The Walking Dead - 18 Miles Out & Judge, Jury and Executioner

Finally, an excellent episode of The Walking Dead appears in Season 2's "18 Miles Out." Gone, at least for one week, are the drawn out aimless conversations, and thankfully, Dale. He doesn't die or anything, but he is happily out of the picture for one week, along with Glenn, Daryl and Hershel. "18 Miles Out" focuses on Rick and Shane, for the most part, with a solid B-story about Andrea and Lori's growing conflict, and some stuff with Maggie and her just-named-clearly-last-episode sister Beth. Parts, as usual, are a little overwrought, but generally the writing feels more tight and the conversations aren't always about what they're about. First, the good:

-Rick and Shane's conversation on the road where Rick lays down the law on Shane's obsession with being the leader and his "love" for Lori and Carl. The key to it is the small talk Rick makes about winter, and hoping that the walkers won't survive the cold temperatures. He's always the optimist.

- The prolonged, pleasantly gory battle with the walkers at the police station. Quality violence, first with Rick and Shane duking it out, then with a "surprise" attack by the undead.

- Rick's handling of their captive, the kid from the other group, who they may need to kill. Rick admits that he may have to do the boy in, but holds strong to it.

- Andrea's assertion, confident, that Beth's "attempted suicide" is actually her choosing to live. It's true and it's frightening as a piece of foreshadowing, especially if one of the group chooses to take their own life in the coming episode. Always an option.

"18 Miles Out" does its good things with subtly and a lot of horror violence. Instead of trying to inject depth and philosophy where it need not be, we get people acting on instinct and motivations that make clear sense while never getting schmaltzy. The bad, though, comes with yet more infighting. I get that we're allowed a breather because these people are under extreme circumstances where they have none. But, sometime, it'd be great to see these characters so busy surviving that they can't bitch to each other. Rick returning for Shane, despite the feeling that he shouldn't is one of those things. Rick's a good guy. He's THE good guy. But he's also listening to Shane. He didn't say it, but you saw it. It was reflected in the shootout in the bar, and it arises again here. Now, if the writers could just embrace the rest of the roster, especially the women, to allow them to do things other than fuck up and wait for Shane or Rick's rescue.

With "Judge, Jury & Executioner" things take a very clearly Lord of the Flies-ian turn. It's an episode that deals exclusively with the decaying, dying humanity of the group. As Rick and Shane, and the others debate killing the kid from the other group, still their prisoner, Dale spends the episode trying to change minds. He is the Piggy character, from Golding's novel, in this episode. In a way, he always has been, despite being a whiner, Dale was the last bastion of society as it was. While the others, even Hershel, have lost their hope for a rebirth of normal American life, Dale holds strong to the ideas of equality, safety, and the value of human life. So, Dale marches the camp, even talking to Shane, trying to convince each of the others that killing another person would turn them into the evil that surrounds them. His argument is fairly pat. The idea that society teeters on our participation, our choice to participate, is not new or novel, but it's pertinent here.

Meanwhile, there is debate about the value of a human life. And Glenn even receives Hershel's blessing to continue loving, and whatever else may happen, Maggie. It's the only small bright spot, with a minor story of redemption and acceptance. Hershel's somewhat below the radar racism is gone in an instant. But, the main B-story is Carl. Carl is listening to Shane and to his old man. He's turning cold-blooded too. He's losing his sense of society. And as the only kid left in the group, he's most prone to completely forgetting what humanity was. And it is a was. Carl is stuck because he's growing up fast, but he doesn't have the norms, mores and structure that the others had at his age. He's prone to becoming wild. It's one thing for a man, like Shane or Daryl, to choose evil over good. But Carl, well, he's not really getting a choice. Evil is all around and as it seeps into the group, he's most susceptible.

Carl talks back to Carol. Carl thinks Heaven is stupid, and he's probably right, but it's an indication that his innocence is going. Then Carl ventures into the woods alone and finds a zombie stuck in the muddy ground. Carl is afraid, but when he realizes that the beast is trapped, he becomes brave and throws rocks at it. It's another Golding-esque moment, this time recalling the boys throwing rocks at Simon. There are no rules. Nothing is sacred when the world is gone. So Carl throws rocks and finally decides to try shooting the zombie himself. He fails, and loses his gun, but he gets away. The consequences of his actions are not clear, and seem like they could just wash away as the walker remains half trapped in the mud. But, of course, something terrible happens.

In some of the most effective horror and drama in the series, Dale, fresh off trying to convince the group to value human life, wanders into the fields and finds a steer that was gutted, spilling viscera everywhere. He turns and is attacked by the same walker that Carl did not put down. At first it seems like he might fend the beast off, but then the zombie tears Dale open, mirroring the cow to the slaughter in the previous frames, and Dale is left alive, but too near death to heal. When the group gets there, and no Rick couldn't kill the kid from the other group, they find their voice of reason, like Piggy shattered against the rocks, near death. Hershel can do nothing. So Rick takes up arms to put Dale out of his misery. He can't do it. But Daryl can. "Sorry, brother." Fade to black. BLAM.

"Judge, Jury & Executioner" redeems this season in large part. The writing is getting tighter. And the themes more poignant and real. Losing Dale here is a big blow. For one, the group has no voice of reason. Though, it seems Rick might take up the mantle now, having been unable to take the mercy shot. But, for two, Dale was the closest thing they had to an elder statesman. He wasn't always written well, but he meant a lot. Good job, The Walking Dead. You pluck some heartstrings with this one.

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