Stars: Andrew Lincoln, David Morrissey, Sarah Wayne Callies, Danai Gurira, Steven Yeun, Norman Reedus | Created by Robert Kirkman
Redemption is such a strong facet for the television show character. When we met Merle way back in season one, he was the stereotypical racist jackass. It’s no wonder that Rick decided to handcuff him and leave him there (although T-Dogg REALLY left him there) and so understandably he was to be a pissed off jerk when the paths were to inevitably cross again. And so we’ve spent most of this season watching Merle be a torturous monster to everyone of Rick’s group (especially Glenn and to a lesser extent Maggie) and then after this last half-season break we saw a defeated Merle, deflated and resigned to lashing out at Rick’s group. But, redemption exists for a reason, and man does it not hit its hardest when the character is as reviled as Merle is. Yes, it does.
‘This Sorrowful Life was a strong outing for the penultimate episode, and a showcase for the innately badass Michael Rooker. It keeps the upcoming war front and center, and effectively deals with the Governor’s treaty about giving Michonne over for the supposed sanctuary. Naturally, Hershel pauses at this, and around this time last season there was another situation like this, although Michonne is an inncoent versus the bad guy that was set up at the farm. There isn’t any real thought to why someone levelheaded like Rick would bring a loose cannon like Merle into the equation of delivering Michonne to The Governor, and be shocked when he does exactly that. But, they did a great job shading Merle’s motives and putting you through the wringer of determining where his alleigance lies. And we learn it really isn’t on either side. It’s just about respect.
There wasn’t too much filler with annoying characters like Andrea, that bobble around listlessly. The prison angles allowed for some stronger character beats like Glenn proposing to Maggie, and in true fashion it was with the ring from a shambling corpse. There was a little bit of Rick and company preparing for the oncoming war with The Governor.
It was a great episode dealing with just Michonne and Merle on the road trip to hell, and a great episode for characterization for Merle himself. The show does its best when it just minimizes everything. Pairing it back allows for not only, the show to breathe but for growth in the chracters at hand. See ‘Clear’ for an effective angle of how this is handled. Michonne even gets off a few cracking bits of dialogue, proving that Michonne should speak more, cause she’s funny when she does so. And she proves that she’s an effective warrior killing two zombies even when she’s tied up at a hitching post. Both actors on this trip have a great rapport when they move past all of the stoicism and racism and just talk. And Michonne is an incredibly insightful person and gets through to Merle, or maybe she doesn’t – either way he lets her go and the character starts his beautiful redemption in just one episode.
And what a glorious redemption it was. The plan to lure a batch of walkers into The Governor’s backyard was quite ingenious. One thing of note, the lead zombie in the batch of zombies was a direct visual homage to George Romero’s ”Dawn of the Dead.” Plus, it was a great get to hear Motorhead whilst doing so. And sadly, it was a fruitless suicide mission especially once The Governor himself showed up and started his reversal attack. It was a nasty brutal battle befitting the show we know and love, and cringeworthy as The Governor bites off Merle’s fingers during the squabble. But, it would only end one way, especially this close to the finale – Merle had to die because it certainly wasn’t going to be The Governor, no doubt about it. But that still gave it the resonance it deserves.
It’s really resonant for how Daryl was affected by the death of his brother. Because even if Merle was the racist jerk that he’d been for the small time when knew him, it still mattered that the brothers had a strong bond and that death scene was damned impactful and came at a strong time close to the end. And it sets the storm clouds a’brewin’.
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