The Walking Dead Recap 3.15: “This Sorrowful Life”

Why don’t you bring that zombie in on the discussion, too, asshat. He fits the criteria.

I used to think that episode where we conveniently weren’t at the prison were good because they were something different. I liked it because it didn’t have Rick in it. You can find out why this is, after the cut.

“You go on… give him that girl, he ain’t gonna kill her, you know. He’s just going to… do things to her. Take out one of her eyes… both of them, most likely. You’d let that happen… for a shot? You’re cold as ice, Officer Friendly.”
-Merle, to Rick

As if this [redacted]* was not racist enough, Rick decides to bring two more white men in to talk about handing over Michonne to The Governor. Daryl rightly is aghast at this, saying, “This is not us,” but, in true lemming form, is ready to go along with it, anyway. Rick talks to Merle-Merle! Of all people, he acts as the voice of reason. When this happens, you know you have made some poor life choices, Rick. Poor. Life. Choices.

In the next scene we see Michonne killing zombies like she is clearing brush. This is a nod from the writers (thank you, writers) to show that she is a necessary asset and not a chip to be traded for freedom. There’s also the little thing about her being a human being, for god’s sake. In my opinion, once you give away someone in your own group, no one else in your group will trust you. Even considering would make me distrust him.

“Do you even know why you do the things that you do? The choices you make?”
–Rick, to Merle
[Editor’s note: Glass houses, Rick.]

I do appreciate that the writers have at least evolved from showing all women as laundry washers and shrill people with bad ideas. The scene where Carol shows off her badassery by asking which side Merle is on while loading guns for the upcoming battle is a definite sign of this. All they need to do is have Michonne talk a little more–and make Andrea less insufferable–then they can concentrate on the racial issues! Good work guys, maybe this show won’t be so biased by Season 6. Season 7 at the latest.

The Dixon brothers discuss Rick. Merle concludes that Rick will buckle. Merle also waxes poetic about how the group is so horrified at what he did to Maggie and Glenn, but they’re planning on doing essentially the same thing with Michonne. Ooo, burn.

Herschel puts his reverend-like beard to work while reading scripture with his daughters. Is it Sunday? Are they really doing this on a Sunday? It must be a holy day, at least, because look who’s back! Lori graces us with her presence yet again. The fact it took him his ghost wife to realize that he was wrong about this whole Michonne thing is something I don’t accept as “Virtuous Everyman Rick and His Life Choices.” The sheer idea of handing over someone who is your ally (to a likely death) is different than killing someone who is a direct threat to you, like that prisoner who got an axe to the head.

Showing us that the audience can only like Merle in 10-minute increments, he kidnaps Michonne. Thinking Rick isn’t going to “man up” and deliver Michonne to The Governor, he decides to do it himself. They walk and talk about good and evil.

A convenient romantic interlude…and, excuse me while I sob silently to myself over here. Glenn asks for Maggie’s hand in marriage. And Herschel gives his blessing–heteronormative, I know, but I mean, a little chivalry in this situation is nice, isn’t it? Maybe I’m too angry with Rick to see anything else. I did like the way Glenn shopped for the ring. Is the way that zombie reacted proof that maybe she knew that he was essentially stealing her property? Or was it because he broke off her finger? Discuss.

Our Dearly Departed. Image via

Merle and Michonne find a motel, where he ties her to a post before he hotwires a car. Proving he really doesn’t think before he acts, the alarm that goes off calls every zombie in the area to eat some delicious human. Michonne kills zombies in a very frightening and badass way with her foot, and then a wire before Merle gets the hint and cuts her from the pole. As they drive, she asks about why Merle decides to say on the outside. He lets Michonne go. In the next few scenes we see why Merle did this. He was on a suicide mission. He gets a car drinks some tasty whiskey (want) and plays music really loudly–which makes no sense to me until he drives to the meeting place, at noon, and smartly offers a zombie/music diversion while he kills a lot of The Governor’s men, including that kid with asthma. Sadly, he didn’t kill The Governor; in fact, they tussle, and Merle loses two fingers, before he loses his life. And then Daryl finds him in the saddest way possible, as Zombie Merle is eating someone. Sadness is weeping uncontrollably while smashing your brother’s face in so he doesn’t eat you. That. is sadness. Related: Merle sure turned grey pretty quick. Why does that happen?

At the end of the episode, Rick speechifies to the group…again. I guess this is supposed to make him seem like The Leader again, but…I’m over him. How does everyone else feel?

*I redacted myself. So what? Who cares?

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  • Bob Gordon

    Others have commented on the offensive aspects of this plot arc (Michonne especially), so I’ll try to address the idea the writers are unconscious of that.

    Here’s my suspicion:

    Like Tarantino, the Walking Dead writers seem conscious of the dissonance and taboo aspects of their plot moves — but not the disappointing implications. They think that showing awful acts in a charged racial/sexual context is a tacit criticism when it isn’t. Exploitative plot decisions don’t constitute an editorial condemning exploitation.

    Part of the reason Rick does and contemplates doing awful things is because the writers are trying to create tension about his moral character. They want us to wonder, “Is he really good or not?” Problem is, they haven’t shown Rick’s moral failings coherently. Having his dead wife appear periodically isn’t enough to imply he’s morally unbalanced — not the way those scenes are directed, at least. They ought to have shown him being unforgivable in clear ways, or had his angelic vision of Lori tell him to do brutal off-kilter things, but they were afraid of being excessive because they modeled him after the archetype who is supposed to be Good but Uneasy about Accepting His Redemptive Task (God, I hate the ersatz influence of Joseph Campbell).

    The failure of ambiguity in popular fiction is often due to poster-garish archetypes that outshout every attempt at subtlety.

    The problem is that Rick’s in the normative Good Man role, so that when he tweaks, it looks to the audience as if the writers are excusing if not outright endorsing his behavior.

    My theory is that the writers believe they’re adding to the complexity of Rick’s character because they know he’s too vanilla.

    They’re also quite aware of the slavery metaphor with Michonne . The problem is, they think that underlining it and surrounding it with exclamation points and arrows is a form of social criticism: “Slavery is bad (and Rick might be, too!).”

    What’s appalling is that they’re completely misusing Michonne’s character in the name of shallow moral manipulation. She ought to have a fully developed trajectory instead of a Godwin-ready one-liner for an arc.

    It’s also clear they attended some ’50s Pulp 101 course that instilled the need to threaten a woman’s abduction and/or “desecration” (because of course, the woman is the de facto male audience’s property).

    The writers probably think they’re being clever reversing the exploitative roles they’re repeating — Andrea being captured and tortured while Michonne is threatened but remains inviolate (she’s even tied to the railroad tracks by Merle in classic melodrama style). In the end, they might reason, it’s the black woman who remains unharmed.

    Yet they do this while dangling that obnoxious slave metaphor in front of us, like we really need to see the idea unfold in present time because it hasn’t been abused enough in the past

    You wish the writers would stop trying to be controversial, stop trying to make statements about social injustice, and simply present Michonne as the complete person Danai Gurira is capable of portraying.

    If only Gurira were allowed to write her own part. Her play, In the Continuum,
    suggests she’d do a much better job.

  • MeaganJ

    Michael Rooker is an amazing actor; he was able to turn
    Merle into a character that in the end, most people could get behind. I still
    believe in Rick, and in the end he will do what is necessary to save his group.
    I was working late at DISH, and missed this past episode of The Walking Dead
    when it first aired. Luckily, the weekly timer on my DISH Hopper was there for
    me. It can record up to 2,000 hours of my favorite shows; this gives me the
    freedom to record the full season of this show, along with the full seasons of
    my other favorite shows when they begin.

  • ommeta

    I don’t think the kid who died was the one with asthma. I think it was the young man who was part of Tyreese’s group.

  • JosephLamour

    Ooo… science. Thanks, schismtracer!

  • Cade DeBois

    Yeah, I’m over Rick too.

    But as for Merle and Daryl–I love how that was written. People thint eh tragedy s with merle, but its not–it’s with Daryl. That’s what makes this gret drama.

    You have the set-up: Daryl tells Glen he will redeem Merle, that he will MAKE it happen, somehow. Daryl needs to do this. He has this serious existential conflict between his his brother and the group, and his loyalty to both makes it so he cannot see a way where he can let one or the other go. More importantly, he is struggling between the kind of person he wants to be within the group and the kind of person Merle reminds him that he was before the group. He thinks only he can set his brother straight, ‘cos it’s really about himself and his own redemption. It’s noble, he’s all heart and sincerity and rugged determinism here, but we all know it’s going to be tragic somehow. We don’t get happy Kum Ba Yah endings in Zombie Apocalyse World.

    All the while, Merle is on some crazy self-destructive bent. At first we think he’s being a typical addict. Life’s getting real, so Merle needs to get high. While Daryl is off promising Glen that Merle can be redeemed, Carol (who really needs more screen time) is talking to Merle about her own redemption, and that maybe he too can be redeemed, if he can just admit he needs redeeming. And like a typical addict, that scares the crap out of Merle.

    Next, Rick gets a clue about Michonne, perhaps to no small amount of Daryl passive-aggressively reminding Rick that Michonne’s got teh skillz they need, and we breathe a sigh of relief while muttering “You’re a bleeping azzhat, Rick!”

    Daryl goes looking for Merle, and finds him, and like a typical brother to a self-destructive addict, doesn’t see Merle’s about to hit rock bottom. He think’s Merle’s just being Merle. No doubt tired from the years of Merle’s bullshit, Daryl walks away not knowing that will be the last time he sees Merle as Merle.

    Merle lures Michonne and that happens. On their way back to the Governor, Michonne’s picking up where Carol left off. She is of course trying to save her own life, but what she says is just driving Merle deeper into his self-destructive hole of self-loathing. He admits he doesn’t know why he does want he does. He admits he does horrific things for other people that he wouldn’t have done otherwise. Merle’s falling straight into the darkness in his own soul he’s been lying to himself about all along. When he lets Michonne go, he’s not trying to be a tragic hero. He just wants to end his hell, and he hopes who can take some of the scum who get him to that hell along with him. While one could say he let Michonne go back to warn the other is a heroic thing, if one knows addicts, you could also say he didn’t want anyone whose forgiveness he might have wanted to witness what he was going to do next.

    Daryl has gone to find Merle. He insists on going alone–again, he feels that burden fo being the only one who can redeem his brother. He tracks Merle to where the big shoot-out went down and that happens. Daryl needed to redeem his self-destructive brother, and now that has been stolen from him–by his brother’s own path of self-destruction.

    After all Daryl has been through, of all that he’s done to come to terms with who he is, his story arc has been genuinely heroic–aside from Carol, who (I say again) needs more screen time, Daryl is the only truly heroic person in the show (granted I think Michonne could be too if they’d stop sidelining her). Daryl had this one last thing he needed to do, to redeem Merle, so to help him redeem himself in the way he so noblely but short-sightedly thinks he needs to. Merle was that one last remaining connection to his past and to all the things he was trying to set right so he could be the person that he is trying to be. And now that chance is gone and we’re left wondering, knowing what we know about Daryl, if he can survive this.

  • Dee

    Oh, and also, Michonne really is at the point where she knows the score, and I think she is like on her own plane. She was able to get into Merle’s head I think. I think it made him uncomfortable. She is very astute at reading people. I know some people think Merle had a hollow shot at redemption here but I kind of see it as him sort of having nowhere else to go. He had reached the end of his journey and decided to do it on his own terms.

    • Jamie Norwood

      With all that happened, especially with Maggie and Glenn… And considering that this show hates having more than one similar character (PoC, redeemed rednecks, one legged men…) I don’t think Merle could be ‘redeemed’ in the scope of the show. I think, perhaps, he and his brother could have gone off to a new start with a different group, but that wouldn’t then be part of The Show, and they won’t give up one of their best, and best liked, characters for it.

      Ultimately, the best Merle could hope for was a good death, and I think he got that. It doesn’t erase his (Many, many, so many) sins, but it was a choice to do something selfless. I personally don’t think he ever intended to take Michonne all the way. She was his confessor, the person in the group who knew him well enough to listen to him, but not like him well enough to stop him. And I think she knew that, and was OK with that. She could have escaped a few times, ‘her sword’ be damned, but I don’t think she thought she was in real danger outside of ‘Let’s steal a car OOPS!’ which did seem to freak her out a little.

  • Dee

    Michael Rooker really is great. I mean he made me feel some sort of way about a racist asshole dying, and I had actively rooted for his death during some of his most egregious scenes. Bravo Mr. Rooker.