After Norman Reedus told The Huffington Post this week that the remaining three episodes of The Walking Dead's second season on AMC would be full of violence and mayhem, this week's episode took on a whole new significance. Seeing those clips of Carl wandering the woods like an idiot (or his mother) can spook a guy who just saw Sophia take the big dirt nap in spite of her protected status in the comics. So it's probably safe to assume all you readers feel the same way and that I shouldn't blather on and keep you in suspense...!
As always, remember that these recaps are intended for viewers who have already seen the episode, or for whom spoilers are a non-issue. SPOILERS ON.
The episode opens in the barn, with Daryl beating Randall, who is bound to a chair, and interrogating him. After terrorizing Randall's leg with his knife, he reveals that there's a group of about thirty men, women and children who scavenge and victimize other survivors, raping women and beating men. He insists he's nothing like them, but it doesn't stop Daryl from continuing the beating.
Around the campfire, the group is discussing their plans, and Rick tells them that they'll know what to do with Randall soon enough. Hearing from Daryl what Randall has to say, Rick determines that it's necessary to kill him. Dale chases after him as he walks away, pleading with Rick to give him time to win the group over and convince them not to kill him. He tells Rick that Carl deserves better than the lesson that's taught by just killing someone without a process, and Rick tells him that he has until sunset to convince the group.
Dale asks Andrea to watch over Randall and protect him from Shane, trying to convince her that even if the world has gone to hell, it's their responsibility to safeguard their own humanity and values. Despite the fact that she, too, wants to see Randall gone she agrees to watch him. As she stands outside the barn, Randall asks her if the group is going to kill him. When she doesn't respond, his attention is drawn to Carl and Shane, who are talking on the other side of the barn.
Shane, seeing Andrea outside the barn, confronts her about siding with Dale. He suggests to her that they need to overthrow Rick and Hershel, and while he pitches his plan to Andrea, Randall is listening. Inside the barn, Carl is standing in the rafters, watching Randall. He tries to talk to Carl as though he were a normal kid, bur Carl remains silent and creeps down face to the prisoner's level. As Randall pleads with Carl to help him escape, Shane hears the conversation. He and Andrea run inside, kick Carl out of the barn and menace Randall with their guns until Shane gets out of hand and Andrea breaks the whole thing up. Shane agrees not to tell Rick and Lori about the infraction, but tells Carl to stop putting himself in harm's way.
Dale approaches Daryl at his campsite on the edge of the woods, asking for help in persuading the group (notably Carol) to help save Randall's life. Daryl claims that he doesn't care about the group, but Dale doesn't believe it--and even tries to sell Daryl on the idea that if he's truly indifferent then he should side with Dale anyway. He tells Daryl that torture isn't like him--that he's a decent person and that it's Shane who is infecting the group. Daryl responds that the group is fundamentally broken--that Shane's story about Otis was flimsy at best and that if Rick didn't see it then it's because he was unwilling to see it.
While Carl kicks around a bullet casing, Rick is in a hayloft, setting up a noose to hang Randall, when Lori approaches him about asking Hershel to be allowed inside for the winter ahead. It's implied that Lori objected to the death penalty before everything changed, but now she just tells Rick when he asks for her input that she agrees with whatever he thinks is right.
Outside, Carol approaches Carl and begins trying to console him with spirituality, telling him that Sophia is in Heaven and they'll see her someday. Carl tells her that she's foolish for believing in that, and storms off--then she confronts Rick and Lori; while she stands and rants at Lori, Rick heads off to follow Carl and tell him "Don't talk, think," and that he owes Carol an apology for acting insensitively. "You made a mistake," he tells Carl. "Fix it." Carl asks him if that's what he's doing by executing Randall, and Rick tells him it's none of his concern.
Dale approaches Hershel for help with the Randall situation and Hershel tells Dale that he simply doesn't want to know about what's going on in the camp. He says that he leaves the decision with Rick, and that he's unwilling to talk to Randall or hear what anyone has to say on the matter.
On the edge of the woods, Carl stumbles upon Daryl's motorcycle and pack, takes the gun from the pack and walks off into the treeline. In the woods, he finds his way to the creekbed, where he hears a walker. Stuck in the mud on the banks, the walker is lethargic and frustrated that he can't make his way toward Carl. Carl, meanwhile, perches on the other side of the banks, transfixed by the strange and gruesome (but not particularly threatening) sight.
As Shane packs a jack and some extra ammunition into his trunk, Dale approaches him at the car and tells him that he wants to change his mind about Randall. He tells Shane that killing Randall doesn't change the fact that there are thirty other survivors at his camp, but it does change them for killing him. Shane, in turn, tells him that if he can convince the rest of the group to save Randall that he won't object, but that when Randall eventually kills someone, that blood is on Dale's hands.
Inside the farmhouse, Hershel is sitting at Beth's bedside when Glenn comes to check in on her. As Glenn leaves, Hershel follows him out of the bedroom and asks him where his family comes from. Glenn tells him that he's Korean, and Hershel tells him that his family is from Ireland. Immigrants built this country, he tells Glenn, and he tells him the story of a pocketwatch he was given by his father. He tells Glenn that in the heat of the battle at the bar, he decided that Glenn was good enough for Maggie, and he offers Glenn the watch, telling him to go on outside before he changes his mind.
On the porch outside, Rick and Lori are talking about the choice that's fast approaching as sunset nears. Rick tells her that he has to be the one to pull the trigger--that Shane or someone else more willing would send the wrong message to the group--and he tells her that this is the right call, and that he can sense she's not convinced but that he has to keep the group safe.
Back at the creekbed, the roamer is still trying to catch Carl, who runs circles around him, getting closer and closer until he draws the gun. Powered by bloodlust, the walker finally gets one foot free of the mud, grabbing Carl around the ankles after the boy drops his gun in the mud. Carl makes an escape, but without the gun and without dispatching the walker.
Back at the campsite, Carl arrives just as the group is gathering to decide Randall's fate. Lori sends him to hang out with Jimmy, but he wants to be in the room and tries to--nobody will talk while he's there, though, and he moves on. Dale tries to belittle the proceedings out of the gate, but Rick tells him that if anyone has objections, he wants to hear them. Dale tells him that "it's a small group--probably just me and Glenn," but Glenn tells him as nicely as possible that he can't stand with Dale on this. Randall isn't part of the group, and he's tired of losing people.
Maggie asks if there's a way to keep him alive, maybe as a working member of the group who can be watched at all times. As the group seems to be softening to the idea, Shane says posits the possibility that if Randall were allowed to join the group, he could become a serious danger because once he was friendly with some of the members, their guard could be lowered and he could sneak off to his friends. Dale tells him that the death penalty for a crime that hasn't yet and may never be committed is a crazy proposition.
The discussion moves quickly to how Randall would be executed if they were to decide to do it but as the group gets hung up in the particulars Dale once again insists that it's not yet decided and that it's wrong to kill someone because you can't figure out what else to do with them. He poses the question that if they do this, how are they any better than the people they're scared of.
As the conversation descends into a screaming match, Carol tries to break it up by telling Dale and Rick that one of them just needs to make the decision without the group, but she's shouted down by everybody and ultimately Rick opens the floor for one more time before the group votes. Dale once again pleads with the group by way of an impassioned speech and manages to win over Andrea; after her concession, nobody else comes forward, leading Dale to storm out, echoing Daryl's earlier comments about the group being broken.
Moments later, Randall is led to the barn by Rick, Shane and Daryl, who blindfold him and stand him before Rick. As he begs for his life, Rick asks him if he'd like to stand or kneel and when he doesn't respond, Merle knocks him to his knees. Given the opportunity for last words, Randall just continues to beg them not to pull the trigger. Rick cocks the gun but is interrupted when Carl comes to the door. After his son tells him to pull the trigger, Shane takes Carl by the arm and escorts him out and Rick's unable to follow through with the execution. Telling the others to take Randall away, Rick turns silently to Carl and the pair walk back to the campsite to report to the group that they'll keep Randall in custody for now. In the tense silence around the campfire, Lori tells Rick that it's okay that he couldn't kill Randall with Carl watching.
Dale, meanwhile, makes his way out to the treeline, where he hears groans and draws his rifle. It's a cow, one of Hershel's which had been referenced as having broken through the fence earlier in the episode, and it's been eviscerated. As he's staring, captivated, at the corpse, the walker that Carl had encountered earlier jumps him and tears his belly open with his bare hands. The group manages to kill the walker before it can bite Dale, but it doesn't matter--when Hershel arrives a few minutes later he tells them that there's nothing he can do in the field and that Dale wouldn't survive the trip back to the farm for medical care.
As Rick prepares to put Dale out of his misery, Carl sees that the walker who killed his friend is the one he inadvertently freed and probably led back to the farm, and breaks down crying on Lori. When Rick has a hard time pulling the trigger, Daryl takes his gun and shoots Dale in the head; in the moments before, a smile creeps across Dale's face--likely a feeling of vindication that he was right about Daryl actually caring about the group.