It was an episode light on zombie encounters, but one proved to be all that was needed to tear the heart and soul from the ragtag band of survivors on "The Walking Dead" (Sun., 9 p.m. EST on AMC). While the group wrestled with what to do about Randall, their captive from the deadly group of marauders encountered in town, there was a lot of work going into trying to keep Carl out of it.
While he still managed to have a presence in virtually every moment, he was also left unattended more than he should have been. He wandered through Daryl's camp, picking up a gun along the way, and went into the woods alone. Chandler Riggs has been playing the role of Carl very quietly, leaving a lot of question as to what's going on in his mind and how this harsh new reality is affecting his growth and emotional development. In fact, it was Carl in the closing moments who decided Randall's fate in a way.
His youthful foolishness impacted Dale as well when he encountered a walker in the woods. After discovering that the zombie's feet were stuck in the mud and it couldn't free itself, Carl began to throw rocks at it and creep ever closer. Only the closer he got, the harder it pulled toward him, until finally it freed one foot from the muck. Carl left it there, but didn't say anything to anyone. He should have either killed it himself, or had someone else do it.
As the consensus became for the group to kill Randall, Dale spent much of the episode as the lone voice of dissent, speaking passionately about the importance of hanging onto humanity and civility in these harsh times. But the sentence was passed because they feared the kid might bring his band to the farm and do to them what he admitted they'd done to a father and his teen daughters.
Only, it was Carl's timely arrival and cold-hearted insistence that Rick kill Randall that decided it. If Carl was on the verge of that kind of hardness, there has to be another way. So Randall's life was spared. But Dale didn't know, wandering off into the pasture. There he stumbled on a cow gutted and dying in the field, and a moment later he was attacked by the very zombie Carl had taunted.
It ripped his stomach open, leaving Daryl no recourse but to put him out of his misery. Upon recognizing the zombie, Carl buried himself in his mother's arms, but no amount of tears will wipe the guilt from his mind. Will he reveal the truth, or carry the guilt as his burden alone?
Fans of the comic series were likely stunned by this turn of events, as Dale's story definitely didn't end on the farm in that saga. It's just further proof that the television of "The Walking Dead" is building another world. But without Dale, where will the group find its conscience?
Catch new episodes of "The Walking Dead" Sundays at 9 p.m. EST on AMC.