Review: The Walking Dead: Judge, Jury, Executioner

Where the first half of the season was rife with wheel spinning and time wasting, it seems like The Walking Dead has finally figured out that it’s a dynamic show and needs to keep things moving as often as possible. While I’m pretty critical of the shows character building, when it hits the action and terror beats, it’s a pretty damn solid show.

The Walking Dead on AMC

This week’s episode had two primary plots that dovetailed quite nicely at the end: Dale’s quest to prevent the group from executing the boy the rescued/captured, and Carl acting like a dipshit. My quick description of the two should give you a pretty solid clue about which one I thought worked better. Let’s talk about Carl first.

In the comics, at least those I’ve read (I’m probably two years behind at this point), Carl is a pretty strong character. He’s mature, intelligent, and decisive. He’s able to do what needs to be done and face the consequences later. At of this, of course, stems from an extremely important formative moments that hasn’t happened on the show yet, and may never happen, considering how drastically different the two are.

On AMC’s Walking Dead, Carl is a little more a child of his age. Impetuous and often stupid, as in tonight’s episode where he sneaks into the barn to see the prisoner, insults a grieving Carol, steals a gun, and brings a zombie back into camp after almost getting eaten himself. Any one of these things, or all of them spread out over a couple of episodes, would have been sufficient to show us that Carl is struggling and unseated in this new and violent world. All of them together is just a little much.

Carl’s mini-rebellion, of course, leads to Dale getting gutted at the end, and I can’t help but wonder whether this is going to replace (massive comic spoilers) his killing of Shane in the woods outside Atlanta. I surely hope not. Certainly in both instances he’ll be responsible for a death, but in the comic it made a lot more sense with both the plot and the character. Here it’s just deeply tragic.

But what of Dale? Tonight we finally got a lot of focus on the character that many have found struggled with throughout the series. Dale started in season one as a pretty strong character, but this season he’s primarily served as a foil for both Shane and Andrea, giving him little faculty of his own. Tonight was a little different. Dale was again squaring off against Shane, but this time Shane had the support of the whole of the camp. Dale was arguing for an old world, a world of law and order. It was a futile last grasp of a man not cut out for this life. His ultimate and predictable failure was touching nonetheless.

But of course the camp doesn’t execute Randall, at least night in last night’s episode. He’s dragged into the barn and forced to kneel before Rick and his comically over-sized movie gun, but Rick can’t pull the trigger once Carl shows up and starts goading him on (this kid has issues, me thinks).

All of this, of course, leads up to the finale. Dale is walking around the farm, collecting his thoughts, when he spots a cow that had been eviscerated. Dale shares the same fate almost immediately. His fellow survivors arriving only moments too late. Again Rick pulls out his giant revolver, only to not put the old man out of his misery. Daryl steps in, and the credits roll after a snap-cut of the hammer falling on the gun.

I was pretty frustrated with the episode up until we saw Dale wandering around in the dark. It felt unbalanced, and circular. We are being teased with Randall and what the camp is going to do with him, and for another week that isn’t resolved. But then The Walking Dead pulled the rug out from under us, and killed off a principal character in a way I doubt any of us saw coming. Yeah, that it was the zombie Carl was messing with was a little convenient for me, but I’m not going to complain too much. Hopefully his is a sign that the show has teeth, because it has been largely free of consequence.

Grade: 4 zombie heads

Note: we’re trying a new grading system here. Out of five possible zombie heads, this episode earns four. Roughly a B, for those keeping track at home.

25 Comments

Calicade

Holy hell.. I wish I didn’t see that coming! I was thinking there to myself.
“That zombie is going to do something later on.. Just watch..” Then boom! This.. Holy hell ._.

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Angelina

I was thinking the same thing about the zombie. I thought it would interrupt the execution.

WTF!!

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Angelina

Btw: “Not Dale” and “zombie cow” are trending on twitter. Love this show!

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Calicade

Well I was thinking zombie cow at first, but then I realized from the webisodes on youtube they had.. If an animal is bitten by a zombie, they just struggle with pain and then die.

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Angelina

I saw the one about the first walker (crawler really) and that was good. Is there a new set?

Luis

I notice that there are a lot of “winks” to the comic fan base in order to address or appease for plot line departures. So, with Andrea being a former lawyer, does this mean than Michonne won’t show up eventually? She’s my fave.

1. Not sure about the killing off of Dale so soon. I kept thinking “one more season.” Yet, one hallmark of TWD stories is that no one is safe.

2. Carl is officially messed up; and of course a micro-(ethical)metaphor for the rest of the group. He starts “merely” messed up like everyone else, given the circumstances. Then, he starts the pokey games with the zee, rather natural action for adult or child, actually; becomes the blood thirsty “kill ‘m dad, shoot ‘m!” and ultimately is responsible for an actual death. Yeah, kid’s gonna have nightmares for a few years to come.

3. I happen to like Daryl a great deal. Wonder what his response gonna be when he finds out that the kid was rummaging through his stuff & stole ‘n lost his gun (plus freeing the zee).

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Dave

I wondered about Daryl and the gun as well. What happens if/when he needs it and doesn’t know it’s gone?

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Luis

BTW: I’m assuming that Hershel’s daughter is somehow infected, though no wound is yet to be discovered, and slowly zombifying. My guess is that the season finale, which will need the group to be uprooted somehow, will include her turning & biting Hershel.

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Luis

Beth. She’s been rather ashen and lethargic for quite a while; and that was before her suicide attempt. Plus, well, she seems to be an extra; all she lacks is a Red Jersey.. 🙂 I kind of figure that Beth is here for a couple of more seasons; especially with Hershel giving his blessings to Glenn, which sounds like his own death warrant as a character.

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Dave

That would make sense from a narrative perspective, but has she ever even had contact with a zombie?

Luis

That’s what I keep wondering. I’m counting on the Zombie Cliché of having been bitten or having ingested the zee blood but withholding the secret from the rest of the group.

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Yatkuu

Disapointed by this one, when Carl stole the gun I was hoping he would sneak in and kill the prisoner.
I love the new grading scale!

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Replica

I think this was a good episode, and while I like finally actually having some development for Carl, it was a little odd. A fair few of the events that show a fair bit about his character in the comics are almost certainly not going to get shown in the series (him killing Shane, probably not, Ben and Billy haven’t even been included so that can’t occur and I can’t think of any instances when they just outright talk about the morality of everything, which are pretty defining, that aren’t preceded by pretty bad things, although I guess they could include another) and he has had about three or four years worth of age-up, so there’s fair chance for some character differences here. He’s still not as competent as in the comics though, and that I think needs to change. In both forms he shows some signs of being a little messed-up but in the comics ultimately more responsible and attuned to the world. Still time for character development though I guess. Daryl’s reaction to the gun is worth considering, and also makes me of think of whether the two of them have ever actually exchanged a line of dialogue before (I believe Riggs mentioned that in one of the interviews actually…) and another character who survives longer in the comic is down. I’m liking the differences here, as much as many fanboys are complaining.

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Dave

I do like that it’s branching out from the comic. It’s nice being able to be surprised so consistently by the show.

I’ve got my complaints about the dramatic stuff on The Walking Dead, but when it does action or horror, it’s a damn fine show.

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