Season three of The Walking Dead is coming to a close with “This Sorrowful Life,” the penultimate episode in what has been a grueling season. If you haven’t seen “This Sorrowful Life” then put on the radio and grab a bottle of whiskey like Merle so you can tune out the spoilers that are coming your way.
This episode of The Walking Dead opens with Rick discussing what I’m calling the “Michonne option” with Herschel and Daryl. He tells them it’s the only way to avoid more bloodshed, and that he hasn’t shared this plan with any of the others. Both and Daryl and Herschel seem unenthusiastic, to say the least, but neither flatly refuses to take part. Rick has also decided to let Merle in on this venture, as his particular “skills” might come in handy. He goes to find him, following a trail of shredded mattresses. Merle has been desperately searching for some hidden contraband, preferably dope, but has come up empty.
Rick comes straight to the point. “We need your help.” This gets an immediate laugh, but when Rick explains the Michonne option, Merle stops laughing. Merle explains what a man like the Governor will do to Michonne if he gets his hands on her. “You’re cold as ice, Officer Friendly.” As Merle continues to consider this plan, and his potential role in it, he goes on: “I’m a damned mystery to me, but I know you, Rick. Yeah, I thought a lot about you. You ain’t got the spine for it.” So in the end, he agrees to help, but he’s clearly not relishing the idea, as much as he and Michonne have been at loggerheads in the past.
Rick later sees the group working together in the yard. When they come back in the gates and explain this razor-wire plan to Rick, Daryl points out that it was Michonne’s idea, giving Rick a significant look. Inside, Carol is looking after Judith while Merle prowls around. He mutters about the lack of liquor in the prison, and she basically comes out and calls him on his behavior. “Pick a damn side.” Merle notes that she’s different, tougher and less afraid than she was.
Glenn is outside, repairing a gate, and Daryl comes to find him, wondering if Merle has yet offered any sort of apology for his behavior to Glenn and Maggie. He tells Glenn he knows Merle is sorry, and he wants to know what can be done to make it right. Glenn is honest. It’s not for himself that he won’t forgive. But Merle alone was the reason that Maggie fell into the Governor’s hands, and he can’t move past that.
Daryl finds Merle still searching for drugs. Merle tells Daryl that when it comes down to it, Rick will buckle and won’t be able to take Michonne to the Governor. Daryl asserts that he will follow Rick’s decision, prompting Merle to spit, “Do you even possess a pair of balls, little brother?” His treatment from the group is getting to him. He tells Daryl that these people look at him like he’s the devil, but then bitterly wonders how turning Michonne over to the Governor is any different than what he did to Glenn and Maggie. He tells Daryl a guy like him, a bad guy, is always necessary.
In the next scene, we hear Herschel reading a particularly relevant Bible passage to Beth and Maggie, over shots of Rick and Merle gathering wire to bind up Michonne. Rick is out in the yard, and as he spools telephone wire around his arm, it’s obvious he’s struggling. He blinks up into the sun and sees Lori again, watching him. After a moment, he drops the wire and walks away. He finds Herschel, who is also feeling the weight of their decision, and Herschel looks incredibly relieved when Rick says he’s changed his mind. Unfortunately, Merle is already a couple of steps ahead, leading Michonne into a trap, knocking her out and dragging her away before throwing a bag over her head and binding her wrists.
The next scene we get is the two of them on the move. Her head is uncovered, but she’s still bound. Merle has her sword and is walking her on a length of rope, like a leash. He explains that Rick would never have been able to give her up, so he stepped in. When a lone walker wanders up, Merle takes it upon himself to try out her katana. He turns around and inquires why she didn’t try to run, and she says she’s going to make sure she gets her sword back first, smiling calmly at him.
Rick finds Daryl and tells him the Michonne plan is off the table, but Merle and Michonne are already gone. Daryl doesn’t waste time, leaving immediately to go after them and disregarding Rick’s offer to go instead. “You can’t track for shit.”
Back on the road, Merle is telling Michonne that he just wants to be with his brother. His brother wants to be at the prison, and giving her up is the most expedient way to try to keep the prison safe.
In a brief interlude, we see Glenn paying Herschel a visit in his cell. He sits down to talk with him and asks Herschel for his blessing to marry Maggie. Herschel readily agrees, and after Glenn leaves the camera lingers on the old man’s face, and we can see how happy he is.
Not so happy? Merle and Michonne. They stop so Merle can hotwire a car, and he ties Michonne to a post while he slides under the front seat to do his work. Of course, he trips the world’s loudest, longest car alarm, and walkers start streaming in from all directions. As Merle struggles to shut off the alarm, Michonne watches with increasing panic and is forced to kick, stomp, and strangle a few zombies before Merle emerges. He shoots a walker and saves her life, before slicing her leash so they can get away faster, hopping into the car and taking off.
As they drive, Michonne uses the opportunity to mess with him, asking if he’s just the guy who “takes out the trash.” She continues her psychological warfare, telling him this was his chance to prove himself, to make a new start. Otherwise…”No one’s gonna mourn you, not even Daryl. He’s got a whole new family.” It’s clear she’s getting to him, but Merle replies that she’s still an outsider too–why else would Rick even consider turning her over to a man like the Governor?
Michonne asks Merle how many people he had killed BEFORE he met the Governor. He hadn’t killed any. She latches on to this piece of information as proof that he isn’t so bad as he thinks, and that they can just go back. “I can’t go back,” he mutters, avoiding her gaze. But then, something remarkable happens. He stops the car, cuts her bonds, unlocks the door, and hands her her sword. Whatever his business is now, it no longer involves her. She stands in the road and watches him drive off, an inscrutable expression on her face. Later, she encounters Daryl. He at first thinks maybe she killed Merle, but she tells him that his brother released her. He wastes no more time, and takes off again.
When we see Merle next, he’s sitting in the car outside of a roadhouse, drinking from the bottle and playing music in the car loud enough to draw walkers to him. He begins to drive in short bursts, always with the music playing, keeping a growing herd of walkers trailing after him. Using this method, he manages to lead a sizable group of zombies to the meeting place where the Governor and his men are waiting. He slips the car and lets its music continue to lead the walkers into the mix, where the Governor’s people are forced to scramble to turn it off and kill them. He hides and uses his gun to pick off the Governor’s men, almost landing a shot on the Governor himself.
It’s really a pretty amazing plan, and he does a lot of damage before a scuffle with a walker dumps him outside of his hiding place, and the Woodbury henchmen descend on him. They beat the crap out of him, before the Governor himself comes over and grabs Merle, pulling him inside. The two of them get into a tight, bone-crunching brawl, but in the end Merle is on his back, and the Governor pulls his gun and fires…
In sharp contrast to the way this scene ends, we return to Glenn and Maggie, a sweet, life-affirming B-plot in this tough episode. Glenn puts the ring, which he took from a female walker (romantic!), in Maggie’s hand. She whispers yes, and they embrace.
They rejoin the rest of the group, and Rick is completely honest with them all. He tells them about the Michonne deal, about Merle, about how it might be too late. He declares that he is no longer the final word, that their strength is in working as a group, and that they will vote to make their future decisions. He emphatically declares that he is not a despot like the Governor, and he doesn’t want to be. Whether they fight or flee, they’ll decide together. Later, from the watchtower, he spots Michonne returning alone, his relief evident.
In the final, heartbreaking scene of The Walking Dead, Daryl comes upon the meet-up location, now littered with corpses. Here and there, a few remaining walkers are kneeling, feasting on the remains. He spots one, and draws closer, and it looks up with dead eyes, blood around its mouth. It’s Merle. The Governor, in his cruelty, did not even shoot for the head and it is left to Daryl, sobbing and rage-filled, to destroy what is left of his brother, which he does…savagely. No pun intended, but Norman Reedus absolutely killed it here. He, Danai Gurira and Michael Rooker all acted their asses off.
We have a lot coming up in the finale…Andrea is still on the hook with the Governor and the prison group is no longer autocratic, so who knows how everything will shake out?
Due to a plethora of great lines in this episode, there are three quotes of the night:
“You talk about the weight of what you have to do, how you handle it. A bad man, someone truly evil, they’re light as a feather…they don’t feel a thing.” – Michonne
“I couldn’t sacrifice one of us for the greater good. We ARE the greater good.” – Rick
“Gotta play the hand you’re dealt. I only got one.” – Merle