Well, never let it be said that “The Walking Dead” is consistent, be it consistently good or consistently terrible. And make no mistake, after a solid series of post-break episodes, the eleventh episode, “Judge, Jury, Executioner” was indeed terrible.
I was having a converstation with my sister recently about their penchant for developing critical storylines within the frameworks of completely irrelevant characters — Shane and Rick’s confrontation was wrapped up in their dumping of Randall, Lori and Andrea’s confrontation tied into Beth’s attempted suicide — and it wasn’t until then that I realized how clumsily they sometimes handle these things. This week’s episode was another perfect example of this. Framed once again around Randall’s fate, “Judge, Jury, Executioner” was an episode that felt utterly pointless. It was 40 minutes of squabbling and hand-wringing and complaining, without any real purpose to it other than to set up the climax and to have a great “oh, the irony” moment.
I quite literally have nothing good to say about the first 38 minutes of this episode. It was an argument that has been had, at least in spirit, in prior episodes, back to when they first came upon Randall. Do we kill him or save him? Do we trust him or abandon him? Dale actually made the best point of the episode, which is that they were contemplating executing him simply because they couldn’t think of a better idea. The true irony of the episode is that it’s that point that outlines the fundamental flaw in the writing itself. Why were they considering killing him? Simply because they didn’t want to keep him prisoner? That they didn’t have enough food? I understand, on a theoretical level anyway, that releasing him risks him bringing back his “gang,” but it felt like they never really put much thought into the issue. It’s as if the show runners wrote in the proposed execution of Randall simply because they couldn’t think of a better way to push forward the week’s events.
It was lazy writing through and through, and much of the character moments barely made sense. Carol’s refusing to participate felt like she was trying to make a point by not making a point. Rick once again being agonized and tormented by indecision and playing the reluctant hero. Lori being somehow both supportive and manipulative at the same time. What’s worse is that it effectively nullified much of what happened in the prior (very good) episode. Rick had seemed ready to make the hard decisions, Shane had seemed poised on the brink of redemption. Instead, Rick is once again wracked with self-doubt and Shane is now plotting to overthrow him? I’m also curious as to why they’re suddenly determined to make young Carl an obnoxious little shit who makes terrible decisions, is completely lacking in common sense, and is, as Shane said, determined to get himself killed (stealing from Daryl? Going into the zombie-infested woods alone?) — traits that seemed to come from out of nowhere, but serve as a convenient new storyline that no one probably really cares about.
There was but one moment that came even close to having some kind of emotional resonance — that somewhat treacly moment between Hershel and Glenn. Even Daryl, whose character continues to be so capably played by Norman Reedus, was left with little other than bluster and bullshit. And T-Dog — do people even remember T-Dog? Has there ever, in the history of television, been a token black character as completely irrelevant as him? Considering that T-Dog is one of the original survivors, it’s actually shocking, if not outright insulting, how little attention he’s given. Honestly, I was fully expecting him to be the first to die, except that his death wouldn’t really impact a viewership who likely barely registers his presence in the first place.
“Judge, Jury, Executioner” was truly an unfortunate episode, one that felt like it was 38 minutes of deliberate ignorance and foolishness created simply to give Dale’s demise more emotional resonance and a sense of tragic irony. Yet the truth is that it was also a wholly unnecessary episode in terms of the events leading up to it, and was not salvaged by that final scene, even if that scene was superbly done. It ultimately changes nothing. Randall still lives. Shane is still a bastard. Rick is still befuddled and guilt-ridden. Daryl will go back to playing nice with the others. Carl will learn from his mistakes and become a sweet little boy again, and I suspect that Andrea will now take up the torch of being the group’s conscience. In the end, we lost a solid character, yet gained absolutely nothing.