Alert! Spoilers Ahead! Seriously, you would be insane to read this if you haven’t seen the latest episode of THE WALKING DEAD.
It’s said that, under the right conditions, we can all evolve into monsters. Aided by fear, aided by a narrowing of options — the white light that can guide us home can also tear us past our better judgement and bust through the carefully constructed walls of morality that we’ve always leaned on.
This is the message of season 2 of THE WALKING DEAD: a broken evolution and the increasingly ripe conditions that make it so. Tonight’s episode, “Judge, Jury, and Executioner” was about that and that last stubborn nub that refuses to be pressed down. Think of this show and their world as a pane of glass, a window, first cracked, then shattered, with piece after piece of broken glass falling to the floor. Shane was the first, then Andrea, then Hershel, Daryl, Carol, Lori, and eventually Rick — all that remains is Dale, the last one struggling to keep sacred what was, that stubborn nub.
Dale is a favorite of mine. In the comics he was paternal, raw, and tough, suffering through setbacks and heartbreak with an uncommon resiliency. The show has, for the great part of this season, failed to draw as strong a character and in that they have wasted Jeffrey DeMunn, an actor who deserved better playing a character that deserved more for an audience that could have used a stronger, more confident “Dale” instead of the whiny, meddlesome mess that he was shaped into.
DeMunn is electric tonight in what is his apparent last stand, a drowning Jiminy Cricket fighting like mad for Randal until the very last. The power of his argument and his performance, blowing on the remaining embers of a tired and beaten group to rise like a flame against the dark and monstrous, the inevitable and probably correct action that they are heading towards (executing Randal) makes for some of the best television I’ve seen recently. The scene in the farm house in particular, with Carl eager to launch into adulthood without a mind for the unanticipated consequences of eschewed youth, and the diverse flavor and level of everyone’s response is pitch perfect. Dale’s appeal to those too afraid to hear him and too tired to stand with him, and then the equal condemnation that he unleashes toward both sides rises above perfect though, it is his signature moment on the series, the apex of his frustration and his fear. Dale isn’t meant for this world, and we see his heart break through his eyes when he realizes it.
In the end, the end is the thing we’ll remember most, the shock, the anger we (and I) felt when we saw the writers throw away one of the better characters in the comic (and one of the most beloved on the show), and the changes set in motion by Dale’s death. Andrea, Carl, and Shane are sure to be the most affected by this in ways that will shape the rest of this season and the future of the show. Here are a few theories on that.
Andrea is the key here and she is also the hardest one to judge. Dale always looked out for her, something that spurred rebellion in her when he got too overbearing. Eventually she found Shane’s tilted view appealing and stood by him until last night. Andrea was a surprise defection to Dale’s side in the fight for Randal’s life, and while she was visibly shaken by his death, I don’t know what it does to her. If Dale had died because of Randal, or in a way that cast suspicions on Shane, her compass would be an easy read, without that she is still a mystery.
Carl is a broken kid in an adult world at this point and I’m curious to see where the guilt of Dale’s death takes him, curious to see where he stands at the end of this season and at the end of next. If you read the comics, you know that Carl becomes a frighteningly distant and tough kid along the way. His actions, which unintentionally cost Dale his life, will likely be the spark that sets those changes in motion.
With Rick’s head bowed yet again thanks to Carl’s eagerness to see his father kill Randal and Hershel clearly too wounded to stand up to anyone or for anything, the moment may be right for Shane to try and seize control. Who will stand against Shane? I think it could be Andrea, but eventually it is going to have to be Rick. One thing is crystal clear though, with Dale gone the last shard has been knocked loose, and anything can come in through that window now.