After a run of episodes that have ranged from terrible to mediocre, AMC’s The Walking Dead is nearing the conclusion of its third season. The penultimate episode, “This Sorrowful Life,” better get things rolling, right? At this point in the game, Andrea (Laurie Holden) is all tied up in the Governor’s (David Morrissey) basement, and Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is considering handing Michonne (Danai Gurira) over the folks at Woodbury, so something damn well better happen. Find out who, what, when, and where down below.
“This Sorrowful Life” is not the best episode in the franchise, but it’s not the worst. We’re wandering through middle-of-the-road territory here. There’s a decent balance of zombie action, interpersonal stuff between the characters, hard choices, and a not-unexpected character death. While there are things going on, the episode really does very little to propel the larger plot, and when you step back and look at the big picture, the final episode has a lot of work to do. This makes me worry that either the finale will be so crammed that it will be a jumbled mess, or that The Walking Dead is going to try to extend the storyline from this year into season four, and that would make me very, very angry.
So, Rick has made up his mind, he’s going to deliver Michonne in the hope of achieving an uneasy truce with the Governor and his forces. Even though Michonne still hasn’t 100% clicked with the others, this is still totally a dick move, one that Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Hershel (Scott Wilson) don’t agree with.
Two big issues arise with this decision. First, is Rick really stupid enough to take the Governor at his word? Does he legitimately think the despot of Woodbury going to just take his prize, torture the holy hell out of her, and leave them be? Rick may be deluded, but he isn’t that gullible, and the fact that he even considers delivering another person to torment, pain, and misery beyond imagination, for the remotest possibility that they’ll be left alone, plays completely against his character. He expects the worst in everyone at every turn. You know you’re making the wrong choice when Merle (Michael Rooker) calls you a cold, heartless bastard.
Secondly, this callous disregard for human life places them squarely on the level of the Governor. If they go through with this, they’re no better than their enemies, and after taking that hit your humanity can’t ever come back. This is a trend in episodes penned by future showrunner Scott Gimple, the theme of the group coming close to losing their empathy, but ultimately pulling back before it’s too late. Gimple wrote the earlier episodes “Clear” and “Pretty Much Dead Already,” which both tread these waters. He’ll also take over the reins of the show next season, following the much-publicized departure of current showrunner Glen Mazzara.
After Rick catches a quick glimpse of Ghost Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies)—his dead wife—he comes to his senses and realizes that he’s being a complete tool. Too bad that he didn’t bother to mention his change of heart to Merle, because Merle knew Rick would back out and cold cocked Michonne, put a bag over her head, tied her hands together with wire, and kidnapped her.
“This Sorrowful Life” continues the recent pattern of Michonne being allowed to speak and have something that almost resembles personality. She has conversations, thoughts, and does more than scowl silently. It’s a nice change. A little late, but better late than never, I guess.
When the two start their journey, Michonne, in her tough-ass way, tries to get under her abductor’s skin, to get him to let her go. After surviving a zombie attack, one that involves Michonne garroting a zombie while she’s tied to a post, it turns out that Merle may have other plans. This thought probably occurred to you earlier. He may be a racist asshole, but Merle’s not stupid enough to think that the Governor would let him, a deserter and turncoat, walk away, even after delivering Michonne. You wonder if this was his strategy all along, or if something Michonne said actually got through that thick redneck skull of his. As she tells him, a bad man, a truly evil man, wouldn’t feel the weight of all the things he’s done, wouldn’t bear the burden of all 16 men he’s killed since the dead began to walk.
That’s the most interesting part of “This Sorrowful Life,” Merle’s salvation. For the first time since he popped up in season one and fans of Robert Kirkman’s comics were like, “Who the hell is that dude,” you see a redeemable nugget in that dirty, gruff exterior. He lets Michonne go, gets drunk, and leads a herd of walkers towards an ambush he has set up for the Governor and his cronies.
After taking out a handful of Woodbury goons, Merle ultimately falls to the Governor. This shouldn’t be a shock. From the very moment he reappeared, you knew he was going to bite the dust, and for a character like Merle in mainstream media, the only way to be saved is through death. Still, when Daryl stumbles across the zombified remains of his older brother munching on a leftover corpse, Reedus gets a moment to stretch his acting muscles, and you feel for the guy. Proving yet again that Daryl is the only character you’d be sad to see die. We haven’t had to watch someone kill their own sibling since Andrea had to put her sister down in season one.
Though the Merle action takes up the bulk of the episode, there are two other big moments in “This Sorrowful Life.” First, Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) are going to get married. Glenn hacking an engagement ring off the finger of a walker is a nice post-zombie-apocalypse touch. This is an attempt to combat what can be, at times, the crushing pessimism of The Walking Dead. Though it doesn’t do much, you appreciate the effort.
The other big bomb comes when Rick informs the remainder of the group about what he intended to do with Michonne. In as public a forum he has available, he cops to his weaseliness. He also says that they can’t go on like this, under the boot of his Ricktatorship, and decrees that they now live in a democracy. Yay. They’ll decide to run together, they’ll decide to fight together, whatever happens, they’ll make the decisions as a group moving forward, not just on the whims of a single, slightly deranged man.
So that’s where “This Sorrowful Life” leaves us, balancing on the precipice of violent conflict, unsure of what is going to happen. A little more action heavy than the quieter episodes of The Walking Dead tend to be, it doesn’t accomplish nearly as much as you expect from the second-to-last episode of the season. This puts a ton of pressure on the season three finale to wrap up the action, resolve Andrea’s predicament, throw the two groups into a vicious clash, and set the stage for next year. That’s some serious heavy lifting for a single episode. Do you think they can pull it off?
While you wait, here’s sneak peak at next week’s conclusion, “Welcome to the Tombs.”