Before I say anything, let me assert this is still one of my favorite shows on TV right now. It may not make my Top Ten, but the conceit's compelling, and it can surprise with some really good scenes.
I am hoping that this week's episode does not turn out to be a shark-jumping moment. Season 2's been uneven since AMC fired producer Frank Darabont after he delivered their highest-rated series in history. Season 2 has been all about Herschel's farm, and it could get tedious at times, but any problem I had with the first of the season was wiped away by that very powerful climactic scene where they open the barn and out stumbles Sophie the Walker.
The second half of the season has been well-plotted in my book. The dialogue's been pretty amateurish. It lurches back and forth like a screenwriter just trying to get us from Point A to Point B, like it was written the night before they filmed. I like Lori going all Lady Macbeth in her support of Rick, but her confrontation with Andrea was stilted and forced. But that's last week.
This week, the group has to decide what to do with Randall, and while it starts with Daryl torturing Randall, Norman Reedus did terrific work with his eyes absorbing Randall's story about the father and two girls. Shane keeps insisting Randall needs to just be killed, but Rick wanted to sleep on it. Well, he slept on it, and he agrees there's no way out. They need to kill Randall.
That doesn't sit well with Dale, the voice of reason in the group. He goes to each person to plead with them, to decide not to kill Randall. Jeffrey DeMunn's another acting MVP on this show, but the arguments Dale had weren't very persuasive, and most of the characters didn't go as deep as I would hope. Episodes like this are ones where the actors can really show off what they can do, if the writers give them the words.
The best scene in the episode had Carl. Yeah, he's getting more annoying, but when he goes down by the river and finds the zombie stuck in the bank... Just that scene of the zombie reaching and Carl sitting and watching, that was a nice scene.
If I ranked all the characters in order from the ones I want to live most to the least, Daryl and Dale would be my top two, and much of that goes to Reedus and DeMunn. After that, I'd say Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), then Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Carol (Melissa McBride), but many of the others are zombie-fodder waiting to happen. I keep forgetting that Patricia and Jimmy are even part of the show. T-Dog's barely there, so he's stuck in the limbo of "we don't want to kill off the black guy" and "we don't know what to write for him."
Then there's Shane (Jon Bernthal). I think Shane could be a really cool character, but it's irritating me how Bernthal plays him. Some scenes his accent's so thick, I expect him to start looking for a pig to make squeal. He has these actings crutches he can't seem to get rid of, like never looking at who he's talking to until he's finished his sentence. Part of me hopes Shane dies in the season finale, but part of me fears that with Shane gone, they'll ruin Daryl's character to fill that void of antagonist in the group.
Anyway, Dale can't seem to convince anyone in the group to side with him and spare Randall, until at the last moment Andrea agrees. And yet, I didn't believe Andrea was swayed. I loved how Dale's heart was breaking over what the world had become, and so he had to trot off alone.
So Rick, Shane and Daryl escort Randall to the barn to kill him, but as Rick holds the gun to Randall's head, Carl walks in. (Doesn't anyone watch that kid? He's the only kid left on the whole farm!) When Carl tells his dad to do it, that winds up being a more stinging rebuke than if Carl had asked Dad not to do it. Rick can't do it. Daryl's frustrated with Rick's lack of conviction, but he's not going to do it himself.
But remember that walker stuck in the bank that Carl watched? It got free and made its way to the farm, and it attacks Dale. The groups runs to him too late, with Dale's guts ripped out. Even if Herschel could put him back together, he'd surely just turn into a walker. Rick holds the gun to Dale's head, the second time today he's held a gun to a man's head. But Daryl takes the gun, and with a "Sorry, brother", fades us to black with a gunshot.
The show will miss Dale, miss that point-of-view, miss that veteran actor who can make others better. But now is the time for their world to get a whole lot worse.