Mar 5 2012 4:00pm

The Walking Dead S2, E11: “Judge, Jury, Executioner”

The Walking Dead episode Judge Jury Executioner

Hoo, boy. Now that was an episode. Problematic? Just like always. But still entertaining. For the first time this season I wasn’t constantly checking the time to see how much more boring chatfests I’d have to put up with until the bloody, gut-covered cliffhanger. “Judge, Jury, Executioner” was far from perfect — and about a half mile from great — but it was a taught, fraught, and philosophical hour that shook up expectations. Particularly for fans of the comic.

Last week’s episode worked well primarily because it restricted its focus to a few select characters. This week’s ep broadened out to cover the entire farm — including the cows and specter of Sophia — but because we followed Dale’s perspective it didn’t feel as frayed as usual. He brought up some good points, even if they’re points every televised drama has argued over before with the exact same reasonings and the exact same resulting decision. But it was nice to see Andrea finally side with him. It was a nice treat for those of us who have read the comics. It was also a sneaky, backhanded move by the writers, and I finally have a little respect for them. Without getting too far into spoiler territory, the writers played with the expectations of the fans of the comics by putting Andrea up next to Dale, and then kicked the whole thing in the teeth.

With Mazarra at the helm, the troublesome parts of The Walking Dead — specifically dialogue straight out of a teen drama and characters so two dimensional that they’re little more than breathing tropes — aren’t worse than they were when Darabont was in charge. It’s just that now the few and far between good parts are so much better that the irritating bits are that much more groan-inducing.

Take Carol and T-Dog. Both are suffering from a case of “the writers never figured out what to do with them but they’ve been around so long that they can’t just kill them off without making it a fairly important plot point so now they’re just going to show up occasionally and have absolutely no impact on anything whatsoever.” If the dude playing T-Dog is getting paid more than the extras in the zombie makeup, he’s got the best agent in Hollywood. In that entire debate in Hershel’s living room he did nothing but stand around looking constipated, and when he started to speak he was cut off by someone else. Even Dale didn’t bother asking for his opinion.

The Walking Dead episode Judge Jury Executioner

And Carol, the woman who chose to sit around sulking while Daryl and everyone else risked their lives on a fool’s errand after her daughter, when someone finally asked her to be useful for once she got peevish. She didn’t abstain from casting a vote in Randall’s fate, no, she demanded to be left out of it. She wanted to be ignored and disregarded. True, she had a hell of a time under her abusive late husband, but this is a brave new world she’s in. No one is pulling her strings anymore, so to insist that she be allowed to be unhelpful and unproductive in securing the future of the group (outside of doing what Lori would call “women’s work”) is a strange position to place herself.

Also vying for the episode’s top marks in the Darwin Awards was stupid, boring, increasingly amoral Carl. What the writers intended to do with the kid was to posit him as a harbinger of doom and a mirror of Rick. His choice to go off and play cowboy alone in the woods lead him to the mud zombie. His choice to taunt, tease, and torture the mud zombie to prove what a big strong man he was backfired, and when he was faced with the choice of whether or not to kill it before it killed him he hesitated long enough that it nearly cost him his life. Carl fled back to the farm and went about his merry way, forgetting that consequences have a way of catching up with you when you least expect them. He let down his guard and Dale suffered for it (and soon the rest of the group will as well since the mud zombie took out the cattle). Swap Carl, Dale, and the mud zombie for Rick, Shane, and Randall and, well, you can see where this is all headed. It was a nice little B-story, but it didn’t have as much oomph as it would have if we actually gave a crap about anyone on this show.

Most of the time TWD is about as subtle as a sledgehammer. Dale’s round robin and every conversation about how to solve a problem like Randall were no exception. But there was something wonderful about the non-actor/non-script portion of the show. The editing was spot on, the sound mixing and score deliberate and tense, and whoever created that lighting should be given a raise. “Judge” was mostly shot in late afternoon and dusk. In fiction it’s traditionally the time of day where good things go to ground and wicked things begin to stir. We may not know what the darkness holds, but we know it won’t be good, and that’s why dusk is so evocative. It’s anticipatory fear, the inability to hesitate, the desire to hold on to that last little bit of peace and security even as it slips through your fingers. Twilight is a writer’s shorthand for signifying the calm before the storm, and damn if it isn’t effective.

Final Thoughts

  • “We reconvene at sunset, then what happens happens.”
  • “Who says we’re civilized anymore?”
  • “Like I said, group’s broken.”
  • “Do it, dad. Do it.”
  • “So you support this decision?” “If you think it’s best.” Really, Lori? For crying out loud, have a frakking opinion for once in your pathetic life. We’re talking about a man’s life here. Same goes for you, Hershel. Both characters always had monologues full of crap to say when no one cares, but when it mattered most they just shut up and deferred to Rick.
  • Don’t poke the bear in the zoo, Carl. Don’t poke the flesh-eating bear in the unlocked zoo.
  • I can’t decide if Carl’s got a really big head or Rick has a really small one, but there’s no way that sheriff’s had should fit as well as it does on that kid.
  • I really want to hate Daryl’s angel wings vest, but instead I’m going to pretend it was done intentionally and ironically.
  • Anyone else bothered by Rick planning to kill the kid in the same place he wanted to play house in over the winter? No, of course I don’t mind sleeping on the blood spatter. Bring me your finest cot.
  • Carl was giving off some seriously creepy Damien vibes when he was hanging out with Randall in the shed.
  • Unrelated topic: three more weeks ’til Mad Men! Squee!

Alex Brown is a research librarian by day, writer by night, and all around geek who watches entirely too much TV. One of these days she will go out and have a life, but the daystar, it burns. You can follow her on Twitter if you dare.

John Ginsberg-Stevens
1. eruditeogre
My one-word review of this episode: aggravating. I saw a bit of promise last week so I came back, and I was fairly disappointed. Using Carl as a device for creating dramatic moments is really bugging me; there are so many other ways to create tension (as we saw last week). Laurie, T-Dog, and Carol just make me sad. At this point, I want them to seriously cull the cast and tighten up the group. And the farm has just become convenient to the writers: they can import a bit of threat when they want, but that control just rankles now, especially given how artificial that penultimate scene was.

I like watching Rick's struggle, and I am morbidly curious about Shane's trajectory, and Daryl is still pretty interesting, but there's not much here to keep me interested for much longer.
Alex Brown
2. AlexBrown
@erudite: Yes to everything you said, but those points just bothered me less, mostly because the sparse good stuff was so much better than usual. That cancelled out a lot of the white noise for me. The show actually had tension and suspension - for 3 episodes in a row, no less. On most other shows that wouldn't be a bonus, but on TWD it's cause for celebration, especially compared to the doldrums of the first half of the season.

For a show about a small group of people living at the end of the world, TWD is surprisingly un-lifethreatening. Everyone walks around like they're camping and acts like the zombies (and encroaching violent gangs) are hardly more than inconveniences. So when all of a sudden Dale gets gutted or a zombie almost eats off Carl's face it ratchets up the tension. I don't need a zombie killing off cast members every episode, but the writers need to make sure that constant and very real threat (and other threats like this 30-strong gang of men) underscores every episode. They've so far only managed to do that a handful of times.
Jim Burnell
3. JimBurnell
I've never read the comic, but I really lately have been getting very much a "Lord of the Flies" vibe from the show, with Rick cast as Ralph (the well-intentioned but ineffectual leader) and Shane cast as Jack (the anti-leader who favors survival of the fittest and abandoning the last vestiges of society/humanity).

Which, of course, casts Dale in the role of Simon, the Christ-figure and conscience of the group. From that perspective, I saw Dale's death as especially tragic and worrisome. Since Herschel (Piggy?) already gave up on his own well-intentioned but misguided faith in humanity, I feel like chaos and savagery are inevitable.
Improbable Joe
4. Improbable Joe
Team Shane!

...I need to stop drinking so much on Sundays. My wife was trying to go to bed after the show, and I couldn't stop shouting about Dale. He's the old wise one who magically intuited almost the exact circumstances under which Shane shot Otis. I guess we have Hershell to be the old wise one when he's not drunk or giving out watches, so Dale's out. Anyhoo, Dale the Wise decided that his big move in a zombie-infested world is to
throw a temper tantrum and stomp outside in a huff, in the dark, by himself, while paying zero attention to his surroundings. Then by the magic of bad writing, he's totally flanked by a zombie who he didn't see in a nearly flat and completely open field. Where did that zombie come from, did it dig a spider-hole and wait for someone stupid to inevitable show up? I'm sure it was more surprised than we were that it wasn't Carol.

At least Dale died the way he lived... with the same bug-eyed accusatory look on his face.
Improbable Joe
5. Improbable Joe
... also, I want the last episode to involve Carl shooting Shane, and then the anorexic chick cradling his dead body and screaming "Carl, you killed your REAL DADDY!!!!" Then Shane goes full-on Zombie and eats Lori and Carl.
John Ginsberg-Stevens
6. eruditeogre

I think that the previous 3 episodes had some good moments of tension, and more of the moral blurring and boundary-crossing that I am looking for in my apocalypse. I like that the show is not about zombie ass-kicking, but there is a lot of soap opera and too often the show's tension is baldly artificial in its creation (I think @Improbable Joe summed up the problem with Dale quite nicely). So, yeah, let's see more tension and conflict that emerges from the storyline rather than via the prevailing current method, which is either blatant blundering or highly-controlled threat-insertion.

The great thing about the bar fight and its aftermath was that there was a sense of unpredictability, because there were multiple threats and they were potentially unbounded. How many walkers were coming? Did the other living have reinforcements nearby? Could the protagonists keep it together and get out of the situation alive? Those moments, and the decisions the characters must make to survive, are the kind of drama that I wish we had more of in this show.
Alex Brown
7. AlexBrown
@Jim: Good comparison there. Lord of the Flies is definitely the ambience the writers of the show are going for (plus a hefty dose of Lost). The comics are playing a much longer game so that's less of an influence, but it's still there a bit. And yes, chaos and savagery are inevitable, but the goal of the writers should be to make it feel like there's a chance that it might not be. We know the whole gang will die eventually, but we have to both want them to survive anyway (or at least long enough) and to be surprised/shocked when they don't. TWD has failed tremendously on both positions.

@Improbable: Ha! Fabulous recap. I vote for your finale. Best ending ever.

@erudite: I want more scenes like the bar with Tony and Dave. Hopefully when the new gang of putsiders show up we'll get more like that.
Improbable Joe
8. Spooky Mizu
@Improbable Joe

I didn't really have a problem with the zombie sneaking up on Dale. He was totally distracted by the dying bovine. Wasn't it making zombie-like noises as it was dying? I can totally imagine the Mud Zombie laying on the ground, chewing on a big ol' piece of beef, being totally unseen in the dusk/evening. Then: grab, grab, bite, bite. Bye bye Dale.

I am bummed about the fact that Dale is gone. I had plans for him.


Spooky Mizu
Bill Capossere
9. Billcap
Hmm, is it a good sign when your respond to a major character getting killed off is “good, now who is next?” It isn’t that I was totally against Dale, whose voice of consciousness could have been a strong aspect of the show; it’s just that he was so misused and so one-note and the show so needs to cull characters that it was with a sense of relief if not joy that he went down. Though like others I bemoaned the method, not to mention how earlier he walks out of the house saying “I’m not going to be a part of this” and nobody thinks “hey, wonder if he’s gonna go let that kid go . . . “

If only T-Dog had gone with him. Seriously, if you can’t come up with lines for a character in a scene where the entire group has massed for one of their most important discussions, and if the guy who is going on the Desperation Tour of “Will you take my side? You? Anyone? Bueller?” can’t be bothered with even giving him a shot, what is the point of having that character?

Carol. Sigh. The best we could do with this character is “leave me out”? If that’s going to be her stance, then show us the struggle with it, show us her difficulty in making her thoughts known because they’ve been beaten out of her (except of course you just showed us her standing up to the bratty kid’s parents so whoops), show us how her attempt to open up to Darryl and getting burned makes her hesitant, show us how the last time she was “involved” in a group decision—to stay and find her daughter—it led to disaster and so she’s done with it. Or, on the flip side, show us her character starting to blossom and come out from her past shadows, show us her concern over what this decision is doing to Darryl, show us her despair that the same group willing to sacrifice for her daughter against all hope is now willing to kill.

Having Andrea side with Dale was a nice move, and having her accept guard duty was a surprisingly subtle lead in to that, but again, would have been nice to have seen this as more of a process than an announcement. Same with Darryl. Same with . . . Same with . . . Same with. Short version—give us actual characters. And if you’re not, then continue with the cull.

As for Carl. I suppose he might be an example of be careful what you ask for, because after his scenes you wonder if perhaps it’s best the writers don’t even try since sometimes close and falling short is worse. As you say, you could see where they wanted to go, and it really could have been great to see this over several episodes. But it’s all in the execution. So to say.

So many of these scenes could have been oh so good. Dale’s pleading one by one. Carl and the prisoner in the barn. Carol finding her places, reacting to Darryl. Imagine the tension of Shane finding Carl in there and not wondering about the prisoner but wondering if Carl had heard his mutiny plans—wouldn’t you have loved to have seen that play out? So much potential here, you just keep hoping . . .

Agreement though on the non-scripted aspects of the show. This isn’t the first time it has outshone the actual narrative.
Improbable Joe
10. Improbable Joe
@Spooky Mizu:

I don't buy it... unless we're talking zombie cows?


Scenario #1: The cow was gutted but still alive, and somehow Dale walked directly towards it on a bright, clear night in a wide open field and didn't hear its dying moans or see it moving until he was a few feet from it. Somehow it was gutted and hadn't died yet and he could take a few minutes to walk towards it and it was still moving around and making noise. At the same time, the walker pulled off a piece of cow and crawled off while ignoring all of that other fresh living meat, instead of burying its face in the cow and chewing until the cow was well and truly dead.

Scenario #2: The walker killed the cow while Kool & the Gang were discussing what to do with barn guy. When the cow was well and truly dead, the walker crawled off with whatever hunk of cow he had in his hands. Dale comes stomping out of the farm, and the cow reanimates just when he gets to it. The moaning zombie cow alerts its walker buddy, who comes over to eat Dale too.
Charles Moore
11. Shadeofpoe
@Improbable Joe and Spooky

In all honesty, I was half expecting/half wanting the cow TO be a zombie and that be how Dale was offed. Otherwise I'm with Joe, the writers totally phoned in the kill scene. It screamed the slasher trope of pan-out and BAM! killer is right behind you. Quietest. Zombie. Yet. Mayhap ever.
Warren Ockrassa
12. warreno
@ Improbable and Shade -

I was going down the 'zombie cow' path myself. The ramifications would be alarming. If cows can be infected, what does that mean for the food supply? Not just meat either - cows provide milk, butter, cheese, and yogurt.

A zombified cow would be a really bad sign for humanity; and it could almost be fun in a way, a la the killer mutant sheep in 'Black Sheep'.

And yeah, Mud Zombie just sort of quietly schlepping up behind Dale was a dud. A colleague who watches TWD tells me Dale's fate was different in the comics, and I think that storyline would have been much more interesting to pursue.
Improbable Joe
13. Improbable Joe
The good news is that dead cows (zombie or otherwise) mean that Old Wise Dude now has an excuse to kick K. C. and the Sunshine Band off the farm. Of course, no one else knows how to fix the Winnie... maybe that can be T-Dog's job? And they can use Carol as the radiator hose... I'm as much at a loss for what to do with her as the writers seem to be.

I'm trying to remember the book I read where there was a zombie minimum weight limit, where the virus needed the animal to be a certain size to produce enough of itself to reanimate the corpse... was it Mira Grant's Feed? That would explain stuff.
Alex Brown
14. AlexBrown
@Spooky: I thought the cow was moaning in cow-like agony, but regardless of the sounds Dale still should've seen him approach. If it was so dark that he couldn't see more than 2 feet in front of him then he wouldn't have seen the cow from so far away, and if it's bright enough for him to see a ways away then he's an idiot for not seeing the mud zombie.

@Billcap: Yes to everything. TWD inspires a lot of "So much potential here" musing.

@Shade: I'm not sure if it's been established in the show or not, but if I recall correctly the comics made it clear that animals didn't go undead, that only people turned.

That brings up another point I forgot to mention in my review. Since the group KNOW that people who die with their brains intact turn into walkers after a while, then why the frak were they even considering hanging Randall? Breaking his neck isn't anything at all the same as braining him. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

@warrneo: I'm all for taking a different path between the show and the comic, but given that Dale is far more important/useful than, say, T-Dog or Carol, it was an odd choice to kill him off at that point in time and in that way. SPOILER

Given what's about to come plot-wise, it's definitely smarter to kill off Carol/T-Dog, unless they're holding T-Dog to turn him into Tyrese, in which case NO.

Thomas Nelson
15. spookymizu
Hey folks,

Just to be clear, I wasn't suggesting a zombie cow. I was writing that the cow was making zombie-like sounds. Y'know, moaning and groaning... ...that sort of thing...because it was dying. I guess I need to go watch the episode again. I was so caught up in the emotion of the scene because I had no doubt that Dale was a goner at that point. The credibility of the scene just never came into question for me.

But zombie cows, that would be udderly terrifying.


Of course, Robert Kirkman has said there will be no zombie animals, at least in the comic book. I suspect that he won't change that one rule for the television series, but who knows? They have already changed a number of things.

Someday we will have to discuss the wild Zombie Pigs of the Oregon Trail. Alas, that will have to wait.

Spooky Mizu
Sky Thibedeau
16. SkylarkThibedeau
'Attack of the Zombie Naked Mole Rats". Now that would be awesome. Save us perry the platypus.
Improbable Joe
17. tigeraid
eeeh... I'm liking the direction of the show now, as opposed to the first half. The book has always really been about human vs human in a post-apocalyptic world, not human vs zombie. The zombies are just a danger to be avoided.

Is it so bad to have a couple of characters in this group that don't do a whole hell of a lot? Yes, fine, I know one is black, and god forbid the useless guy ALSO be black, but is this not how a real group of survivors would be? One or two hangers-on who just want to try and live their life and, frankly, leeching off the hard work of others... Or for that matter doing work around the farm (chopping wood, laundry, cooking) and not getting involved in dangerous stuff. Are they pansies, yeah maybe, but you can't doubt that they'd exist in this situation... Just look at LOST, hell they had like 20 survivors on the island who just hung around camp and did nothing.
Improbable Joe
18. Chick J
I am so glad they got rid of Dale. He was one of the most hateful person I watch. All he did was sow hate among everyone.

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