Welcome back to the Walking Dead, zombie fans! As anyone who has been following the series knows, we are now down to the last two episodes of the season. Next Sundays episode promises to be the climax of the prison versus Woodbury chapter of this story, and it just happens to coincide with the premiere of Game of Thrones Season 3. Wow… busy weekend. At least for those of us who review these shows at any rate!
But of course, this week’s episode was the curtain raiser for the finale, showcasing Rick and the prison camps contemplate averting war at the same time as they prepare for it.
The Sorrowful Life:
The episodes opens inside the prison, where they are preparing for the eventual attack while Rick discusses handing Michonne over with Daryl and Hershel. After agreeing that it is a tough call, he talks it over with Merle, who seems to think that Rick doesn’t have the spine to go through with it. Daryl also speaks with him and raises the issue about fitting in with the prison folk, but Merle believes his only place there is as a potential “bad guy”.
Putting this philosophy into practice, he leads Michonne down into an uncleared cell block where they find Walkers. After letting her take out a few, he hits her in the back of the head, binds her, and begins escorting her to Woodbury. Rick meets up with Daryl to let him know he’s decided against handing Michonne over, but tells him he can’t find her or Merle. Daryl volunteers to go look for them and leave Rick behind in case they are attacked.
Merle and Michonne walk together, during which time she is able to talk to Merle about all he’s done. They walk until they reach a motel where Merle tries to hotwire a car. Unfortunately, his efforts trigger the car alarm which attracts Walkers. Michonne manages to creatively defend herself, despite being bound, and Merle cuts her free and drives off with her in the hijacked car.
As they drive together, Michonne and Merle continue to talk and she tries to convince him to go back. Finally, Merle stops the car and tells her he can’t. He agrees to let her go, but tells her he has something he has to do on his own. Clearly, he’s decided to settle things on his own and save his brother, and find some redemption for himself by killing the Governor instead of handing him Michonne.
On her way back to the prison, Michonne crosses paths with Daryl and tells him that Merle let her go. Daryl takes off in pursuit while down the road, while father away, Merle draws as many Walkers to his vehicle as he can and drives towards the meeting place where the Governor and Rick first talked about coming to terms. Caesar and the Governor’s men are already there and begin deploying to deal with all the Walkers.
Merle takes up a position inside a building and begins sniping them off in the confusion, but a Walker interferes with him taking a shot at the Governor and he is exposed. He’s then taken by the Governor’s men and gets into it with the Governor himself. After getting two of his fingers bitten off and a broken arm, a defeated Merle tells the Governor “I aint gonna beg you!” The Governor simply replies “No!”, draws his gun, and then shoots him.
Back at the prison, Glenn decides he wants to marry Maggie before the worst comes to pass. He secures Hershel’s blessing, and after taking two fingers off a Walker, procures a ring. Before a general counsel session called by Rick, he asks her and she agrees. They then sit with the rest while Rick tells everyone the truth of about his meeting with the Governor and how he was willing to sacrifice one of them for the sake of peace.
In the course of it, he lets them know that he doesn’t believe they can function as a dictatorship after all, that no can be sacrificed for the greater good since they are all that very thing. He leaves it with them to decide what they want to do, whether they want to run or stay and fight. He returns to the wall to stand watch and is just in time to see Michonne coming back.
Daryl comes to the meeting place and finds Walkers preying on the bodies of all those who died in the firefight. He is heartbroken when he finds his brother who is now amongst the former. After a short fight, he manages to get him to the ground and puts his brother out of his misery…
Well, this episode was good for a number of reasons. Naturally, I expected it to provide some pacing before the final showdown, but they managed to go beyond that and provided some adrenaline and commentary as well. Basically, the entire episode revolved around the idea of terrible purpose, how in a crazy world, people have to sometimes do things that are ugly and unpleasant for the sake of the preserving lives and the greater good.
Much of that came down to Merle choosing to do what he always does – i.e. look out for number one and use the greater good as an excuse. But he turned that around when he realized that instead of sacrificing Michonne to save Rick and the prison camp, which included his brother, he could sacrifice himself. Ultimately, he fulfilled his role as the necessary bad guy, but did so in a way that showed that he wasn’t so bad.
And I liked that about this episode. Ever since his introduction in the first season, Merle stood as the ugly, uncouth, redneck, racist SOB who only ever looked out for number one. While that worked just fine for him, it was known to get others in trouble. Particularly his brother, who stood in contrast as the redeemable son who could do great things, if only he could get free of his brother’s influence.
So in a way, this was a fitting sendoff for him. Not only did he die trying to do some good for once, it fell to the “good brother” to show him some mercy and put him down after he turned. It also showcased the Governor’s madness and cruelty that he wasn’t willing to shoot Merle in the head and keep him from coming back. By administering the fatal gunshot to his body, he ensured that Merle would live on as a hideous creature, the ultimate punishment for his disloyalty.
And finally, there was the significance of everything Rick decided in this episode. After realizing he couldn’t hand over Michonne, he went a step further and told the camp that he couldn’t be calling the shots anymore. This puts him at odds with the Governor who controls Woodbury as a defacto dictator, appearing as a benevolent father figure to most but showing his true colors to those closest to him. He even said as much when he claimed “I’m not your governor”.
Basically, after declaring that their group was no longer a democracy after they left the farm, this reversal now sets them as the ideological opponents to the Governor and his town of willing supplicants. So this impending fight is not just about survival and competition, it’s also about philosophies of leadership and governance in the post-apocalyptic age.
And yes, there was the side plot involving Maggie and Glenn getting married, which was nice, if somewhat diversionary. It was poignant to see how and why that happened, since as Glenn said, he wanted to have something beautiful before the worse came to pass. And Michonne, always the ass-kicker, was pretty damn awesome in this episode. Even thought she was bound and being used as barter, she managed to keep a cool head, talked a lot of sense, turned Merle around, and even killed some Walkers in some very cool ways. Seriously, the way she decapitated that one with just the string of wire? Shazam!!!
Which now brings things us to the end of all the build up and sets the stage for episode 16 and the season finale. Personally, I hope Rick and the others decide not to make a run for it and get out before the Governor and his people attack, because that would blatantly contradict what took place in the comic book. Without giving away any spoilers, let me just say that this chapter is meant to end in blood, anger, and terrible pain! After all the changes they’ve made so far, is it too much to hope for a little loyalty now?