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[Warning: This story contains major spoilers from Sunday’s “Judge, Jury, Executioner“episode.]
After Rick and Shane finally agree on something — prisoner Randall poses a threat and should be whacked — Dale steps in as a voice of reason to fight for the group’s humanity on Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead.
After surveying the group and coming up short, despite wooing Andrea at the last minute, Dale learns that his efforts failed to make a difference in sparing Randall’s life. Meanwhile, Carl continues to further explore a dark path, baiting a zombie out of ankle-deep mud. The two stories converge when, at the end of episode, the same walker attacks Dale, forcing Daryl to step up and mercifully end the life of the group’s moral compass.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with executive producer Robert Kirkman, who created the comic book series on which the AMC drama is based, to discuss Sunday’s “Judge, Jury, Executioner” episode, what Dale’s death means for the group and how Carl and Daryl will respond their involvement in it.
The Hollywood Reporter: You killed Dale! Are you disappointed that you weren’t able to explore the romance between Dale and Andrea that was such a big part of the comic series?
Robert Kirkman: Not necessarily. I have talked many times how much I like the difference between the comics and the show. There are going to be big plot lines that we may not necessarily get to, like the romance between Dale and Andrea. If you think you really want to read that story line, that’s available in the comics, and I highly recommend you pick those up. The show is always going to be a different animal and the decision to kill Dale off was a big one and it wasn’t one that was made lightly.
Dale has become the moral center of the group and especially in this episode for him to be going around and saying, “Let’s retain our humanity,” he’s the last guy that’s preaching that at this point with Rick making the decisions he has been making of late. To lose this guy at this moment means so much for this group. It’s going to be such a monumental death that it’s going to affect things a great deal moving forward. It seemed like the right time and that to me, all the stories that are going to come out of this that people haven’t seen yet, are worth losing the Dale/Andrea relationship.
THR: How will not having Dale’s voice of reason affect them? Could Andrea potentially fill that role having stepped up late in the game to vote to spare Randall’s life?
Kirkman: Losing that role is very important. This is the time more than ever when they really need someone to stand there and say, “Hey, this is not the popular decision, but I’m still voicing this because it needs to be said.” They don’t have that. Now, we don’t know how they’re going to deal with Randall and we don’t know what they’re going to do as Rick and Shane continue to butt heads. They’ve lost a very important piece of their ensemble, and so they’re not going to be able to make the same decisions they would have made and that’s really going to affect the group as a whole. They are kind of in a bad place and we’re going to have to deal with that.
THR: With Dale and previously with Beth, you’ve had two different opportunities to introduce the popular theory that what Jenner whispered to Rick at the CDC is that everyone’s already infected. Might that be something that comes into play at some point?
Kirkman: Sure. Maybe. We’ll have to see (laughs).
THR: Why not introduce that theory now?
Kirkman: It’s definitely a mystery [how the apocalypse started]. There are a lot of things going on — like the comments made about the two dead police officers that didn’t have any bites on them that were visible. There’s something going on there. We’re learning at the pace that the characters are learning, so as we discover new things and figure different things out, they’re starting to get answers as to how the zombies come about and what exactly the rules are in this world. By the end of this season we’ll have some pretty good revelations that will clear a lot of things up for them. And we’re only two episodes away at this point.
THR: Carl was quick to realize that the walker he baited out of the mud was the one who attacked Dale. How will he respond?
Kirkman: The fun of this world is dealing with Carl. It’s one thing to have grown to adulthood in the world before and not have to deal with the indirect civilization and all the different things that are going on now, but to have never grown to adulthood and to not really have any kind of basis for realizing how screwed up things are — this is Carl’s normal. So while he did — to a certain extent — cause Dale’s death, how he deals with that is going to be very different than how someone would deal with that if they had not grown up in this world. We’re going to see him grow and change over time and twist and turn into something that may not be recognizable as what we perceive a child to be, which is really kind of cool.
THR: Shane trying to recruit Andrea to help him overthrow Rick. Is this just the seed for what we’re going to see going forward?
Kirkman: He’s definitely sowing discontent and he’s a little desperate because he does know that at this point the cat’s out of the bag: Rick is a good leader and everyone believes him to be so. Shane’s got more of an uphill battle than he did before, but he still thinks that he’s in the right. So yeah, he’s going to be scrambling and trying to figure things out a little bit and we’ll see some of that coming up.
THR: With Hershel giving Glenn his valued watch shortly after taking care of Beth, is he starting to let go and realize his time is limited?
Kirkman: I think that anybody in this situation would think their time is limited. Hershel knows he may not be as fast or as strong as everyone else. He sees the world closing in on him — his farm appeared to be a much more secluded place until recently — and now there’s the threat of Randall’s group laying on the horizon. There also seem to be more and more zombies creeping into the farm now that the mud area has frozen up so it’s more dangerous. He’s definitely concerned for his safety and everyone’s safety, but possibly more so his.
THR: This final moment with Daryl seems like something that you’ve been building up to for a long time. How will his new leadership be further explored? Was that mercy shot with Dale his closure for Sophia? Was this his way of processing her death in his own unique way?
Kirkman: It was a little bit of that. To a larger extent, this was him discovering his role in the group. When he was out there looking for Sophia, he was putting everything on the line and opening himself up in a way he had never done before because his childhood was so messed up and his relationship with his brother Merle was so complicated. So when he found out she was dead and in the barn all the time, that’s why he retreated and separated himself from the group. It was because he allowed himself to care and it just backfired on him in a big way. He didn’t want to be a part of the group and have those emotions and care about these people. So he’s been distancing himself from them up until this point, and now he’s seeing that these people need him and that he can fill a role and in being that harsh distant guy, you can do the things that no one else wants to do. He wants to step in and take that burden away from Rick for a moment. Rick is the one who stepped up and shot Sophia. Daryl saw that and because of his pain over the loss of Sophia he couldn’t do that. But when he sees Rick hesitate to do the same thing with Dale he knows: this is my moment, this is where I can prove my worth, and he steps in and does what he needs to do.
What did you think of “Judge, Jury, Executioner”? Did Dale’s death surprise you? How do you think the group will respond to his death in the two remaining Season 2 episodes? The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
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Representation in Hollywood
William Jackson Harper