to leave yourself a moral out, Lori.) She asks what happened between Rick and Shane in “18 Miles Out”, and Rick replies that Shane won’t be a problem anymore. As you already recognize Rick’s statement about Shane as false, let me state once again: “18 Miles Out” was utterly useless to the season’s overall plot. You could watch the whole damn season without seeing that episode and not miss a beat (though you will miss a kick-ass Rick and Shane fight that gets interrupted by walkers; have I mentioned that Rick pulled Shane’s ass out of the fire in that episode, proving once again that Rick is more useful to the group?).
Remember what I said about Carl needing Sophia? Guess where we find him in the next scene? Naturally, Carl is at Sophia’s grave, when Carol approaches to pay her respects to her deceased daughter. Carol mentions her belief that Sophia is “in a better place”, and Carl all but quotes the lyrics to “Heaven’s a Lie” to shut her up, practically sneering at her about his disbelief. While both positions are understandable and both are valid positions for the characters in the setting (Carol seems like the average Christian-raised southerner, while Carl not only lost his only friend, he is growing up in a world where the dead rise as soulless abominations, and he has been watching his father’s faith dwindle day by day since the end of “What Lies Ahead”.) Regardless, Carl couldn’t possibly have been more of a dick about it to Carol, even calling her belief “stupid” and referring to her as “an idiot”, and Carol naturally has a chat with Carl’s parents about his dickishness.
Rick confronts Carl about his behavior, and Carl sasses him about Randall. Rick shuts him down quickly – thank God – and tells him, “Don’t talk. Think.” Once again, this is advice Carl won’t listen to. It truly is hard to say whether Rick or Shane are right about who can look after Lori and Carl better when Carl seems hell-bent on telling all of the adults in his life to fuck off.
Still making his rounds, Dale goes to Hershel to see where he stands. Hershel – who briefly mentions something about having to round up some escaped cattle (obscure foreshadowing!) – refuses to have anything to do with the matter, leaving the decision entirely in Rick’s hands. Before anyone accuses Hershel of cowardice, allow me to expound on Hershel’s mindset: Rick is the group’s leader, and after the disastrous ending of “Pretty Much Dead Already”, Hershel has finally accepted that Rick and his group know more about surviving in a walker-infested world than he does. Hershel hasn’t tried surviving out in the wild; Rick and the others have. Hershel is deferring to Rick’s wisdom in this instance, and he is all the more honorable for it. Up to this point, the script, the directing, the cinematography and the acting have all been nearly flawless. The scene between Dale and Hershel, while still fairly decent, feels clunky and unwieldy at times due to the dialogue. (Seriously, Dale, must you state that Hershel is a “man with convictions” in so dramatic a manner? It sounds less like you are being sincere and more like you’re reading from Hershel’s character description.) For Dale, this scene is where his character starts to fall apart, as screenwriter Angela Kang makes Dale sound more and more like a preacher seeking a pulpit.
Remember how I mentioned that Carl was ignoring both Rick and Shane? When next we see him, the little moron has stolen one of Daryl’s guns – that alone could get him killed – and has snuck off into the forest to prove his worth to the group by bringing down a walker. He eventually finds one – far too close to the barn (the resolution of the scenes from the otherwise useless “18 Miles Out” where Shane saw the lone walker headed toward the barn, perhaps?) – with its foot stuck in a creek bed. Seeing Carl, the walker lurches toward him to no avail. Showing all the wisdom of a future Darwin Award winner poking a hibernating grizzly with a sharpened stick, Carl starts tossing rocks at the walker. Naturally, all this prodding gives the walker the impetus it needs to wrench its foot free, and it does exactly that as Carl draws closer to shoot it. (God, how I want that damn kid to get eaten…) Carl falls to the ground and fails to shoot the walker, but barely escaping with is life as the walker tries to grab him. Too bad, walker. Maybe you’ll get a meal next time.
Finally, we come to one of my favorite – yet most pointless – scenes in the entire episode, and what really makes me smile about it is Dale’s dialogue. Dale’s introductory line is priceless: he goes to Shane, of all people, and simply says (in a manner befitting a politician or a used car salesman), “I’d like to change your mind.”
This is how desperate Dale has gotten. Never mind that Shane wants Randall dead, and that Dale has as much chance of talking Shane out of it as he has of talking Ronald McDonald out of shilling hamburgers to fat kids. (I’m a fat McDonald’s patron; I’m allowed to make that joke.) Never mind that Shane is a mentally and emotionally unbalanced murderer who killed Otis on the off chance that Otis might inconvenience him, and using Otis as live walker-bait helped him get back to base camp faster. Never mind that Dale doesn’t trust Shane at all. Dale needs to get someone on his side, and he has the big brass cojones to at least attempt to talk Shane out of killing Randall, and even Shane admits that. Naturally, he doesn’t talk Shane out of it, but Shane – out of sheer admiration for the Herculean size of Dale’s brass balls – does agree to peacefully go along with the rest of the group if they decide to let Randall go.
Naturally, those of us who were awake when Shane was talking to Andrea earlier know that Shane is lying to Dale. He already believes the others are going to “pussy out”. Do any of us really expect Shane to honor his agreement with Dale? Nevertheless, while we may not agree with Dale, we have seen him at his best this episode, and this scene is one of many examples of that (though it does seem a tad far-fetched that he’d have a chat with a dangerous, unstable individual he believes to be guilty of murder).
Additionally: did anyone else see what Shane was doing when Dale arrived? He was hiding weapons and ammunition. Remember Dale’s earlier conversation with Andrea? She made a passing remark about their ammunition diminishing too quickly. Now, rather than pointing out the irony of Shane’s hypocrisy (given how he confronted Dale about stealing and hiding the group’s weapons back in “Pretty Much Dead Already”), I ask you to think back to what Shane said to Andrea about taking guns away from Rick, Hershel and Dale so he could take over the group… How much would you like to wager Shane is already plotting his mutiny?
The answer shall be seen next episode.
Back at the farmhouse, we have a touching scene with Glenn and Hershel where Hershel accepts Glenn as his possible future son-in-law. I won’t give the details on this scene; it’s too heart-warming a scene not to see for yourself.
Finally, after too long an episode, we come to the moment of truth. Everyone is gathered in the house, including the bit players nobody cares about. (You know, the rest of Hershel’s family? The ones that aren’t Hershel or Maggie? We already know they’re only around to be zombie bait in a later episode. Why even pretend we give a damn about them?) Rick asks the group what they feel should be done about Randall. Dale turns to his sidekick Glenn for support, but Glenn – firmly in “protect Maggie” mode after his earlier chat with Hershel – is on Rick’s side. Dale makes an impassioned plea with the group to do what is right, but the only person he sways to his viewpoint is Andrea.
Up to this scene, the episode has been fairly enjoyable, even with its occasionally clunky bits of dialogue, perceived lengthy running time or improbable scenes (the last Dale and Shane scene, as mentioned before). Dale’s speech, while somewhat stirring, is the one major aspect of this scene that fails miserably. While the speech itself is fairly well-constructed, it’s hard to take Dale seriously when he began his tirade by snarling in that disgusted, slightly-holier-than-thou tone, “Killing him.” Sure, it’s in character for Dale, but the way he all but vomits forth the words like a hellfire-and-brimstone preacher giving a sermon the Sunday after Mardis Gras doesn’t make him seem very relatable.
Some reviewers registered shock that only Andrea stood beside Dale (which I thought was a nice little nod to their relationship in the comic). Are you really that surprised? Since Rick’s arrival, the group has gravitated toward him. With a few notable exceptions, when Rick makes a decision, the rest of the group tends to head in his direction.
One thing that really did bother me about this scene was Carol’s absolute weakness in the face of adversity. She practically screamed, “Mommy! Daddy! Please stop fighting!” as she handed the decision over to everyone else and refused to take part. What a weakling!
That brings up another problem I have with The Walking Dead‘s second season: aside from Andrea (who is still learning and making mistakes) and Maggie, there are no strong female characters in this series. Lori is a whiner who wants to stick to her traditional housewife role while fucking Shane on the side (something Andrea mentioned last episode; I’m sure I’ll touch on it again in future reviews of The Walking Dead). Carol is a perpetual victim who, contrary to her earlier statements, might as well have lost her mind. The rest of Hershel’s daughters are so useless the writers don’t focus on them often (especially Beth, the series’ “Suicide Girl”) and are only there to be zombie fodder in later episodes. None of the women I have mentioned have any real backbone, and the series suffers greatly for it.
Fortunately, a woman with a backbone of iron will be coming soon… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
With no one else on his side, Dale stares at the group wide-eyed, an “Et tu, Brute?” expression on his face. He declares with all the flair of a high school drama queen that he will have no part in Randall’s execution. He tromps over to Daryl (you can practically see Daryl replying, “Don’t drag my ass into this!”) and repeats Daryl’s line: “You’re right. This group is broken,” and storms out like a two-year old on a temper tantrum.
This singular moment is where I completely lose touch with Dale. Sure, the Dale in the comic would have been fighting mad, but he would have ultimately gone with the group. He knew the value of keeping the group together, and he would not have threatened to divide the group with an emo hissy-fit if he didn’t get his way. That Dale would have made his case as fervently as possible, and if he failed, he failed… but at least he tried, even if he did go down swinging. This Dale, on the other hand, has transformed into a whining, prancing prima donna in only a few minutes’ time. Way to assassinate Dale’s character, Angela Kang.
Of course, Dale’s dramatic failure in this episode isn’t merely the ramblings of a defense lawyer facing down a kangaroo court, no matter how justified the kangaroos may be. Dale, as I mentioned before, represents the optimism and idealism of a vanished age. He is the living embodiment of the world that came before: granted, life was unpleasant before the zombie plague was unleashed, but the engines of society were still in motion and we could allow ourselves to be hopeful. “Today may suck, but tomorrow is another day, and we can built a better future!” In a post-apocalyptic world, do those ideals get pushed aside? Must the survivors of such horrors set aside their conscience to keep themselves and their loved ones safe?
In a way, the series has answered this question.
Later, Randall is taken to the barn and instructed to kneel as Rick prepares to execute him. Carl enters the barn just as Rick prepares to fire and starts egging his father on. “Do it. Do it, Dad,” he says, longing for the bloodsport. Dale’s words to Rick from earlier in the episode – “What kind of message are you sending to your son?” – echo throughout the scene, and Rick decides not to go through with it. The entire point of the episode - the fate of Randall – shall again be left for another episode to tell, and the only aspect of this episode that prevents it from becoming yet another plot cul-du-sac like “18 Miles Out” is that the episode utterly assassinates Dale’s character. Randall shall be kept a prisoner until they release him later, and the group opts to retain its humanity another night.
Unfortunately, in keeping with the message the show’s writers keep forcing down our throats, there is no room for idealists in a world gone insane. As Dale is out in the fields that night keeping an eye out for walkers, he comes across a dying cow that has been gutted by… something. He turns around, only to be attacked by a walker. Back at their encampment, the others hear Dale’s screams and rush to help him. Daryl arrives first and puts the walker down with a blade to the skull, but not before the walker tears Dale’s stomach open, spilling his entrails. When Hershel arrives, he gives the grim news: “He’s dead, Jim.” (My words, of course, not Hershel’s.) Carl glances over at the walker, and to his shock and horror, it was the same walker he was tossing rocks at earlier. Dun-dun-DUNNNN!
As Dale goes into shock, Rick tries to put his friend out of his misery, but he can’t bring himself to do it. Daryl steps in, puts his gun to Dale’s forehead, says, “Sorry, brother,” and fires.
In the end, the judge was Rick and the jury was the entire group, but Randall wasn’t the one on trial. Dale and his ideals were. The heart and soul of the team was given his day in court, and he was found wanting… but when the others regretted their decision and offered a stay of execution, it was too late. Ultimately, Daryl had to step in and be the executioner. This not only foreshadows the next episode, it foreshadows the role Daryl will ultimately play in the series, beginning with Season 3. Ultimately, the episode that assassinated Dale’s character and Dale’s ideals also assassinated Dale himself. Quem scriptores vult perdere, dementat prius.
While “Judge, Jury, Executioner” was a fairly decent episode with solid writing during most of it, the episode did suffer from the occasional bits of clunky dialogue and the aforementioned few improbable scenes (one of which was Dale’s drama queen moment). Some characters – notably Andrea and, at times, even Shane – were surprisingly less annoying than usual in this episode, while certain other characters – non-committal Lori, the weakling Carol and the little brat Carl – were downright irredeemable.
Ultimately, the episode is painful to watch, as you see Dale standing for his convictions with none of his friends standing beside him right up to the bitter end. The ending was tragic, but not entirely unforeseen; when Darabont was fired by AMC, some of the cast stood up for him, only to be threatened by AMC. For those cast members who were still upset with AMC’s treatment of the original writing staff, a character death was probably the only way out of an otherwise ironclad acting contract. I’m not saying that was the reason why Dale perished this episode or why the actor who portrayed him, Jeffrey DeMunn, left the series. That is merely speculation, but it is speculation that fits what I know about the dismissal of Darabont and his writing staff.
Oh, and as I mentioned briefly before, the fucking episode jerks us around about Randall’s fate again. This is really getting old, AMC! Stop stretching a four-episode story into ten fucking episodes! Send your writers back to the writers’ workshops that spawned ‘em and make them all learn how to pace their stories better while making them interesting and engaging, dammit!
This review took me two evenings to complete, and when I began I detested this episode. However, as I reviewed it my opinion of the episode softened, though my vitriol is still at fever pitch just thinking about it. Nevertheless, my opinion of Dale still remains the same: he was a damn good character who was ruined by the episode’s writer in the latter half of the episode, an idealist made to sound far too much like a politician or a demagogue. Nevertheless, even with its flaws, “Judge, Jury, Executioner” was a fairly decent episode, and due to Dale’s death the episode is a definite “must see” for Season 2.