I’m fairly certain that Walking Dead is perfecting the art of ending episodes with a bang. I did not see the shocking ending to this episode coming, not one bit. Having read the comic-book, it’s easy to rely on that knowledge, so it’s great to see the show deviate and shock like this. It truly makes it surprising and interesting for all. Anyway, the episode, much like the title suggests, deals with the issue of whether the group should kill Randall or not, and unlike the last episode which did a great job of not going anywhere, we’re not only presented with a difficult moral issue, but the plot is also advanced! Yay!
Alright, time to get into the details, so beware and turn back if you fear spoilers.
The episode begins with Daryl torturing Randall, and we find out that there are at least thirty armed men in Randall’s group. This spells danger for our protagonists, since that’s one threat they can’t overcome. The logical conclusion for Rick quickly is that they cannot allow Randall to get back to his people, and clearly they must kill him.
Everyone is scared and seems to be completely on board with this decision, everyone except Dale. You see this episode is really all about Dale. He is the moral conscience of the group. He believes in the rule of law, in humanity and civilization, so he won’t abide the killing of any individual simply out of fear — not without a trial, not without considering the alternatives. What follows are Dale’s vain attempts to convince everyone that they shouldn’t just kill the poor kid. Sure enough no one listens. Even Hershel, the man of conscience, has decided to leave this to Rick.
While Dale is on his seemingly hopeless quest, a few other events of note take place. First of all, we’re shown that Shane continues to grow restless, and that he’s considering taking control of the group away from Rick. Alright, check this as a problem that will be dealt with in the next two episodes. Second, Hershel and Glenn have a nice, but awkward moment, where we learn that Hershel approves of Maggie and Glenn being together. Hooray! Positive character growth!
The episode also spends some time with Carl. Like any twelve year old kid, he is curious and bound to get into trouble because of it. We’re shown this first when Carl sneaks into the shed where Randall is locked up, which could have ended disastrously if Shane didn’t intervene in the nick of time. If that wasn’t enough, he mouths off to Carol and later wonders unsupervised into the forest surrounding the farm. Did I mention he also steals one of Daryl’s handguns? Yep, and then he encounters a walker stuck in muck. He decides to start throwing rocks at it, and then gets uncomfortably close and points this gun at the thing. Inevitably, the walker gets loose, knocks the gun out of Carl’s hands, and he barely gets away. Sigh… seems he’s taking his survival tips from his mom. Anyway, more on why I spent all this time talking about this in a minute.
Alright, fast forward to the evening. The group has gathered to deliberate on Randall’s final fate. Much like earlier everyone has made up their minds, and Dale is the only one in opposition. He makes a very emotional last call, pointing out that if they go through with this they will be no better than the people out there they are trying to protect themselves from. Interestingly, this appeal affects Andrea, who switches to his side, but it’s not enough, and no one else will listen. Disgusted, Dale will not sit and watch the group murder Randall. On his way out, he stops by Daryl, and confirms that the group is indeed broken, which is a reply to what Daryl told Dale earlier on that subject (more on why this is important soon).
It’s decided — Rick, Shane and Daryl are off to kill Randall. Rick will of course be the one to do it. He gets ready, but then Carl walks in to watch. He urges his dad to do it, which gives Rick pause. Earlier, Dale reproached Rick for the example he is setting for Carl. Hearing his son like that, he suddenly cannot do it. He realizes the ramifications of his actions, and calls the whole thing off. Seems that Dale’s appeal actually worked. Whew! Time to find Dale, except uh-oh…
Yep, Dale has wondered off, finds a dead cow that’s half eaten, and wham! Walker attack! The group rushes out, but it’s too late, Dale’s stomach has been ripped to shreds, and he is dying. This was very sad, since Dale has always been one of my favorites. I was sad to see him go in the comics, and especially so to see him go so early here. Anyway, this is where those two important elements from earlier come into play. First of all, the zombie that killed Dale is the same one that Carl egged on. Naturally, Carl realizes this and odds are that he will feel guilty about this, interesting. Second, Daryl takes the gun away from Rick and is the one to put Dale out of his misery. Remember what Dale told Daryl about the group being broken, well it seems that Daryl might have decided to see that fixed.
I believe that this death will be a catalyst for the group. It will be a unifying event that will make them keep their humanity, while the world around them loses theirs. I also think this will be a turning point for Daryl, which is awesome. There’s no denying that Dale was the conscience of the group. That fact could not have been more evident in this episode. He rallied and did his best to keep everyone from going too far, and it worked, even though it was down to the wire. As a result, the death will hit hard, perhaps hardest of any yet, and I am certain that every member (except for Shane, I think) will think of Dale when making important decisions, and won’t let themselves so easily swayed down the wrong path. If I am right, then this is wonderfully done, and makes for great storytelling.
This episode is also a really good discussion of capital punishment, especially in the context of killing someone for a crime they have not yet committed. It does a great job of showing how fear can compel human beings to absolutely inhuman acts — it’s so easy, and especially so easy to feel morally right doing so. This is the kind of thing that Walking Dead does so well, and this is definitely one of the better episodes for it.