Review: The Walking Dead - "Judge, Jury, Executioner"

The Walking Dead continues to get better and better with each new episode! Aside from the most memorable aspect of this week's episode (which I will get into after the spoilers warning below), "Judge, Jury, Executioner" was full of quality drama and performances. As the survivors debate how to handle the Randall situation, the show asks the question, 'Can we still be civilized in an uncivilized world?' Dale begs the group for the preservation of humanity as the last tie to the world they once knew. 

This episode was directed by executive producer and makeup FX legend, Greg Nicotero. It is exciting, powerful, and an absolute game-changer. With these last couple episodes, The Walking Dead has become a show on par with something like AMC's own Breaking Bad. It has not been nearly as consistent in quality, of course, but here's hoping the trend continues. I used to watch this show out of habit and a love of the source material but now it is truly a force to be reckoned with!


The episode opens heavy with Daryl essentially torturing the prisoner, Randall. After beating information out of him, Randall tells a story about how his former crew raped two teenaged girls as their father watched. This disturbing scenario reminds me a lot of the bleak subject matter often addressed in Kirkman's books. Though only a passing story, it is an upsetting topic that has not been directly addressed on the show until now, and it brings to the surface why this man and his people are such a threat. And it is exactly the kind of lead-in this show needs if it is to tackle the Governor next season!

The rest of the episode is focused on whether or not to kill Randall. While everyone pretty much agrees he has to go, Dale pleads for them to reconsider. This is actually one situation where you can genuinely see both sides of the argument as valid. The man is no doubt a threat, and yet, it would be wrong to condemn a man to death for a crime he may never commit. There is a great dialogue exchange between Shane and Dale, where Shane says Randall has a gang of 30 people, and Dale replies, "Killing him won't change that. But it will change us." Dale genuinely has a point - they are no better than the criminals or walkers if they do this - and yet I can hardly blame them for wanting to feel safe.

There was a great analogy presented on "The Talking Dead" wherein comedian Dana Gould compared Dale to Piggy in Lord of the Flies. He is the voice of reason and civilization, but for that reason, he must go. In a world without humanity like this, there is no room for morality. It will get you killed.

And so, it was bound to happen - Dale got Captain Rhodes'ed by a walker. This resulted in one of the most deliciously brutal pieces of irony I have seen in a long time. The graphic nature of the scene will make you go "Holy cow!" (pun intended) but it is the sheer irony of it all that weighs on your very soul. Here we have a man who was just begging for his people not to kill a man, and now he lays begging to be put out of his misery. The scene is perfectly executed (pun intended again) - keeping him alive but suffering really nails the irony. You cannot help but feel gutted (the puns never stop) when Dale leans his forehead into the gun barrel and his eyes beg for the end. This nut-kicker gives the Sophia moment some serious competition. I suspected Jeffrey DeMunn would be leaving the show after the Darabont debacle, but I am so glad he got such a moving, memorable send-off.

Dale's death scene is also heavy because of the burden it puts on Carl, who caused his death by accidentally luring a walker back to the farm. Carl has been going through some serious shit, and we see how jaded and cold he has become this episode. The way he talks to Carol and the way he torments that walker in the woods are surely just a glimpse of things to come. Even Dale warns Rick in this episode of the message it sends his son to "shoot first and ask questions later." Can you say foreshadow? I also can't help but wonder if there's a reason that gun was left in the woods....

Just about every Carl scene in this episode was great. I love the moment when Rick is telling Carl not to talk back to Carol because for the first time he talks to him like a man. "You made a mistake. Fix it." Carl is no longer an innocent little boy. This transformation of Carl, as well as Rick, is SO important to The Walking Dead story, and I'm relieved to see the writers are honoring that. This scene reminded me a lot of the hard-boiled dynamic between father and son later in the books.

The scene where Carl is in the barn, creepily staring at Randall is also quite good, as is that intense moment when he walks in on his father with a gun to Randall and simply says, "Do it, Dad." What a great scene to show both Carl's transformation, and Rick's struggle between protecting his group and protecting Carl's innocence.

As a whole, I'm not sure if I liked "Judge, Jury, Executioner" as much as "18 Miles Out", but it's gotta be damn close. The show is better than it has ever been by a long shot. I never thought I'd say this but Frank Darabont's depature (fucked up as it was) might be the best thing to ever happen to this show. Truthfully, I think it's Robert Kirkman's influence getting stronger, as these episodes are resembling the comics more and more each week. The situations (and some characters) are very different but the overall themes and human struggles are the same. If this level of quality continues, the Governor episodes are going to fuck our brains out.
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