By Harry Markov
The act of watching episodes of The Walking Dead remains one with uncertain consequences for the viewer. Somehow, the show manages to misuse the elements for a thrilling story and is not ashamed to deliver watered-down episodes with multiple tiny irks. “18 Miles Out” stacked action upon action in a forcibly manufactured scenario that only detracted from the main issue that the survivors have to ask themselves: What do we do when winter comes?
“Judge, Jury, Executioner” veers towards exploring the dimensions of humanity, as the title so aptly suggests. I understand the reason why a show in a post-apocalyptic setting would like to touch upon the issue, but at the same time, I believe in subtlety. A single gesture outweighs an elaborate trial, as the episode “Triggerfinger” proved. “Judge, Jury, Executioner” treads like an overgrown bull in the tiniest China shop you could find, because it relies on talk more than what the characters do. I’m complaining about Dale, of course, but I will touch on him a bit later.
It’s as if the writers don’t trust the viewers to understand that the Randall arc ponders whether or not the survivors have shed the last of what made them human. Everything from the title to the theme and the literal trial scene felt rather contrived, because Dale talked. He spends all of his on-screen time in a conversation. He pleads his case, drums up noise, but fails to back his words and his ideals with actions. Do we see Dale spend time with the prisoner? Give him water or food or try to comfort him?
No. However, as I am writing this, I begin to think that Dale is set to fail. I begin to think that Dale is a purposeful construct of the group’s conscience. He only speaks about the value of a man’s life, but at this point, it has to be all pretense. The ‘preacher on a soapbox’ approach to his character development contrasts with the group’s willingness to disregard human life, as is the torture scene with Daryl and Carl’s visible approval of Randall’s death sentence. It’s more-than-obvious, no matter how many times we hear Dale recycle the same arguments to save Randall.
Randall is a goner, either way. Even if he stays with the group. Even if Rick kills him. Even if the survivors drop him off. His death sentence has been signed. The true executioners of this world will have their final say. Maybe not right now. Maybe not even today. But some say that this knowledge alone kills the whole mechanism that makes us human, one cog at a time. Dale’s death, observed from this angle, is fitting and necessary because, as a representative of the old ideals, Dale has no place here. He is outdated. What he supports as a cause has quickly become a relic in this new social order.
I found his death to be a thing of symbolic beauty, because of the sequence of events that led to his death. Here is where Carl comes into play. I don’t enjoy child characters for a variety of reasons, mostly for the adults’ need to cuddle and protect them. In my opinion, they waste time. As we all saw with Sophia’s arc, half a season stalled with the ineffective search and rescue mission that proved pointless in the first place. As a typical young boy, Carl wanders off into the dangerous forest (Where is the adult supervision, if I may ask?), steals, talks back, and has his free time filled with attempts to emulate the male role models around him.
Given the circumstances, he has to grow up faster, in a ‘hunter-gatherer’ social structure with a lot of the modern, civilised sensibilities missing in his day-to-day interactions. He observes as the adults worry about scavenging missions; worry about walkers; worry about outsiders; worry about making it through the day; worry about whom they can trust. Carl has concluded, as a survivor, that survival of the fittest is the new status quo. For him, this includes the physical strength and skill to kill Walkers. This is the primary reason why he engages the Walker. Carl wants to prove to himself that he wants to kill, even though he fails and re-assumes his role of a child.
His understanding of the world highlights the lack of compassion. Carl no longer has the need or privilege to entertain the idea of a happy place after death, when those you love can return as the walking dead. He mocks Carol’s beliefs in Heaven, because he finds abstract thought to be obsolete and purposeless in his world. His lack of compassion manifests in his inability to see and judge problems in their shades of grey. Carl sees Randall as a threat and, therefore, is quick to urge his father to kill him. Carl doesn’t realise how his words are problematic, but views them as a part of the ritual that will allow him acceptance in the group of the adults. As a character, Carl represents the polar opposite of Dale as the new breed of survivors that will fully form while the days drag on in this hopeless wasteland the world has transformed into.
Dale and Carl are in complete opposition based on their ages, their roles in the group, and their views. Therefore, I find it fitting that the Walker Carl set free and failed to kill rips Dale open. Dale’s death scene signifies that the pretense of humanity can’t last, and the passing of the old generation, only to be replaced – for better or for worse. Dale is the oldest member among the Atlanta survivors and had the most memories about the world before zombies. He has already formed as a person and is, one way or another, the last thing that the group had to tether them to the old ways.
I neglect to mention the smaller romantic subplot concerning Glenn, Maggie and Hershel. As if to challenge the darker implications of a world where the survivors are just as heartless as the dead, Hershel acknowledges Glenn as a suitable suitor for his daughter. A genuine ray of sunshine streams through as Hershel recounts the love he felt for Maggie’s mom and gives his watch to Glenn. Apart from being endearing, the scene acknowledges that some of the values of the old world have been passed from the older to the newer generation and that perhaps the part that makes us human is not lost.
“Judge, Jury, Executioner” is not a let-down, but it is not phenomenal, either. As with all of the previous episode, I’m left with multiple questions. How will the group function without Dale? What is in store for Carl? Will the Randall situation find a resolution soon? Let’s hope “Better Angels” sorts these questions out.