A Family Affair [Review]

The Walking Dead s3 ep15 This Sorrowful Life

Tonight’s Walking Dead makes it all about family, but gets dominated by one Dixon brother in particular.  Read on for our SPOILER-rich review…

Season 3, Episode 15: This Sorrowful Life

Rick fills Daryl in on the plan on giving Michonne over to the Governor in hopes of avoiding a fight.  Despite both Daryl and Hershel not liking the plan, Rick goes forward with recruiting Merle.  Merle tells Rick what the Governor will do to her and says Rick doesn’t have the guts to do what he’s planning.  Later, when Daryl finds Merle, Merle tells Daryl that Rick’s plan isn’t different than Merle snatching Glenn and Maggie and taking them to the Governor.  On his own, Rick changes his mind, but Merle acts on his own by knocking her out and tying her up to walk her to the designated meeting place for Rick and the Governor.  When this comes to Rick’s attention, Daryl heads out to find them.  After nearly getting to the factory, Merle lets Michonne go and tells her to get prepared for what happens next and he’s got something he needs to do on his own.  Merle leads a pack of walkers to the Governor’s men and wounds some of them to get the walkers to attack them.  However, he’s captured and after getting two fingers bitten off by the Governor, Merle is shot   Rick gathers everyone together to tell them of the plan and that what they are will no longer by controlled by him.  When Daryl arrives at the factory, he finds Merle munching on one of his unfortunate victims of his earlier shooting.

As this season has begun winding down/up to its finale, the episodes have been some of the best written stories of the entire run of the show.  It’s no so much just tapping into emotions or action or even, as evident during last week, horror, but these episodes have almost entirely relied upon the characters and their motivations as set up during the first half of the season.  For longer running characters like Rick, he’s been unraveling and, after his speech tonight, it’s clear that his decision to make all the decisions for the group has been slowly changing him for the worse.  After taking in more time to think about turning over Michonne, and what it would mean for them and why they have survived this long, Rick rallies the group and it makes for a particularly well-written monologue that makes it clear that Rick is indeed our hero and not just the guy we root for because the show tells us to.  That’s not to say he still hasn’t had the chance to come to terms with those he’s lost or that he won’t still have times in which he’s seeing apparitions of loved ones, but he’s slowly but surely returning to the man he was when we first met him two and a half years ago.

Speaking of characters, this episode features a lot of Michonne, which is always a great thing, especially how well she can read characters, but is completely owned by Michael Rooker’s Merle.  Since we first saw him, he was always the jerk.  He was a racist and a misogynist.  He may not have been as obviously bad as Carol’s husband, but he was never one you could feel comfortable around.  He had no filter or no real ethics to speak of.  Once he disappeared, it seemed as though he was always waiting out there on the horizon and was likely going to be just as dangerous as we could imagine him being.  When he returned as one of the Governor’s henchmen, he didn’t disappoint.  The Governor gave him the opportunity to be as bad as he wanted and satisfy whatever lust he had to just be a blunt instrument.

Since being cast out of Woodbury and arriving at the prison, he’s been like a poison running through their veins.  Nothing much was different than what we had ever seen from him before.  He was just as crude and unpleasant as ever.  However, I always kind of thought that maybe they should talk to him a bit.  Hershel didn’t seem to mind getting to know him a little better, but Rick, much like most everyone else, seemed to treat him like cancer.  They never let him in and therefore the scripts never seemed to really make him more than just that menace who lives in one of the other cells.  Think about it for a second, he knows the Governor pretty well.  While he did try to tell them what was coming and how the Governor would treat them, people didn’t stop to think that maybe he wasn’t just trying to get under their skin.  He was still the asshole to ever mutter those types of things to them.  He wanted to go and kill the Governor knowing it was only going to help them survive.  No one seemed to just stop and ask him to give them the real skinny without bullshit.  Some of what he was suggesting might have carried a bit more weight.

Finally, after so long, we get to really know Merle.  Right from the first couple minutes, Rick points out that Merle doesn’t seem to know why he does the things he does.  As the episode goes on, we’re kind of led to believe that some of this is because he’s a drunk and a meth addict.  However, it’s made more clear that he does live with some kind of code.  He’s not exactly random in his actions.  Sure, he might be treated like the bad guy who will just do everyone’s dirty work, but as the scenes with him and Michonne continue to play out, it comes across that he’s changed with the world.  His change is not like Rick’s or anyone else’s.  His change seems to be in how he carried himself.  He kept people at arm’s length, probably not to feel the pain of losing anyone he gets close with.  The way he carries himself has made him what everyone sees him as.  What I took away from his conversation in the car with Michonne is that it was chipping away at the remainder of what good resided inside him.  So, to pay back his debts and clear everything, he lets Michonne go and takes on the Governor himself.

Maybe Merle knew he wouldn’t come back alive.  Maybe he thought he could actually kill this truly bad guy.  Maybe it was his way of getting Daryl to leave the prison if there was no further threat from Woodbury.  Maybe he simply thought if he was killed and turned, and Daryl found him like that, it would give his baby brother  the jolt he needed to grow up a bit.  Whatever the motivations may be, Merle became a fully fleshed out character.  He was always a stereotype of the kind of people we see everyday that just says and does whatever they want, consequences or hurt feelings be damned.  Tonight, we could tell his story was coming to a close, but not before he became a complete character.  In a lot of ways, it mirrors life.  Sometimes we don’t really get to know someone until there’s no more to learn about them.  We often find out things about who someone was or what they do for others in eulogy instead of in life.  None of tonight’s proceedings changes the fact that Merle was not a good man, but in his final acts, we learn that maybe he did have some desire to make things right.  Maybe he went out trying to do the things that would balance his own ledger as a man – not a good one, not a great one, and not even a bad one, but just as a man.

Merle’s swan song dominated tonight’s episode, but it wasn’t everything.  Clearly the biggest theme of tonight’s episode was family.  Rick realizing that what made them so good was who they are as a group.  Together they were stronger and better and weren’t a group that thrived off a “Governor”.  Michonne was one of them.  Her contributions aided them in their survival.  They don’t just live together, but they will die together and it will not be because Rick believes he knows what is best.  Within that familial theme, Glenn “marries” Maggie (in a figurative sense).  With all these fuzzy feelings flying around the prison, minus what Daryl will have to deal with, you just have to think that we’re all set up for a pretty tough finale that will likely sting quite a bit.

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Pros Cons
Another spectacular script delving deeper and deeper into characters than ever before. Great emotional impact at the conclusion. None.



  1. Søren Karstensen says:

    The last scene brought a little tear to my eye, in much the same way as when Lori died.
    Powerful acting from all involved. Looking very much forward to the finale – and after that, realizing just how long it is until October when the series pick up again… ;)

  2. Leon SIlver says:

    Yeah this episode almost made me shed some tears, like when Lori died

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