Our band of survivors have made a lot of mistakes since the dawn of the zombie apocalypse on “The Walking Dead” — it’s not like there’s a zombie survival guide, after all. (Oh, wait — there is.) In the 11th episode of Season 2, “Judge, Jury, Executioner,” it’s how each character has acted to remedy those mistakes that shows his or her true mettle.
Characters’ missteps are revisited through the group’s most pressing dilemma: What the heck do we do with Randall? Randall, as you’ll recall, is the injured “outsider” Rick pitied during a zombie blitz in town. He brought Randall back to the farm and then later, along with Shane, attempted to dump the guy “18 Miles Out,” far away from the farm, where he couldn’t bother our humble group of survivors. Except they then found out Randall went to school with Maggie and knows where the farm is located. And then they realized how potentially dangerous Randall is — he could find his way back to his group of outsiders and attack the farm! So Rick and Shane dragged Randall back to the farm, where they would decide his fate.
As Episode 11 opens, Randall’s fate looks bleak. Daryl is beating up the guy to find out more information on those outsiders. Turns out there are 30 of them, all heavily armed. Oh, and they like torturing and raping any men and women they happen to stumble upon — or so we are to assume from Randall’s tale, which is spoken through half-sentences and agonized cries.
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Daryl relays the news to the group, which seems decided on Randall’s fate once Rick makes a decision — they need to “eliminate the threat.” Even Shane sides with Rick for a change. Everyone seems in agreeance. Well, everyone except Dale.
Dale holds onto this precious idea that civilization as the survivors know civilization can still exist in a walker-filled world. He doesn’t want to kill a guy simply because he might be dangerous to the group in the future. Dale asks Rick if the sheriff wants to teach his son to “shoot first, think later.” Rick, because he will always and forever possess at least a shred of morality, gives Dale until sunset to talk to the others and convince them to show mercy to Randall instead of “eliminating” him.
Up first on Dale’s agenda: Andrea. He asks her to guard Randall until sunset. She’s on Team Shane and doesn’t want to debate “saving a guy who will lead his buddies to our door.”
“That’s what a civilized society does,” Dale says, reminding Andrea that once upon a time, she was a civil rights attorney.
“Who says we’re civilized anymore?” Andrea shoots back. Still, she takes the gun Dale hands her and assumes her post outside of the barn where Randall is kept.
Randall, naturally, is trying to escape. He overhears Shane and Carl talking outside — Carl wants to see “the kid” who they’re going to kill. Shane says it’s grownup stuff, let them handle it. Carl runs off, and Shane sees Andrea. He disappointed that she’s on “death watch” for Dale, and asks her if she sees what’s happening — if she realizes they’re not going to go through with killing Randall, that Rick is going to “pussy out.” Shane suggests locking up Hershel and Rick and anyone else who doesn’t agree with his aggressive mode of survival and taking control of the farm. Andrea looks unconvinced, but we’re not sure, because the action moves inside the barn.
Randall hears a noise; it’s Carl, who has snuck inside to see the prisoner. Carl listens to Randall trying to bribe him, trying to talk his way out of his chains, and creeps closer. Just when things could get dangerous, Shane busts through the door, asking what the hell Randall was saying, threatening the prisoner with his gun. Carl is just scared Shane’s going to tell his parents. “It ain’t about getting in trouble,” Shane says. It’s about letting your guard down.
We then switch to Subject No. 2 for Dale: Daryl. Dale tries to win over Daryl by telling him he’s a “decent man.” That’s probably the only thing Daryl actually wants from the other survivors — acceptance as a trusted ally, not distance because he’s a psycho redneck — but he shoots down Dale’s suggestion. Dale doesn’t seem to be getting very far.
Back at the farm, Carl is rummaging around the grounds, picking up spent bullet casings. He runs into Carol, who tells him things are OK and that they’ll see Sofia again in heaven. “She’s not in heaven,” Carl yells. “That’s just another lie. And if you believe it, you’re an idiot.” Carol freaks out and confront Rick and Lori. Lori tries to calm her down, but Carol says she and the others can stop patronizing her. “I lost my daughter,” Carol spits. “I didn’t lose my mind.” And so more fragile relationships begin to unravel. …
Rick, meanwhile, has a stern talking-to with Carl. “Don’t talk,” Rick lectures his son. “Think. That’s a good rule of thumb for life.” Carl, who is becoming more like Shane with each scene, stops protesting. “You owe Carol and apology. You made a mistake. Fix it,” Rick says.
“Is that why you’re gonna kill that guy?” Carl asks. “Fixing your mistake?”
“You just think about how you’re gonna make things right with Carol,” Rick says, ignoring the question.
Except Carl goes off brooding, walking until he arrives at Daryl’s camp, which is decorated with dead squirrels and a motorcycle. Carl finds a gun, and goes off to play cowboy. He’s walking through the woods as the thought, “Stupid kid — this is how your got shot before” rings through my ears. But he’s not going to get shot this time — no, he’s going to come face-to-face with a walker. And once Carl realizes this walker is stuck in the mud — literally, he can’t move his feet from the gunk — the kid’s real hellion side begins to show. He throws rocks at the walker, who is gnashing his teeth. He gets closer, runs around like it’s a one-sided game of tag. He points his gun at the zombie’s head, and then — and then the walker breaks one leg free. Carl falls backwards, screaming. The zombie grabs his leg but Carl is able to escape — and runs away as fast as he can.
During this incident, Dale checked in with potential sympathizer No. 3: Hershel. Hershel is working in the field, where cattle have broken through a fence. Hershel doesn’t want to play games, and he doesn’t want to change his mind — “I leave it to Rick,” Hershel says.
“But you’re a man of convictions,” Dale tries.
“I was — or I thought I was. But I made too many mistakes,” Hershel says wearily.
So onto sympathizer No. 4: Shane. Wait, Shane?! “I want to change your mind,” Dale says.”
“Seriously?” Shane asks. Shane appreciates Dale’s “balls” for asking such a question, and says if Dale manages to convince the group to spare Randall, he’ll go with the decision. But, Shane says, “You’re wrong about this.” And when Randall kills someone, Shane adds, that death is on Dale’s hands.
It’s getting close to sunset, but we check in with one more pair of survivors before deadline: Hershel and Glenn. Hershel, in an (awkward) conversation about how America was built by immigrants, gives Glenn his blessing to date daughter Maggie by handing him the Green family pocket watch, an heirloom that had been passed down through generations, since the family emigrated from Ireland. It’s the episodes only “awww” moment, because next, the deadline has arrived.
Carl, back from his zombie baiting, is instructed to leave the adults to their adult business of deciding whether or not to kill another human being. The conversation goes in familiar circles:
Shane thinks they should’ve killed the guy yesterday.
Dale says, “If we do this, we’re saying there’s no hope. Civilization is dead.”
Rick wants to weigh all options.
The idea of keeping Randall as a prisoner is thrown around.
Maybe they could drive him farther out than 18 miles and dump him there.
Carol doesn’t want to have any part in the matter.
If they kill him, what method should they use?
“This young man’s life is worth more than a five-minute conversation!” Dale protests.
Rick calls for any last comments. Everyone, for the most part, seems agreed that Randall must be killed.
“You once said we don’t kill the living,” Dale tries.
“Well, that was before the living tried to kill us,” Rick retorts.
“If we do this,” Dale tries one last time, “the people we were, the world that we knew, is dead. And this new world is ugly. It’s harsh. It’s survival of the fittest and that’s a world I don’t want to live in. I don’t believe any of you do. Please … let’s just do what’s right. Isn’t there anybody else who will stand with me?
No one speaks — except Andrea.
“He’s right,” she says. “We should try to find another way.”
So everyone does a lot of shoegazing and says nothing.
“You’re all gonna watch, too?” Dale asks, disgusted. “No, you’re all gonna hide your heads in your tents and try to forget you’re slaughtering a human being. I won’t be a party to it,” he adds, and walks out of the house.
“This group is broken,” Daryl adds, repeating part of his previous conversation with Dale while stating the obvious.
And so Rick, Shane and Daryl drag Randall through the night to his execution. It is grueling business to watch as Randall pleads for his life and wails while Shane blindfolds him and Daryl kicks out his legs so the prisoner is kneeling. Rick draws his gun and — and Carl walks in.
“Do it, dad,” Carl says, venom in his voice. “Do it.”
Rick folds. “Take him away,” he says, defeated. He walks back to camp with Carl and seeks comfort from Lori. “We’re keeping him in custody for now,” Rick says of Randall. “He followed us,” Rick continues, referring to Carl. “He wanted to watch. I couldn’t. …”
Andrea jumps up to find Dale and relay the good news. Dale is walking through the fields when he hears a moaning sound; he draws his gun and sees a hurt cow. Upon further inspection, he realizes the cow’s innards are now lying on the outside of its belly. Another moan from behind and — oh. It’s the walker that was terrorized by Carl.
Caught completely off guard, Dale is tackled by the zombie. He struggles to keep from getting bit, and is successful, up until the point where the freaking zombie starts tearing out Dale's stomach with its hands.
Now, a side note here: Zombies can do that? And if so, I know what nightmare I’m having tonight.
Sadly, it’s a living nightmare for Dale. Everyone back at camp heard his screams, so they come running to his aid. But it’s too late. Daryl, first to arrive, slays the zombie with a knife to the head. Hershel arrives and says even an operation won’t save Dale. Andrea is weeping. Gasping, eyes wide, it’s obvious Dale is suffering. Rick pulls his gun and aims at Dale’s head. At his neck. At his head. He tries to pull the trigger but he just can’t do it.
Daryl grabs the gun. He steadily points it into Dale’s forehead, murmurs, “Sorry, brother,” and pulls the trigger.