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The Walking Dead Review: “This Sorrowful Life” (Season 3, Episode 15)

The worst thing about zombies, and the thing that has been exploited most in just about every zombie narrative ever, is that they are not a truly faceless enemy. They are a corruption of the real world, the reawakening of a loved one or friend as something mindlessly malevolent. Vampires or werewolves have the capacity to recall their old lives, perhaps feeling remorse for their killings, while zombies simply consume, leaving just the physical husk of your former acquaintance as a lurching reminder of your loss. It must be terrifying to see someone you care about laid so low, so horribly altered, subjected to the ignominy of a restless death, turned into something no more human than an ant or a shark.

On the road Merle expresses his doubts about ever being able to fully integrate into a group, considering the loss of his humanity and finally setting Michonne free. He has nothing now, save for the ability to maybe do one last bit of good.

Here is the centerpiece of this episode, and the moment that pays off most fully on all of the inane setup that came before. Michonne runs into Daryl, who was tracking his brother to save Michonne. Hearing that Merle let her go, Daryl fears the worst. Merle, meanwhile, has used the radio in his car to lure a batch of zombies, leading them to the farm where the exchange was to go down.

As the war party that had planned on ambushing the prison group tries to clear out the walkers, Merle begins sniping, taking out a fair number of men before he is brought down. In a brief but harrowing fight, he loses two fingers to the Governor, and then defiantly tells him that he won’t beg. The Governor, victorious now, draws his gun and fires.

By the time Daryl comes to the farm the battle is over, and zombies are eagerly munching on the men Merle had killed. Then, one of the zombies stands up, and we see a freshly dead Merle, gore hanging from his jaws, begin to stagger toward Daryl.

This moment is smart for a number of reasons. It adds to the sadism of the Governor that he didn’t soot Merle in the head, effectively damning him to become a walker. Also, it doesn’t play the scene as one of terror, meaning that we never fear for Daryl’s life. Had it been played for fear the moment would have been cheap, but thanks to the tremendous work of Norman Reedus, Daryl’s pain at having lost his brother is rendered horribly real. What’s worse, he can’t force the husk of his sibling to not come at him, and is forced to stab him in the brain to end the terrible onslaught.

Daryl had lost his brother once before, found him, and then realized that he had lost him in a moral sense. Now, he has had to lose him all over again, and then symbolically kill him. It’s a terrible road for a character to travel down, but one that delivers a lot of emotional goods in a show that is usually sorely lacking them.

The last big moment here left un-discussed is Rick telling the group about the plan, about Merle’s actions, and about the dissolution of the Rick-tatorship. They’re a group, a clan, and they will make decisions together. Fight or flight, Rick is learning to share the load – a decision no doubt helped by another appearance from the Laurie specter. Then he sees Michonne coming back to the prison, and he knows that he has been given another chance to do right, even if he doesn’t yet know the price Merle had to pay for that opportunity.

All in all, a strong episode coming off of the last two weeks, which were pretty dull. Next week we will see how this season of The Walking Dead ends, and thanks to this episode, I am very much looking forward to it.

About the author

Brian J. Roan