The Walking Dead Post-Mortem: “Judge, Jury, and Executioner”
Before we begin exhuming this week’s episode of The Walking Dead, I’m going to need everyone to do three things: 1) go put on a cheap Hawaiian shirt, 2) a bucket hat, 3) then go to your fridge, grab a beer, and pour one out for Dale Horvath. However, if you really want to honor Dale’s memory you will debate with yourself about whether or not this is the right thing to do: “should I do this….will pouring out a beer for a fictional character make me blind to all the real death and destruction in the world…will I lose some of my own humanity in the process?” And continue to ponder this and question yourself without ever making any real progress. Greetings fellow zombie lovers and fans of the late, great Dale Horvath! This week’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Judge, Jury, and Executioner” was equal parts compelling and flawed, and featured a shocker ending that I would not exactly call a game changer, but one that should adequately shake up the status quo as we enter the home stretch of season two. Let’s proceed, shall we?
**I think the producers are going to have to end up hiring Stephen King to write the middle sections of these episodes. King sometimes struggles with endings, but the middle sections of his novels (the meat, if you will) are more often than not, spectacular. The writers of The Walking Dead have the exact opposite problem: they craft compelling openings and closings for the episodes, but their middle sections leave something to be desired. Did you know that Stephen King and his son, the equally talented Joe Hill, were slated to write an episode of season 2 for Frank Darabont? The deal fell apart when Darabont got the boot….yet another potentially awesome Walking Dead episode we will never get to see thanks to AMC firing Darabont.
***I suspect that Dale’s death had very little to do with story necessity, (everyone whose read the comic knows Dale survives much longer than this) and everything to do with the fact that Jeffery DeMunn and Frank Darabont are, like, BFF’s. Don’t believe me? Go to Jeffery DeMunn’s IMDB page…he’s been in every single one of Frank Darabont’s movies. There were rumblings that a couple of cast members wanted to be written off the show after Darabont’s firing. If I were a betting man, I would wager that DeMunn was one of these cast members. Given all of their years working together, I imagine he is very loyal to Darabont, and decided that he didn’t want to be part of the show if Darabont wasn’t going to be involved anymore.
The episode begins with Daryl beating the ever loving crap out of Randall in the barn. Daryl is trying to get information out of him about the other people in his group (AKA The Walking Dead’s version of The Others from LOST), and transforming back into the badass we all know and love. Daryl uses his knife very effectively in his quest for information: he keeps pushing it further and further into Randall’s wounded leg until the kid finally spills the beans about the group of people he has been traveling with. As it turns out, they are pretty much the worst people ever, their hobbies include raping, scavenging, and pillaging, and they’re heavily armed to boot. When Daryl informs the rest of the group about Randall’s former travel companions, they see little other recourse besides killing Randall. This of course doesn’t sit well with Dale, who believes that the boy deserves a fair trial, or at least a little more consideration than he’s been given by the group. Armed only with a strong sense of moral superiority Dale sets off on what I like to call…
DALE HORVATH’S LAST CRUSADE
Rick gives Dale the chance to change everyone’s minds, but warns him that come sundown: “whatever happens…happens”. Dale decides he is going walk around the farm and attempt to convince everyone to spare Randall’s life. He talks to Andrea first (naturally) and gets her to guard Randall while he embarks upon his mission of mercy. Andrea tells Dale that she believes Shane has the right idea about killing Randall, but out of respect for Dale she agrees to guard Randall. Dale marches up to the hill to talk to Daryl first, and appeal to his better nature. When Dale was telling Daryl: “torturing someone…..that’s not you…that’s not who you are” I was shaking my head, because that is totally who Daryl is. Daryl is a roughneck from the back woods who will protect his own by any means necessary. And being the type of person who can torture someone does not necessarily make him a completely bad person. Fictional characters (and real human beings for that matter) are more than the sum of their parts, or deeds for that matter, and torturing Randal doesn’t negate all the good Daryl has done as a character, nor does it augment all the bad things he’s done over the course of the show. It was here that I first started to notice the lose threads in Dale’s moral argument…but more on that later. Daryl ends their discussion by telling Dale that it doesn’t matter what happens with Randall because the group is already broken. After his not so successful chat with Daryl he goes to down to the pond to talk with Herschel, and goes about trying to remind Herschel that he is man of conviction. Herschel in turn reminds him that he is in fact a broken man who is only trying to keep his daughters safe at this point; ergo, Randall’s got to go. After failing to convince Daryl and Herschel, Dale decides his best course of action is to try and convince….Shane? This was a very interesting scene, which featured some good acting from Jon Brenthal and Jeffery DeMunn, and it was one of the better written scenes from the episode as well. While Dale doesn’t have any luck trying to change Shane’s mind about killing Randall either, it was nice to see these two acknowledge a begrudging respect for each other, and Shane does pay Dale a high compliment: ” You’ve got some Balls on you Dale…I’ll give ya that.”
Eventually, the group reconvenes inside Herschel’s house to decide Randall’s fate. Despite Dale’s best efforts, the group decides they still want Randall dead. Dale denounces this verdict and the group as well. He continues on and on about how killing Randall will strip them of their humanity and make them no better than the people Randall’s group; that it will make them no better than mindless beasts who live by cold Darwinian logic. Dale refuses to change his ways to accommodate the demands of this harsh new world. The problem is Dale is trying to preserve their souls, not their lives. He is more interested in maintaining the moral fiber of the group, and not the group itself. While Dale’s stance is admirable, it is also very impractical. Shane and Rick don’t really want to kill Randall, they won’t get any enjoyment out of the act, but they both understand why it has to be done: survival. Ultimately, Dale’s refusal to see the other side of the issue, coupled with his unwillingness to become a true survivor leads to his undoing. Let’s talk about that death scene for a moment shall we? Dale after a day spent trying to convince people to do the right thing, ends up receiving a grisly death as his reward. First, he gets disemboweled by a walker, and then he gets put out of his misery with a bullet to the head courtesy of Daryl, who offers up the episode’s solemn final words…
Since this was Dale’s last episode I thought I would dedicate the majority of the recap to him. However, there was some other important stuff going on in this episode we need to touch on briefly, such as:
Carl–Carl has his own solo adventure in this episode as well, that runs parallel to Dale’s and also serves as the catalyst for Dale’s untimely demise. Carl spends most of the episode acting like a burgeoning little sociopath. He tells Carol that there is no heaven, that Sofia is gone forever, and that she is, in fact, an idiot for believing in heaven. He hangs out with Randall in the barn for a while before Shane catches him and pleads with him: “Carl, stop trying to get yourself killed man…” Carl listens to Shane’s advice, and then promptly goes about finding new ways he can get himself killed. He steals a loaded gun from Daryl’s bike and plays with it for a while, and after that he goes about taunting a zombie he finds stuck in the marsh. This zombie appears to be a bit more industrious than the previous zombies we’ve seen on the show and manages to get one of his legs free from the mud, and then goes after Carl. While trying to escape Carl loses Daryl’s gun in the swamp, and barely makes it out with his life. Then he goes into the barn to watch his Dad execute Randall, and decides he’s going to cheer his dad on. Rick, after seeing what a crazy little shit head his son has become, realizes that Dale might have been right after all and decides to spare Randall’s life for the time being. Oh, and Carl also fails to tell ANYONE about the zombie down in the marsh…the same zombie who would end up killing Daryl at the end of the episode. When Carl looks at the zombie and the makes connection, he is devastated and collapses into his mother’s arms. I wonder how long they’re going to stretch out the “Carl feels guilty about inadvertently causing Dale’s death” story line? Carl…get it together kid…you’re blowing it!
Dialogue–Many other TV bloggers claim the show’s biggest problem is that the characters are not interesting, sure, some of the characters are bland (Carol), or nonexistent (T-Dog), or annoying (Lori). However, I maintain that the real problem is the repetitive and often clunky dialogue that is always spewing forth from their mouths. The endless rambling about existential issues is something I could do without for a season, or two. It was particularly bad in this episode. This isn’t a simplistic fanboy cry for less dialogue and more action, as I happen to enjoy other movies and TV shows that feature well written dialogue immensely. I’m a diehard Tarantino fan. The most compelling scenes in his films are usually about two characters, sitting down a room somewhere, and having a drawn out conversation with each other. And more often than not it is pure magic, and that is because his characters are always saying interesting things to each other, in very interesting and provocative ways. Not everyone is Tarantino though, and the show seems to work better when the writers take a less is more approach to the dialogue.
That wraps it up for this week. Only two more episodes to go this season…what’s going to happen? Are there going to be more deaths? Will Shane die? Will a certain sword-wielding lady show up in the last few minutes of the season finale, with two jawless zombies attached to leash in tow, and death in her eyes? Will they find a…prison, perhaps? I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see. All right, one more time: let’s give it up for Dale Horvath. Dale was the heart of the show, a good man, and he never let the world bring him down. He was a man of principle to the bitter end. You will be missed Dale.
This week, instead of a recommendation, I have a trailer for a dutch zombie film that looks like it could be a very entertaining (and slightly mental) zombie comedy in the vein of Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. I present ZOMBIBI: