The Walking Dead: “This Sorrowful Life”, Review

This week takes us through a rollercoaster of zombie-related fun.

Last week’s episode was all about Woodbury so it stands to reason that this week’s episode will be all about the prison. And next week? Clash of the titans baby!

Oh thank you Zombie Jesus! Tonight was another beautifully written episode with loads of zombies, violence, and character growth. I am a happy fan. Last week focused on Andrea so it was only fitting that this week was spent in the company of Merle. Both are having trouble fitting in and getting along with the local management.

What do we know about Merle? The series has established an excellent, layered background for this character. He has a tough, stereotypical, red neck demeanor which the audience now knows is a shield to put distance between himself and others. We have come to know his brother, Daryl, and give weight to his intelligence. If Daryl can see Merle as a protector (at least from childhood) there has to be some merit in his perception. Both were abused, Merle spent time in prison, he had a drug problem, but what defines him is his relationship with his brother.

Okay, that might not be entirely true. Merle spent a lot of time letting other people define him. That fit in with the gruff, dickish, exterior he had worked so hard to cultivate. He was the Governor’s lieutenant, the heavy, the hired gun, and when Rick asks him to continue that work for the prison group, Merle agrees.

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I have to admit that I was so surprised Rick had decided to hand Michonne over to the Governor and parlay a truce (yeah, good luck with that), that initially I thought the entire set up was a red herring. It all seemed entirely out of character, and in fact it was. Something else this series has done well to establish, Merle isn’t stupid (although I am still dubious that he is well read), he knows his old boss is not likely to stand down, or give Michonne a clean death. He also knows that while Rick has the bat shit crazy, he does not have the evil, and will not follow through on any plan that sacrifices a member of the group for the greater good. 

Merle calls it. Rick is still having Lori visions which are starting to look a lot like manifestations of a guilty conscience. Rick even takes it a step farther, calls the group together, and informs them that he has given up on being the dictator (or “Ricktator” thank you Chris Hardwick). From this point forward the group will vote on what to do and how to survive. I am sure Lori would have appreciated the kinder, gentler, Rick; if she had lived through the birth of her possibly illegitimate child and getting shot in the head by her son, to see him. Sorry, I just love typing that. What a way to go!Like Rick, Merle really lets his guard down in this episode. But out of everyone in that prison, it is Michonne who gets him. They really have more in common with one another than anyone else; as abhorrent an idea as that may be. They come from abuse and violence, they are isolated and have difficulty playing nice with others. So it is Michonne who finally pulls Merle’s card.

Not only is she surprisingly vocal in this episode, but Michonne manages to get right under Merle’s skin. She sees exactly what he is going through. Merle says he’s killed 16 men since the beginning of the zombie apocalypse; all of which, Michonne observes, was done while in the Governor’s employ. The entire episode has been building to this: Merle is a human being. All this killing weighs heavily on him. Why wouldn’t it? Heck, look at what killing people has done to Rick (queue circus music). 


So what is a repentant Merle to do? Redeem himself? No. Change who he is? No. He does the one thing that comes naturally: He looks out for his little brother’s interests. And that is the beauty of the episode. Merle does not metamorphose into a saint or a kind hearted butterfly. He leads walkers to where the Governor is hiding and kills as many of his former friends as possible, all to help his brother. Honestly, if the shoe had been on the other foot and he had to kill the prison group to secure Daryl’s safety at Woodbury, he would have done it. Hell, he shot that poor asthmatic teenager without a second thought.

Despite his best efforts, the Governor lives to bite off two of Merle’s fingers (dude must have read my Ladies’ Self-Defense missive from last week’s review), beat the holy heck out of him, shoot him, and leave him as a zombie for Daryl to find. Poor Daryl. The scene where he puts his brother down is not only messy, but just plain brutal. 

It was a great episode. The soft and fuzzy foil to all this heartache? Glenn proposed to Maggie. Unfortunately that tiny drip of positivity was drowned out by Merle’s narrative; which is the same thing that happened during the episode which featured the return of Morgan (Oh, did Michonne and Carl bond? You give me more Lennie James now!). I love me some Glenn, but I could not have cared less, given the context of the larger story.

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Maybe if he had been naked again? Hey, just a suggestion…

Favorite zombie of the episode:

Out of all the walkers in this episode, I loved the opening scene zombie best. You know the old man with crazy hair and the big, gaping mouth on the other side of the prison fence from Rick? That extra was really putting the work in.

Zombie kill of the week: 

The hotel lady who actually looked distressed when Michonne used a wire line to pop the head clean off her neck.