The Walking Dead, Season 2, Episode 11: “Judge, Jury and Executioner”
Written by Angela Kang
Directed by Greg Nicotero
Airs Sundays at 10pm ET on AMC
Parts of “Judge, Jury, and Executioner” hum along better than most Walking Deads in recent memory, but a few things are still amiss. Credit where credit’s due, though: Dale got one hell of a death rattle off, didn’t he? That’s the last we’ll see of Jeffrey DeMunn, barring flashbacks or zombified resurrection. In a way, it’s almost too bad it didn’t happen sooner; Dale had grown stale as a character for some time, responding to situations with his eternal Dale Face, clearly not cut out for the world he ultimately decries as “harsh.” And hey, if you’ve got to go out, you might as ell go out disemboweled. Yikes.
Speaking of character development or lack thereof, Carl. Did we all collectively skip an episode? When and how exactly did Carl go from nice-enough kid, to mostly-silent prop, to Damien child? If we’re meant to infer that just witnessing the zombie massacre outside the barn did that, it seems like amateur psychology at best. It’s also quite abrupt that Carl is so vocal and involved, given that he’s basically been a non-item for what seems like ages now. And just to make things more complicated, he gets the most effective sequence in the episode, in which he tangles with a walker by a swamp, which happens to feature no dialogue. Not a coincidence.
On the positive side, while the episode is very chatter-heavy (it’s too bad The Talking Dead is already taken up by the show’s aftershow), less of it is eye-rolling than it has been lately. Though it still seems strange that they can’t just drive him a further distance away (an option which is dismissed as too dangerous, which is actually only the case if they let Lori drive), if we accept that caveat, the group’s debate over what to do with Randall is fairly thorough and believable.
On the other hand, this whole plot is significantly weakened by a sequence in which Randall tries to sucker Carl into letting him go by pleading with him and outright lying a whole lot. The whole premise of having to wrangle with a prisoner’s life and the ramifications of executing him are less potent if Randall is an outward villain rather than just some unfortunate, even possibly likeable shmuck in the wrong place at the wrong time. As it is, he’s a very obviously at least suspicious fellow who’s not above deception. That’s not the most dramatically effective route. Beyond that, a few strong scenes and better-than-average dialogue means the episode gets a pass. Now here’s hoping these last two episodes manage not to feature any ticking time bombs or ill-funded explosions.
Despite being another episode heavy on dialogue and light on action, “Judge, Jury, Executioner” works, simply because it returns to a major theme explored in the original graphic novel: morality in a post-civilized world. Here we have a former civil rights lawyer ready to send a young man to his death for crimes he has not, and may not ever commit. And its not just Andrea siding with Shane, but the entire group, save for good-old Dale, the last man struggling to keep sacred what was. And where do we, the audience stand? Rather than lead us to a quick resolution, the writers string us right along allowing us to consider who’s side we would support. It is these particular hard questions which our band of survivors are faced with, that makes the Walking Dead a series worth watching.
The search for Sophia in the fist half of the second season left so many of us impatient, restless and overall frustrated, but it becomes more evident week after week just how important that subplot was. Truth be told, ever since the dead body of Sophia stumbled its way out of that barn, almost nobody in the group has been quite the same – most notably Carl, who’s been growing colder by the minute eager to launch into manhood. Ironically it is his loss of innocence that saves Randell’s life (at least for the moment), and yet his recklessness leads Dale to his horrific faith. Dale started off as a strong character but slowly down the road the writers have continuously failed to use him effectively. This is a very different Dale than that of the original source material in which he was stronger and more confident. Here, poor old dale was weak, whiny and clearly expendable. A shame for the actor Jeffrey DeMunn, who, when given a chance, does a marvellous job. At least we can all rest knowing his final moments on screen were indeed memorable. DeMunn was dynamic tonight, in what is his apparent last stand; his argument and his performance made for the best acting we’ve seen on the series in quite some time.
Fans of the comic series will be outraged as the writers throw away one of the better characters from the book, a character taken away from us, far too soon. Yet it is these changes that make the series far more interesting for those of us already familiar with the source material. We already have the original story which no one can take away from us, so I unlike so many others welcome change, and the surprises that come with those changes. I am pretty sure we can all agree that if there is one thing “Judge, Jury, Executioner” did right, it was to surprise us with Dale’s death.
“The world may be gone, but keeping our humanity? That’s a choice.” -Dale
Yet with interesting themes to explore and a few great moments, this episode suffers from some major problems: consistency, poor dialogue and T-Dog, to name a few.
It seems week after week the characters of the Walking Dead contradict themselves, and no one suffers from this inconsistency like Rick Grimes, who for whatever reason is becoming more of an archetype and less of a character. One week Rick saves a boy, and the following week he wants to execute him. His character’s beliefs and morals change so fast that its hard to keep up. Case in point: Rick tells Carl, “Don’t talk. Think. It’s a good rule of thumb for life.” This is a very different Rick than the man who only 24 hours ago spent the majority of his time discussing his feelings.
Tonight’s episode consisted of some very interesting exchanges of conversations between a good chunk of the cast. Dale’s conversation with Shane is a prime example of good writing, yet with every great scene comes one disappointing moment. Take for instance the sequence in which Hershel gives Glenn the watch, a rather sweet well played scene undone by the horribly written last line of dialogue: “Immigrants built this country. Never forget that” was just silly and felt out of place. Were we to believe at any point that Hershel was racist? There are literally lines about losing humanity, the rule of law, and the death penalty, but written in such a half-fast way it loses any potential emotional impact on the viewers.
Finally, something needs to be done with T-Dog, who once again was ignored throughout the entire episode. It seems that in the world of the Walking Dead, African American don’t have the right to vote, much less speak and are forced to stand somewhere far in the background.
Makeup artist Greg Nicotero took on added responsibility this week as the episode’s director and did a fine job.
While Darryl didn’t have much to do, his character quickly became my favourite again. Perhaps the best moment of the entire episode came when he informs Dale that he already knew Shane killed Otis, topping it off with his comment on how Rick is a broken man. We need the writers to focus more on Darryl and maybe have him lead the group instead. Wouldn’t that be more interesting?
Listen to our Walking Dead podcast to hear our extended thoughts on the episode.