The Walking Dead - Season 2, Episode 11 - "Judge, Jury, Executioner"

Spoilers lurking. . .

The teaser for this episode leaves no doubt as to the new morality -- amorality? moralities? -- in the world of walkers.  We open quite suddenly on Daryl and the stranger -- whose name we learn is Russell -- as Daryl works him over for information, blow by blow, picking at Russell's nasty scab with a buck knife until Russell tells what he knows about Curious Dave and Fat Tony's Gang.  There are about 30 men with artillery and automatic weapons, and that shortly after Russell joined them, they captured and raped a couple of teenage girls.  Thanks very much, shit-bird.  Whap. Boom.  Roll opening credits.  It's dirty business, and what Daryl does best.

Then we return once again to the RV Gang's attempts to maintain civilization in one way or another.  The obvious question of the day is what is to be done with Russell?  Dale, persistent as ever in his role as Defender of the Old Morality, appeals to Rick for some process in deciding Russell's fate.  Very well, Dale, Rick will give you to sundown to talk to everyone in the camp, at which point a decision must be made.  How very Aristotelian of you!  And so Dale goes about his day, having his usual Dale conversations with people -- painfully obvious and strained.  For me, Dale's become an annoyance, and I have to wonder if that's the case for other viewers as well.  As much as he might plead for mercy for Russell, we also see how Russell might just be tricky enough to be still working for The Evil Gang of 30.  To my reading, all of Dale's pleading is really a final goodbye to the Old Morality.  There's a lot of Dale in this episode, with a nice scene involving Glenn and Hershel and a pocket watch.  But the real action lies with Carl.

Carl's the new sheriff in town.  That's why he wears the hat.  He's been shot and lived.  He's seen his share of walkers.  His friend Sofia got turned into one and then was gunned down in front of him.  If a boy's going to have an appropriately grim view of the world, it's Carl.  And as much as people tell him to act his age, Carl can handle himself.  The best bit of advice his father Rick can give him is, "Don't talk, think!"  Growing up quick in the world of walkers, Carl's got a chance to see things more clearly than the others.

The best scene in the episode happens when Carl, having found a pistol along Daryl's things, sets off into the woods on his own -- everyone's arguing about Russell, you see -- and finds a walker stuck in the mud.  Rather than run away, Carl stops and studies the creature.  For a long long time.  In fact, he gets as close as he can to it.  There's a cold curiosity to Carl in these moments that is familiar -- the same uneasy fascination some might have at pulling the wings off houseflies or burning ants with sunlight and a magnifying glass.  In fact, Carl's ready to put a shell in the walker's skull when the deadhead gets his foot loose.  Carl gets away, but he drops the gun.  Remember that gun.  And remember the zombie, for that matter.

At sundown, Carl's returned, just in time to be shooed away from the talk between all the grown ups about what to do with Russell.  In the end, Dale almost makes the case for sparing his life.  If Russell is executed, the new world wins.  "It's ugly.  It's harsh," says Dale.  "It's survival of the fittest."  As he walks out, disgusted, he says to Daryl, "This group is broken."  Well, maybe.  There are some in the audience who might agree with Dale, but this is Carl's world now, not Dale's.

In the penultimate scene in the episode, Russell is escorted to the barn by Daryl, Shane, and Rick, then blindfolded.  Kneeling, he waits to have his life ended by Rick's Colt Python, but hesitates.  In that moment, Carl steps into the doorway and says, "Do it, Dad.  Do it."  And he may be right. But Rick is so horrified at Carl's certainty that he calls the whole thing off.  "We're keeping him in custody for now," he tells the group.  And Andrea goes off into the night to give Dale the good news.

While everyone was busy wrestling with the "What do we do with Russell?" question, folks forgot to ask the "Where did Carl go?" question, and the zombie that Carl stirred up earlier today is foot loose and fancy-free, and happens upon Dale whose in the midst of a Grumpy Old Man walk in the dusk.  The swamp walker finds Dale, sure enough, and rips him open before the others can get to him.  It's a terrible end for Dale, who, unable to speak, his insides open to the night, must be put out of his misery by Daryl, always the angel of death and the angel of mercy.  It's a great ambiguous ending for a valuable character who, sadly but clearly, has no real place in the new world order.

Stay tuned for more from Carl.  It's becoming his world very quickly.

Zombie Kill of the Week:  None
Zombie Quotient - from 1 (none) to 10 (major herd): 2

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