Broadcast Date: 4 March 2012
Director: Greg Nicotero
Writer: Angela Kang
Cast: Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Jeffrey DeMunn, Laurie Holden, Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Chandler Riggs, and Steven Yeun
I’ve never been sold on Dale’s self-appointed role as conscience of the group. “Judge, Jury, Executioner” makes a final case for the symbolic character trait, and, sure enough, by the end of the episode, I found myself thoroughly convinced. It was neither his impassioned plea to spare Randall’s life nor his dedication to old-world ethics that persuaded me, but his final gift to the world. I love the unexpected manner it ties into the show’s new religious theme. After a meandering first half, The Walking Dead’s sophomore season is shaping up at last.
“Judge, Jury, Executioner” starts with a torture sequence not unlike Ben’s interrogation in Lost. The resemblance is uncanny, by which I mean distracting. Apparently bored with the Sawyer archetype, Daryl plays Sayid, the lethal enforcer, while Randall serves as his “Henry Gale”, spying on our heroes in the hopes of manipulating them. The captive’s account of the “others” raping young teenagers would set anyone off, especially a man grieving the little girl he swore to find, but it’s the way he portrays himself as the story’s victim that gave me the heebie-jeebies. The guy’s a sleaze all right, but does he deserve to die without a proper trial?
Dale poses this question to each member of the cast, starting with Daryl, who believes “the group is broken.” The rest remain largely silent, though, in some cases, that’s a step forward. After all, any respect Shane gives the old man ought to be considered progress, let alone his agreeing to stay out of the way. I guess the hothead’s heart-to-heart with Rick last week had more impact than his mutiny talk with Andrea would have us believe. Stealing gun supplies to gain control of the tribe: is that another Lost “homage”?
Come to think of it, Andrea sort of pulls a Kate Austin, switching sides halfway into the debate (she doesn’t get kidnapped though). To justify the shift, the writers have given her a background in civil rights, which leads me to think she’ll serve as the expository voice of reason in future dilemmas. This strikes me as an interesting role for Andrea, given she’s the only person to understand Shane’s tantrums as legitimate ethical positions. Besides, I’m ecstatic the female supporting cast is getting a chance to shine at last. Insert crack about Lori’s insufferable disposition.
Having mentioned that, if I’d thought anyone was going to side with Dale, I would have put my money on Glenn. “Judge, Jury, Executioner” wisely skips their one-on-one in favour of a more subtle scene in which Hershel says what every son-in-law longs to hear. I love his unsolicited line about immigrants having built America. It hints the old veterinarian still has some hiccups regarding race but he’s willing to see past them for his daughter. More to the point, though, the conversation goes a long way to explain Glenn’s reluctance to stand up for someone who might end up harming Maggie.
Given time, I suspect our favourite delivery boy might have come to his senses. Of course, Dale runs out of exactly that (and internal organs). I’ve been trying to figure out whether the writers’ choice of executioner holds any significance. In light of the series’ oddly conservative gender dynamics, I’ve narrowed it down to five proto-candidates: the men. Glenn is, of course, too gentle to kill a friend; Shane’s animosity would have given the scene a different meaning; Rick shot Sophia four episodes ago, so he would’ve come off as a trigger-happy maniac; Hershel isn’t really part of the tribe; and I assume the staff forgot about T-Dog as usual. I guess that does indeed leave Daryl, who surely wonders how an addlebrained walker could sneak up on someone in the middle of a field. Ninja training?
Anyway, at the beginning of this review, I mentioned a link to religion. I was referring to Christianity, which holds shame as one of its central motifs: Adam and Eve getting exiled, Jesus dying for our sins, etc. Now, consider the tribe’s lost lamb, Carl, who’s having trouble telling right from wrong in a world without rules. Rick’s fatherly advice and Shane’s stern scolding have proven ineffective, but Dale’s demise, which the boy inadvertently caused, may grant him the sense of guilt he desperately needs. Some of you may find the connection lacks a miracle or two. That’s because The Walking Dead deals with human nature, not spirituality. Despite appearances, this isn’t Lost, you know.
Death toll so far: eight. Average number of lines T-Dog gets per episode: one.