“I can’t…GO BACK. Don’t you understand that. I can’t” — Merle Dixon
[some spoilers within]
We are now in the penultimate episode before The Walking Dead reaches it’s season finale on March 31. Last week we saw preparations and turmoil inside Woodbury as the Governor has to deal with Andrea finally making the decision to pick Rick and her friends at the prison as her side in the coming conflict. He also has to deal with a potential traitor within his own inner circle. The episode was good in certain aspects, but also did nothing to move the story along. It was an episode that definitely put some viewers into wondering if the season had enough gas to make it to the promised explosive end.
“This Sorrowful Life” switches things over to the prison with Rick having made the decision to sacrifice Michonne to the Governor if it means a chance at avoiding the conflict he knows he and his people has a good chance of losing. He knows the numbers and firepower are against him. While he and his people may be more seasoned and veterans of being on the road killing zombies as a team it won’t be enough against a force that could afford a battle of attrition. It’s a decision that Rick’s inner circle doesn’t agree with (Hershel and Daryl), but they’re willing to support his decision as they have in the past. Rick has kept them alive this long and has earned their trust even if it’s a choice that goes against everything they believe in.
Tonight’s episode is another one that focuses on the choices the survivors in this zombie apocalyptic world have had to make and continue to make to survive another day, week and, the fates willing, another month. It’s also an episode that uses the dark horse in Rick’s group to highlight just how the choices people have made in this new world has changed people and most of it not for the good. I would like to think that tonight’s episode was an exploration of what made Merle Dixon such a character full of contradictions.
Merle Dixon was introduced way over in episode 2 of the first season and he came across as a cartoonish, one-note racist redneck who the audience were suppose to love to hate. But something changed in the time from his last appearance in season 1 and to his reappearance this season. That change wasn’t anything done by the character but how his younger brother, Daryl Dixon, viewed him and how this helped audiences want to learn and know more about a character who seemed to have earned Daryl’s undying trust and love.
We get some side stories in tonight’s episode with Glenn asking Hershel for Maggie’s hand in marriage and then Maggie in turn accepting his offer. We also see Rick finally realizing his error in judgement in trying to use Michonne as a sacrificial offering to the Governor. While this latter was brought on by another hallucinatory episode of him seeing Lori it happens for the briefest of moment. Unfortunately, this change of heart from Rick comes a little too late to stop Merle from going through on the plan to hand over Michonne.
Again we get back to Merle. A character hated by most everyone in the prison outside of his brother (who I believe also harbors somoe fraternal hate for the man even if just a little), but one they want to have on their side even if it means to do the dirty work. Rick knows this which is why he picked him instead of the younger Dixon to fool, capture and bring Michonne to the Governor. Everyone understands that choosing Merle to stay with them was one of necessity and not one born out of the goodness of their own hearts. Even Daryl knows this and even when he tries to convince his older brother to be more amenable towards Rick and the others it comes off as hollow. Daryl knows his brother and trying to change the man now after what he had to go through after season 1 would be a monumental, if not, an impossible task. This is why Merle decision to go on a mission of redemption was such a suprising twist to the episode, if not, the character himself.
It was some great writing by the upcoming season 4’s newest showrunner in Scott M. Gimple in tonight’s episode. We didn’t get a huge dose of exposition from the main leads and the one that we get finally resets the decision Rick made at the end of season 2. The Ricktatorship is now over. It was good and necessary when they were out, alone and desperate after leaving the farm, but now that everyone has learned the skills to survive it was time to rescind the writ of dictator and bring the group back to being a democracy, albeit one that’s now smaller than before.
Gimple also does a great job in making Merle one of the most tragic characters on the show. While Merle may have begun as a cartoonish, racist buffoon he went out a character that we were finally able to understand. He knew his faults and didn’t apologize for them. It was his love for his brother that kept him from going over the edge the way that the Governor has and we see it in his decision to take on Woodbury by himself.
Yet, for all the great writing Gimple did for tonight’s episode (which could be why he was chosen to be the show’s new leader after Mazzara’s exit everything hinged on whether Michael Rooker would be able to put on a performance worthy of tonight’s script. To say that Rooker hit it out of the park would be an understatement. There so much subtle hints in his performance that gave us a peek inside his gruff, outsider attitude towards everyone not named Daryl Dixon. His resigned acceptance at his new role in this new world as the man willing to do the dirty work for others. Be the bad guy so others can remain untainted with having to do the right, but immoral decisions. Rooker kept tonight’s episode from just being another good, but still throwaway until the season finale to one of the best in the show’s life, so far.
It goes to show how much potential this show has to be great. To go beyond it’s horror and grindhouse foundations. We saw it just a few episodes back with the Morgan-centric episode and we saw it even earlier with the episode where Lori redeems herself and exits the show on a high note. When it comes down to it the show shines when it balances all the horror and action with some deep character exploration. It’s a shame that Rooker has to leave the show to make this point, but he did leave it the only way he could and that’s to redeem the character of Merle. To give Merle the chance to choose for himself what he wanted to do and not have others (whether it was the Governor or Rick or even Daryl) dictate what he should or should not be doing. In the end, Merle chose for the love of his baby brother and while the end result would bring heartache and loss to the only person he loved it was his choice and he made it himself.
“This Sorrowful Life” goes down as another major highlight in The Walking Dead and finally lays down the final piece to what looks like an ending that will be another shift in the show’s cast of characters. Whether everyone makes it out alive after the season finale we as the audience will have to wait another week to find out.
- Tonight’s episode, “This Sorrowful Life”, was directed by Greg Nicotero and written by next season’s showrunner Scott M. Gimple.
- The episode’s title comes from the 6th volume of the comic book the show is based on. It was also the volume that dealt with the Governor’s final assault on the prison.
- I think having Merle become so prominent a character in tonight’s episode should’ve been a clue that his time was numbered.
- Tonight’s episode was quite a redemptory one for Merle and once again showed how far gone the Governor has towards the darkside.
- Michonne really got Merle to a “T” and he knows it which seem to trigger the decision he made to let her go and attempt a mission to help out Daryl (it always comes down to his baby brother) and the people in the prison.
- nice little interlude between Hershel and Glenn and then Glenn and Maggie. It’s one of the few things on this show that doesn’t involve death, violence and zombies and it’s a welcoming respite.
- Like the character or not, Merle definitely has found himself the most useful person in this new world. It’s no wonder the Governor kept him on as one he trusted (to a point) and why Hershel and Rick was willing to take him back despite what he did to both Glenn and Maggie.
- Just call Merle Dixon the Pied Piper of Zombies.
- I think he should’ve taken a bit more time and attracted a bigger herd back to Woodbury.
- Merle, even one-handed, sure caused a lot of damage against the Governor’s men. Makes one wonder how much more effective he would’ve been on his one-man mission if he had both hands to work with.
- Greg Nicotero puts in another easter egg in tonight’s episode straight from the original Dawn of the Dead with the bald zombie in the red flannel shirt. The zombie approaches Merle while he’s in the car with the music blaring.
- Ben, we hardly knew you, but what we did know tells us you were a douchebag like you father Allen. I don’t think many people was going to shed a tear for this character’s demise tonight.
- Not just killed by Merle but also became a meal in a scene that was horrific and sad.
- The Governor has done gone past the darkside and into something worse.
- Fight between Merle and the Governor as brutal as the one between Michonne and the Governor. Just goes to show just how primal fighters get when it comes to taking on someone they hate very much.
- I felt a great disturbance in The Walking Dead fandom, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in anguish.
- Another great episode of work from Greg Nicotero (both as director and special effects man) and his FX magicians over at KNB EFX.
- Zombie Kill Count of tonight’s episode: 26 onscreen.
Past Season 3 Episode Review
- Episode 1: “Seed”
- Episode 2: “Sick”
- Episode 3: “Walk With Me”
- Episode 4: “Killer Within”
- Episode 5: “Say the Word”
- Episode 6: “Hounded”
- Episode 7: “When the Dead Come Knocking”
- Episode 8: “Made to Suffer”
- Episode 9: “The Suicide King”
- Episode 10: “Home”
- Episode 11: “I Ain’t a Judas”
- Episode 12: “Clear”
- Episode 13: “Arrow on the Doorpost”
- Episode 14: “Prey”