After a pretty uneven latter half of the season, does The Walking Dead clock in a winner with its penultimate episode to what promises to be an explosive season finale?
Let’s bitch it out.
I can’t say the last handful of episodes of S3 have been the series’ strongest (with the exception of Clear), but throughout the dodgier episodes, we’ve gotten moments of brilliance. Overall, ‘This Sorrowful Life’ feels overly constructed and convenient, but despite that, we still get some truly effective moments and interesting character development that rescue the episode from being a complete dud.
This week it was all about what to do with Merle (Michael Rooker), which honestly has been a nagging question in the back of my mind for some time now. Clearly being unable to fit into either Team Woodbury or Team Grimes, where does that leave our one-armed racist? Answer: A suicide mission to take out as many Woodbury lackeys before the impending war, thereby redeeming himself for all of the a**hole things he did in the beginning of S3. But I don’t buy that Merle hatched this plan all along – the pieces just don’t seem to fit.
It all starts off at the beginning of the episode when Rick (Andrew Lincoln) decides that he’s indeed going to deliver Michonne (Danai Gurira) to the Governor (David Morrissey) for the chance that the Gov will leave Team Grimes alone. Rick tells Merle because he (inexplicably) needs Merle’s help in catching Michonne off guard. Merle accurately predicts that Rick doesn’t have the stomach to deliver Michonne to certain torture and death and decides to kidnap her on his own. And here’s where the head scratching begins. It’s clear that Merle knows that he doesn’t quite fit in at the prison, and he certainly can’t return to Woodbury, so what is his motivation for taking Michonne in the first place? If the plan was to take out The Governor & Co. at the rendezvous point, why does Michonne need to be in the mix at all? It’s puzzling and even more so when Merle releases Michonne just before heading off to his certain death.
I wonder if Michonne’s attempts to get through to Merle had anything to do with it. Throughout her capture, Michonne is eerily calm and despite her situation, doesn’t show a lick of animosity to either Rick or Merle for her predicament. It was clear that she knew on some level, Merle would not deliver her to the Governor. Considering their encounter in ‘Hounded‘, and the fact that he bludgeoned her and bound her with wire, it’s another head-scratcher as to why she isn’t foaming at the mouth in rage.
But the questionable character motivations are almost forgiven when the two share a moment in the car just before she’s released. It’s at this moment where we finally get a glimpse of a humanized Merle. He’s got 16 human deaths on his conscious and he’s very aware that he’s not accepted at either camp. Rooker delivers a very heartfelt “I can’t go back” before he promptly cuts Michonne’s restraints and tells her to head back to the prison because he’s ‘gotta do something’ on his own. It’s a wonderful little moment, and although it feels far too convenient, it gives Merle some much needed depth.
Next we see Merle downing a bottle of whiskey and psyching himself up for the Woodbury showdown. I believe it isn’t until this moment when he realizes it’s to the death. I can’t say that I feel Merle has been “redeemed’ in my eyes, but he became increasingly more interesting and sympathetic. I remember feeling much the same about Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) just before she ate it, never thinking it was possible to feel anything but contempt for these characters. As uneven as this episode was, I have to give kudos to The Walking Dead for that difficult task. Now if only they could do the same for Laurie Holden’s Andrea…
- Daryl’s encounter with walker-Merle is clearly one of those Walking Dead moments for the history books. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to see our trailer park prince run the gamut of emotions when he discovers his newly zombified brother.
- Reedus continues to tug at my heartstrings when he declares to Rick before heading out in pursuit of Merle that Rick is “family too”. *Swoon*
- In anticipation of the impending war, Glenn (Steven Yeun) proposes to Maggie (Lauren Cohan) in a beautifully picturesque scene as the sun rises over the prison. He simply puts the ring in her hand before she declares ‘Yes’, negating any overly sentimental sappiness. It wasn’t the most romantic of proposals but was quite fitting considering their situation.
- On that note, Glenn shows us that ring shopping is just as unpleasant in the zombie apocalypse as it is now.
- Many viewers likely groaned at Rick’s stupidity at initially deciding to give up Michonne, but I think it was essential that we see him go through the process of working out why it’s a bad idea. The culmination of that progress comes via an effective speech to the group declaring the end of the Ricktatorship. Although this essentially goes against everything we’ve seen in the entire third season, I think it’s a step in the right direction. Considering everything he’s gone through in S3, it’s believable that he’d come to this realization at this moment in time and gives him far more credibility as a leader.
- During Rick’s speech he declaratively states, “I’m not your governor”. It’s a bit obvious, but considering how we had just seen The Gov bite off two of Merle’s fingers moments before, it couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment.
What did you think Dead fans? Did you think Merle went down in a blaze of glory? Do you think Michonne will harbour some ill will toward Rick now that she’s returned? Will Maggie and Glenn make it to their wedding night? Sound off in our comments below.
A gentle reminder that we adhere to a SPOILER FREE zone here, so please keep any plot points from the graphic novels or online tidbits to yourself.
The Walking Dead airs at 9pm EST, Sundays on AMC.