When we look back at The Walking Dead this episode, “Judge, Jury, Executioner,” may be regarded as a moment in time that is life altering for the series. This is the moment when the show says that not only is everyone’s life at risk, but that the sanctity of what each person holds dear hangs upon a single silk thread. For the most part what we have is the fight between Rick and Shane last week spread throughout the group.
Let’s get the little niggling things out of the way first this week. Carl is a stupid kid, not only for telling Carol she’s an idiot for believing in heaven, but also because he’s just a kid. I’m not a fan of the character on the show, but I honestly don’t blame him for what happened at the end of the episode. How in the world can Rick and Lori, or anyone at the camp, let a child wander about in the woods? He’s going to do really stupid things, get in the way, and be a nuisance. Kids do that because they’re curious and unaware of the true meaning of their actions. So I blame the adults for this one.
”I ain’t like that. You gotta believe me.” – Randall
We start the episode with Daryl torturing Randall in the barn, and we learn a little about the group the kid was with. They rape teenage girls, kill people, and have automatic weapons. Clearly this is not a stable and reasonable group, but Randall claims that he was there just to survive; to be with other people. I can get behind that idea, but I am curious as to why he would try to argue his way out of a death sentence by saying he’s not like the people in his group. That just seems silly.
Of course it doesn’t really matter what Randall has to say for himself. The decision to take his life has nothing to do with how good of a man he may be, but rests solely in the hands of people who have to weigh their own survival against their humanity. It’s a topic that has been explored repeatedly this season, and is now growing into a earthshaking problem. One that it appears Daryl has seen coming for some time.
“The world we knew is gone, but keeping our humanity? That’s a choice.” – Dale
And that’s where Dale comes in, once again being the voice of reason. He wants there to be a discussion, for those who choose to let Randall be killed to understand that what they don’t do makes them just as culpable as the man pulling the trigger. When the group is under threat, what line is left to cross once they murder a kid who committed no crime? To Dale that’s a world of lawlessness and chaos. This episode brings this notion of what do we do with our humanity when society crumbles to a crescendo. Amidst the din, as Dale incredulously looks to his friends for a glimmer of sanity, we see a man have his spirit crushed.
”This group is broken.” – Dale
The decision is made and Rick, Shane, and Daryl set out to kill Randall. They make the kid kneel, plead for his life, and then Carl shows up. And Rick is unable to kill a man in front of his child. So just moments after they decide to murder, the group is now going to hold Randall as prisoner. And now to tell Dale the good news…
Now here’s where The Walking Dead proves that a properly used zombie is far more interesting than zombie gore simply for funsies. This episode will be hated on for it’s utter lack of walker action, but it’s the final moments that showcase why this show can tell this story like no other. As Dale slowly approaches an injured cow, only to discover the creature eviscerated, it’s a chilling moment because we know what this means. A walker is nearby.
And then the attack happens, we watch as everyone is running to find Dale. Instead of Dale doing something disgusting and brutal to survive, or maybe Shane saving the day with a boot through the walker’s chest, Dale is the one who gets mutilated. The zombie rips open his chest and is about to chow down when Daryl arrives, but it’s too late. There’s no saving Dale.
So Daryl takes Rick’s gun, points it at the man’s head, tells Dale he’s sorry, and shoots. But there’s a brief moment where it looks like Dale leans toward the gun, almost giving his consent to take a life. His life.
It’s hard to put this episode in perspective since we don’t have future episodes and seasons to make a comparison. But it’s clear that changes are on the horizon for the group, and I’m not certain there will be a lot of survivors.