Monday, March 25, 2013

Review: The Walking Dead "This Sorrowful Life"

Non Spoiler Review:
This Sorrowful Life sees Rick dealing with the Governor's looming deadline, as he enlists Daryl and Merle's aid in capturing Michonne to hand over to Woodbury. While Rick soul searches, Merle takes matters into his own hands. With their survival up in the air, Glen makes a decision about Maggie.

This was a surprising little gem on the eve of the season finale, providing some twists and great character moments. After a Woodbury-focused episode, things shift back to the prison and on Merle as he struggles with adapting to life among his brother's family.

Michonne continues to evolve, this time sharing the focus with the Dixon brothers. Aside from the riveting drama, there were some novel zombie kills and innovative ways of using them, making for a fun and surprisingly poignant ending.

Spoilers Now!
Rick has brought Daryl into his conspiracy with Hershel to hand over Michonne. Daryl and Hershel both think it's treacherous, but Rick feels it's the only way to avoid a fight, and wants to enlist Merle's aid, too. He goes to talk to him, finding Merle tearing open a mattress in search of hidden drugs, but with no luck.

Rick needs his help and explains the Governor's offer. Merle says if he gives Michonne over to him the Governor isn't going to kill her, but slowly torture her for his pleasure, and if Rick allows that he's as cold as ice. But they'll need wire, he suggests, so Michonne can't chew through it. 

As they plan for an assault, Michonne suggests they don't have to win, just make it more trouble than it's worth for the Governor to attack. As Carol sees to the baby, she asks Merle if he's with them. As usual he replies that he's with his brother, but he notices she's not scared of things like she was in the camp. She comments she's a late bloomer, perhaps like him.

Daryl addresses the tension with Glen, explaining his brother is sorry for what he's done and he'll make it right, even if Daryl has to force him. Glen can accept what he did to him, but not what he did to Maggie. Daryl finds his brother looking for drugs and learns Rick has spoken with him already, but Merle doesn't think Rick has the stomach for it. Merle chides his brother that he needs to grow up, while his people look at him like he's the devil. But now Rick wants to do the same thing Merle did. Daryl just wants his brother back. 

Rick gathers up wire but is having difficulty with his task and sees Lori again. Hershel is about to confront Rick but he admits he can't go through with it anyway. Unfortunately Merle has already brought Michonne down into the corridors to clear out walkers and instead knocks her out and drags her into a cell, tying her up. He makes off with her from the prison, explaining about the Governor's offer to Rick. He got it done while Rick wouldn't have gone through with it. He figures he's there to do their dirty work for them just as he did in Woodbury.

Rick advises Daryl the plan is off but can't find Merle and Michonne anywhere. Daryl takes Rick to the room where he and Merle last talked, finding evidence that he took Michonne. Daryl goes off in search, promising to come back to them. 

Merle confesses he killed sixteen men since reaching Woodbury. Michonne points out a truly evil person wouldn't feel the weight of what they've done. They arrive at a motel and he ties her to a post while he scavenges for a working vehicle. He hot wires a car but sets off the alarm, drawing a multitude of walkers. Michonne calls him to set her loose but he's too busy trying to shut it off. She fights them off as Merle gets attacked in the car. Merle cuts her free and the two drive off. 

Glen confides in Hershel about his problem forgiving Merle. He wants to marry Maggie given their uncertain future, and Hershel gives his blessing. Glen peruses the fence searching for a walker with a wedding ring and cuts it off.

On the drive, Michonne reiterates that Merle is just around to do other people's dirty work, whereas Rick needs and respects his brother, and never asked Daryl to do the job. This could have been his new beginning, she says, but he chose to stay on the outside. No one will mourn him, not even his brother, who has a new family. Once the Governor is done with her she at least won't have to live with herself.

She asks if he ever killed anyone before the apocalypse before he met the Governor. Merle says no. She wants to know why he would continue to kill for him. They can just go back, she suggests, but Merle confesses he can't. Troubled, he stops the car and cuts her bonds. He tells her to go back with Daryl and be ready for what's next. He has something he's got to do on his own. He gives her her sword back and drives off without her. 

Daryl finds Michonne, asking where his brother is. She explains he let her go, so he runs off in search of him. Merle is parked in his car by a bar, with the music loud to draw a crowd or roamers around him as he downs some whiskey. He slowly drives ahead allowing them to follow to the farm where Rick and the Governor met, then dives out and heads into the shed as the large horde lumbers along after the car.

The Governor's men are outside waiting, alerted to the music and go to investigate. Merle watches from inside while Martinez and his men start killing the walkers. Merle beings picking off the Governor's men during the commotion, but Martinez notices the additional gunshots. Merle has the Governor in his sights when he's attacked by a biter, leading Martinez to find him. Merle gets pulled down and beaten up, then the Governor drags him inside to a brutal fight where he bites off Merle's fingers. Merle won't beg. The Governor says no, and shoots him.

Glen takes a moment and puts the ring in Maggie's hand. She says yes. They join the group as Rick has called a meeting. He comes clean about the Governor's true offer and confesses he has changed his mind. But Merle has taken Michonne and he doesn't know if it's too late. He was wrong not to tell them and apologizes. He declares it can't be his dictatorship anymore. They are the greater good, how they live and how they die. He's not their governor and they stick together. He wants to vote on their next course of action and leaves them to discuss. From the lookout tower he sees Michonne returning. 

Daryl arrives at the farm and finds some of the roamers feeding on the dead. One of them is Merle and he raises his head to him. Daryl breaks down as he rises and comes towards him. He pushes his brother away and finally puts an end to him, stabbing his face repeatedly. 

The Verdict:
An alternate title would be the Redemption of Merle Dixon. The series did a decent job diverting expectations, as I was beginning to get used to the idea of Merle integrating with the prison group, so his death ended up being a surprise. But the combined forces of Daryl, Carol, Rick and Michonne seems to have made an impact and forced him into an epiphany that he was never going to fit in.

Who better than to play off Merle than Michonne? Their car ride made for some great scenes and a heartfelt moment when he set her free. It wouldn't have worked with any other characters except these two.

It's unfortunate his plan didn't produce better results. The Governor must seriously be on his sixth or seventh life by now. During their fight I was expecting Merle might inflict some additional maiming before getting killed, but again, our Governor managed to escape unscathed.

Need I mention the closing scene, which was easily one of Daryl's best. But the direction in focusing on Merle's eyes was just as important in creating an effective final moment between the Dixon brothers (and kind of reminiscent of the bicycle girl from the first episode in humanizing the zombies).

On another note, I never realized until watching the Talking Dead that one of Merle's victims was Ben, and he was apparently chowing down on him in the final scene. That leaves Allan out for blood next week, I guess (and not long for this world either).

Of all the scenes in This Sorrowful Life, it's Rick's that felt the weakest. That's likely just my own prejudice playing in given how wishy-washy his character is right now. I guess that's the point, given his big moment was to step down from the Ricktatorship and restore democracy. How this all unfolds next week remains a big question. I don't care so much if they stay at the prison, as long as Andrea (with Milton, Tyreese and Sasha in tow) is integrated back into the fold of our favorite survivors. Will the Governor storyline be completely resolved? If so, there's so much from the graphic novels they didn't deal with, so I suspect it could very well continue on into season four. 

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