Episode 15, “This Sorrowful Life,” opens with Rick seemingly condemning Michonne to a torturous death at the hands of the Governor in the hopes for an armistice with the Governor. Such a hard decision for Rick to make, and one I am surprised he did. Rick has always been the moral compass for the group, not willing to comprise his morality. He has always refused to sacrifice the one to save the many. Often Rick is criticized for his refusal to sacrifice for the benefit of the many, but in this situation I am certain with the way the Michonne’s character has been set up so far, even the most staunch haters of Rick would not agree with the decision to turn over Michonne. Yes, this seemed a very out of character decision for Rick to make, and I was also surprised at his decision.
While this episode begins as a test of Rick’s morality, I feel this episode is more so about Merle’s “destiny”. I say “destiny” because Merle has made it more of a self-fulfilling prophecy. As any Walking Dead viewer knows, Merle has seemed to almost purposefully set himself up to be the bad guy whenever he has been able to. In this episode, during his conversations with Rick, Daryl and Michonne, he acknowledges this, and seems to welcome it. He consistently refers to himself as the person who has to get his hands dirty or the person to take out the trash. Maybe because he LIKES to get his hands dirty, and being the bad guy gives him an excuse to do so.
Early in the episode, after Rick discusses the plan for detaining Michonne with Hershel and Daryl, he speaks to Merle about assisting with her “handling.” Merle sarcastically feels “honored” to be a part of the “inner circle,” but also informs Rick that he knows that Rick just needs him to handle the dirty work. They have an interesting exchange, showing the dichotomy of their two characters. Rick has a very interesting question for Merle, in which he says something to the effect of, “I know why I do the things I do, why do you do the things you do?” to which Merle replies, “I have no idea why I do the things I do.” It is a very thought provoking line, that really shows their moral differences. And shows that Merle is an unbalanced, unpredictable time bomb.
As I hoped (and both Merle, Daryl, 95% of the Walking Dead audience and I predicted), Rick is not able to go through with his plan to turn over Michonne (after he has another vision of Lori, which appears to be showing up as his conscience in this instance). Unfortunately around this same time, Merle is talking with Daryl, where Merle’s realization to his “destiny” is taking more shape. Their conversation further elaborates on Merle’s existence in this world, and what he believes his purpose is. He has defined himself as a pariah, only useful for handling the situations no one else can or will, a necessary evil in Merle’s eyes. Merle’s little speech was unusually deep for him, it was strange hearing such profound words and insights coming from his mouth. Almost to the point that we thought he had found the drugs and was high… It seemed very out of place.
After their conversation wraps up, Merle begins his “necessary evil,” and leads Michonne into the prison, where she is distracted by walkers, allowing Merle to incapacitate her. Merle begins to lead Michonne (who is tied with wire), to the Governor, to make the tradeout. While on their “Walkabout,” Michonne tries to reason with Merle, consistently telling him that they can turn back, and it isn’t too late to stop this. Merle will have none of it though, and is determined to fulfill his “destiny” as the figurative garbage man. The vibe that Merle is putting off seems to almost have righteous undertones.
Their journey continues, with Merle attempting to hotwire a car. This leads to a walker party, as the car alarm goes off, drawing a massive group of walkers (which Merle doesn’t seem to think would happen, as he only realizes the zombies are there when one attempts to tackle him in the car). Hasn’t everyone learned by now that loud noises attract walkers? With a little bit of suspense, Merle and Michonne (still tied up) are able to hold their ground and make it to the vehicle. Their conversations continue in the vehicle, with Michonne telling Merle yet again, that it isn’t too late to go back. At this moment, something seems to click in Merle’s head. He allows Michonne to leave, and we find that Merle has changed his plans. One question I could tell really ate away at Merle. “How many people did you kill before meeting the Governor?” Michonne asked. Merle replied none. This likely put a heavy toll on Merle, despite his selfish ways. It is one thing to screw someone over, but to take the killing of someone into your own hands is another, and under normal circumstances, Merle is probably not a killer. I do wonder why Merle changed his mind with Michonne though. Did he have a realization with his discussion with Michonne? Or was it more of a self realization that was eating at him all along? Maybe he was just sick of his life in the screwed up world they all lived in. I think it was the realization that he had never killed anyone before meeting the Governor, and knowing the Governor and what he is capable of doing to Michonne once he turns her over.
We see Merle in the car, and to his good fortune, he manages to find a bottle of whiskey and is enjoying some good ole Rock and Roll. At this moment, it feels as if he has given up on life, as he has allowed walkers to surround the car, and they are scratching and clawing their way in. It’s soon clear that he is actually creating a mini-walker horde, to which we can only assume is going to be used against The Governor in some way. After Merle has collected a good number of zombies, he jumps out of the car while its moving. This directs the zombies close to the Governor’s military force. Merle is then able to run into a building, takes aim and eliminates several men (including Ben accidentally, Allen’s son). Unfortunately Merle is unable to completely eliminate the force, as a zombie surprises Merle, which leads to Merle falling outside, and through a brief struggle, the Governor shoots Merle in the chest (after chewing off two of his fingers, gross). Yeah, ew, was that really necessary? I guess they’re showing us just how unstable the Governor really is. But wow, what a great plan that Merle came up with, and while he was drunk too! Seems a little too clever for even a sober Merle though. He did a pretty good job shooting though, and almost even got the Governor. But we knew the Governor wouldn’t be taken down that easily. And why does Merle keep forgetting that zombies are attracted to loud noises??
It is hard to define how I feel about Merle’s death up to this point. The entirety of the show has him as a selfish man, serving only himself and occasionally his brother. Parts of me has wanted him dead for a long time. He is a racist, chauvinist, and all around jerk. As a plot device for the show however, he works really well, putting tension within the group, as he had done early in the show, and as Shane did when he was still alive. I feel like it’s a case of too little, too late. Sure, we get to see another side of Merle in this episode, and he sort of redeems himself, but I feel like the path to redemption for him would take longer than just this one episode. It’s a shame he had to die before he could fully redeem himself, because to me it would take a lot more than just this last ditch effort for me to forgive all the bad things he’s done up to this point.
Prior to Merle’s death, Daryl tells Rick he is going to go after Merle, after they discover Merle has continued with the plan to turn in Michonne. As we know, Daryl is too late, and Daryl is broken when he discovers zombie Merle. It was a very touching scene. No matter how much of a bad guy Merle was, he was still Daryl’s brother, and you really feel for Daryl, as he has changed into a character that everyone cares about (I’m fairly certain that if Daryl died all of the women and half of the men would riot). Eh, not me. I don’t feel so strongly about Daryl as it seems so many others do. As Daryl dispatches his brother rather graphically, we can see mixed emotions that are flooding him–anger probably for how much of a jerk Merle was, and sadness because he was still his brother. It was so sad to see Daryl suffering seeing his brother as a walker, but at the same time I was thinking that Merle kind of got what he deserved.
There are a few other important aspects of this episode that I want to touch on before wrapping up. The engagement of Glen and Maggie was rather touching. Many people have criticized it as boring; however, in a zombie apocalypse, where death looms every day, over-the-top gestures of romantic weddings seem out of place. The simple hand off of the ring was satisfying enough for me, as they both know what it means to each other. Finally, Rick has his speech, in which he comes clean to the group about his plans for Michonne, and explains how he was wrong. He additionally repeals the (aptly coined by Chris Hardwick),”Ricktatorship”. The speech is compelling, as it shows Rick’s morality is still intact and he has disallowed himself to become jaded and corrupt as the Governor is. As Rick points out, they are the great good. The way Glen was hyping it up, going to Hershel for his blessing, I was expecting something a little more than that. When it happened it was kind of like, That’s it? Even in a Zombie Apocalypse, I would expect something a little more than that.
As for the season finale, what will happen? It is shaping up to be an exciting ending to the season. I think that we will see more of the prison group die, unfortunately. Specifically I think Beth may die, and Hershel. I also think that Andrea is going to meet her end as well. The Governor may meet his end, but I think the prison group will still have to leave the prison as Martinez takes over and pursues them. I also think that Tyrese and Sasha will join Rick as they get out of dodge. We will find out in a week though! That’s quite a lot of deaths! I’m not sure that all those people will die, but the Governor will die for sure, he has to!