Episode Title: "Judge, Jury, Executioner"
Writer: Angela Kang
Director: Greg Nicotero
Previously on "The Walking Dead":
Inside the barn, Daryl Dixon ( Norman Reedus) roughly interrogates Randall (Michael Zegen) about the group that he was traveling with. Under duress, Randall reveals that his band of survivors numbered about 30, in addition to women and children. But the heavily armed men of Randall's group also attacked and raped two teenage daughters who were found with their father. And Daryl doesn't believe that Randall wasn't a part of that gang rape despite his pleas. Daryl returns to his group with the info from Randall and the general consensus is that Randall has to die to ensure the safety of the farm.
Everyone seems to agree with this except Dale Horvath (Jeffrey DeMunn), who argues that murdering Randall will also wipe out the group's humanity. In short supply of ideological allies, Dale convinces Andrea (Laurie Holden) to watch over Randall specifically in case Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal) tries to preemptively carry out his death sentence while Dale approaches the group one-on-one and attempts to change their minds. But when even Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) is in favor of "eliminating the threat," Dale's cause appears to be hopeless.
Rick's son, Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) sneaks into the barn to get a better look at Randall; who quickly tries to convince Carl that he isn't a bad person. Randall even tells Carl that he'll take him and his parents back to his people if Carl frees him, but Shane overhears them and he drags Carl out of there. Carl begs Shane not to tell his parents about sneaking into the barn, but Shane still scolds him for getting so close to Randall. Later, Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride) comes across Carl sitting by Sophia's grave before he thoughtlessly insults Carol's belief in heaven for her daughter.
Lori Grimes (Sarah Wayne Callies) tries to defuse Carol's anger while Rick scolds Carl and tells him to apologize to Carol. Instead, Carl wants to talk about executing Randall; which Rick tries not to dwell on. Meanwhile, Dale continues to argue for Randall's life, finding indifference from Daryl and ambivalence from Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson); who delegates the entire process to Rick. Hershel just wants to keep his remaining children safe and he doesn't care how it is done. Meanwhile, Carl sneaks off to Daryl's tent and he steals a gun from the bag on his bike.
Carl wanders into the forrest and he discovers a walker stuck in the mud near the water. Carl then begins tossing rocks at it before approaching the walker to shoot it. But the walker gets one foot loose and it swats the gun out of Carl's hands. Carl narrowly escapes, but he leaves the gun behind and the walker is nearly freed from his trap. Back in the house, Hershel checks on his youngest daughter, Beth Greene (Emily Kinney) following her suicide attempt last week. Hershel also takes Glenn (Steven Yeun) aside and he offers his approval for Glenn's relationship with Hershel's oldest daughter, Maggie Greene (Lauren Cohan).
At sundown, the survivors meet at the farm to decide Randall's fate. Once again, only Dale speaks in favor of sparring Randall or giving him a chance to prove himself. Dale pleads with his friends to retain their humanity and to do what's right, but only Andrea is swayed. The rest seem resigned to Randall's death. Disheartened, Dale tells Daryl that he was right: the group is broken. Shortly thereafter, Shane and Daryl drag Randall to his execution; which Rick seems ready to perform himself.
In the face of his demise, Randall weeps and begs for his life. But just when Rick is about to pull the trigger, Carl appears in the doorway and he urges his father to "Do it, dad!" Horrified by the situation, Rick lowers his gun and he spares Randall... for now. Out in the field, Dale comes across a mutilated cow seconds before a walker attacks him. Dale calls for help and he manages to keep the walker from biting him. However, the walker rips open Dale's stomach and it begins pulling out his guts. Daryl manages to kill the walker after answering Dale's cries... but it's too late for him.
The survivors gather round the dying man as Carl recognizes the walker as the same one that he antagonized earlier. Hershel tells the group that Dale won't survive any attempt to move him and he is clearly suffering. Andrea asks someone to "do something" for Dale and Rick prepares to put the man out of his misery. But Rick finds that he can't pull the trigger this time. Instead, it is Daryl who takes his gun and softly apologizes to Dale before pulling the trigger.
Given that there are millions of "Walking Dead" viewers and thousands of readers of the original comic book series, it's a safe bet that most people aren't that familiar with the source material. So not everyone may appreciate the seismic shift that just occurred. Sophia and Otis both outlived their TV counterparts, but they are relatively minor blips compared to the impact that Dale had on the story. Aside from the continuing survival of someone else, this is the biggest change yet for the television series.
For months, there have been rumors about one of the actors asking for his release from "The Walking Dead" after Frank Darabont was let go from the show last summer. In light of the events in this episode and his long history with Darabont, Jeffrey DeMunn could easily have been the actor in question. And if nothing else, Dale's death was among the most gruesome and sad demises in the short history of the show. Having Dale's stomach ripped open was actually more shocking than the death itself. It was a particularly horrific and memorable way to go.
Immediately after "Judge, Jury, Executioner" aired, several viewers took to the message boards and proclaimed that they were glad that Dale had died. I don't share the sentiment, but I understand why some people have that opinion. Dale was the moral compass for the show and he could be pretty preachy at times. But very few people seem to admit that Dale was right. The group's collective morality was all that was holding together the last pieces of their civilization. That's why Dale was so alarmed and threatened by Shane; who seems perfectly willing to live in a world without any kind of rules at all.
Others might argue that Shane's outlook is the best way to survive the zombie apocalypse... and they may not be wrong. But Dale once said words to the effect that the world may have gone to hell, but he wasn't going to allow it to drag him down with it. It may be small comfort, but Dale got his wish. He remained resolute in his convictions to the end.
Ultimately, Dale's demise could be a good thing for the TV series. Either someone else is going to stand up and become the new voice of reason or the group is just going to become more and more like Shane. Both options are fairly intriguing.
The big mistake made in this episode was that Dale's arguments for Randall's life came off as repetitive by the fourth or fifth time that he made them. It was overkill and it padded out an otherwise slight episode. Last week's episode had a terrific Rick and Shane storyline while the plot on the farm was pretty lackluster. If there could have been someway to combine the Rick and Shane drama from that episode and a more streamlined version of Dale's storyline in this installment, it could have been a nearly perfect episode without any slow spots.
On a side note, it seems fairly wasteful for Rick, Glenn and Hershel to have risked their lives saving Randall only to later go along with his execution. Yes, Randall could prove to be a threat, but they haven't even seemed to consider that he may not be a danger to them anymore. After all, Randall's old crew left him to die and Rick saved his life. The other side of that argument is that Randall may have whitewashed his history with the other group of survivors. Daryl didn't seem to believe that he didn't take part in the gang rape, but it seems unlikely that Randall would have brought up the incident if he had been a participant. The only time that Randall seemed creepy was when he tried to convince Carl to let him go.
Which brings us to the potentially disturbed son of Rick and Lori. It's understandable that Carl's experiences in this world would change and possibly warp him. But it's one thing to be desensitized by the violence around him and another thing to actually cheer on his dad as he is about to commit an execution. And that's not even counting Carl's klepto with Daryl's gun or his inappropriate behavior towards Carol. Carl is just a kid, but it's almost scary to think about what kind of man that he is going to become in this new world... provided Carl lives that long.
In a way, Dale's death could be Carl's "Uncle Ben" moment. Because what happened to Dale is very much Carl's fault and he knows it. The question now is will Carl use that guilt towards something positive or will he keep sliding down a slippery moral slope?
The ending of this episode salvaged what would have been an otherwise unremarkable story. Hopefully the remaining two episodes of the season will maintain the momentum created by the climax and finally get these characters off of the farm.
Crave Online Rating: 8 out of 10.