This review contains spoilers.
3.15 This Sorrowful Life
The Ricktatorship has been a resounding failure for the farm survivors. They do find and clear out a nice prison to live in, but they lose a bunch of good people in the process. When they make contact with another group of survivors who have a safe little civilization of their own, it turns out the town is ruled over by a madman and his gang of armed thugs. Now, Rick is seeing ghosts, can’t make a decision to save his life, and spends most of his time doing stuff or things while Glenn or Daryl or Hershel or anyone else makes all the decisions.
Rick is the last person you want making a life-or-death decision, but he’s the man who met with the Governor, he’s the man who holds Michonne’s fate in his hands, and he’s the man who has to decide if the chance at peace is worth the life of a relatively innocent person who has proven herself to be a valuable addition to the group. Can Rick be trusted enough to pull together a group to help him make decisions without choosing the absolutely wrong people to carry out the task at hand? It’s pretty clear that something’s wrong with Rick, given the way Merle has so easily integrated back into the group.
Then again, Merle seems like he’s a man facing a crisis of conscience. For the past few episodes, he’s seemed like he’s trying to do the right thing in spite of how much easier it is to do the wrong one. For a character that started out as a one-dimensional redneck who became a one-dimensional sidekick thug to show cracks in his character like Merle does in this episode is pretty impressive. It shows that the writers behind the show (in this case Scott Gimple) are trying to give all the characters some shade and depth (even The Governor got some humanizing moments before his complete psychotic break).
Merle and Michonne, the two outsiders, have great chemistry together. Michael Rooker is a very good character actor, even in a role like this, so when Merle starts to have trouble with his self-chosen lot in life, Rooker is able to make it work within the confines of the character (and Danai Gurira is making similar good work when she gets chances to emote, too). Indeed, the two characters seem to have the most in common of any pairing the show routinely indulges in, and given the amount of time they spend together in this week’s episode, that’s a good thing. They’re a good point-counterpoint on a show that’s been using that plot structure a great deal. They work because they have stakes to their situation; even if Merle explains a little too much, it makes sense because he’s basically apologizing for his actions and trying to talk himself into what he feels needs to be done.
Greg Nicotero, who directed this episode, has shown improving touch with actors, especially when filming conversations. He’s got a good sense of the visual, as befitting a special effects master, and he keeps his camera movements simple, but he frames his shots very well. He’s effective at generating tension with simple framing devices, like the doorway of a car or building, and he filmed one of the more creative action sequences of the season, taking a great idea from the writer’s pen and putting it into practice with some flair. You don’t need Sam Raimi’s camera flexibility when you can simply put your camera in the right place and let things happen around it. Both styles are equally effective, though Raimi-cam is more flashy than clever.
This week’s episode, the penultimate for the season, functioned as a bit of a wild card in terms of its effect on the overall plot. A lot of things that have been simmering below the surface have come to the surface, and it’s going to cast a long-lasting shadow in season four and beyond. How it will affect the survivors depends on just how many people survive the upcoming clash of camps. I get the feeling there’s going to be a pretty high body count next week.
Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Prey, here.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan cannot wait for the last episode of The Walking Dead for this season. It’s going to be a barn-burner, though not literally since they already burned the barn full of walkers last year. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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