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"The Walking Dead" - "This Sorrowful Life": We're Laying In The Shadow Of Your Family Tree, Your Haunted Heart And Me

By TK | TV Reviews | March 26, 2013 | Comments ()


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I’m of two minds when it comes to “This Sorrowful Life,” the fifteenth and next-to-last episode of this season of “The Walking Dead.” On the one hand, from a storytelling perspective, the whole “ransom Michonne” plot device was flawed from the onset, and came out of an extremely weak episode, last week’s “Arrow On The Doorpost.” The entire concept is ridiculous, and the idea that Rick would actually, seriously consider the offer simply felt wrong. And not just because I think that Rick is such a gosh-darn good guy, but because from a strictly common sense perspective the expectation that the Governor would somehow not betray them is simply unconvincing.

Yet at the same time, despite that weak premise, I thoroughly enjoyed what they did with this week’s episode. It requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but the players all sold it convincingly enough to allow one to overlook that fundamental weakness. “This Sorrowful Life” was less about the ransoming of Michonne and more about this new generation of family and how the conventional bonds of family and friendship have changed so very much. It shared an odd commonality with last week’s “Prey,” even though I found that episode to be wildly uneven and poorly scripted. Even so, the themes of “Prey” continued here, focusing this week on the prison almost entirely, and those themes played out much more substantively and with far more subtlety.

Truthfully, this episode was about choices as much as it was about family and how, in this new world, those two things are now linked. All season long, we’ve watched as people are forced to choose sides, forced to find common bonds and understandings in order to survive. But there’s more to it than living through the ordeal — there’s also living with yourself. “This Sorrowful Life” was about coming to terms with that, with finding your place within your family, and with coming to terms with who you have become. Those choices and changes of heart — particularly regarding Michonne — gave new depth to each individual, and made each of them ultimately better.

Those changes of heart were deftly executed, using the themes of love and family as a vehicle for those them. Herschel, surrounded by those he loves (including Glenn), understanding that his love for them — and vice-versa — is based on him being a certain kind of man, and that man would never surrender an ally to her torment and death. Daryl, with Merle’s willingness to be the bad guy, realizing that Merle really, truly, is no longer the man he wishes to be, even though he still wants him at his side. One gets the impression that what Daryl really wanted was for Merle to refuse Rick’s request, yet that’s not who Merle was at that place and time. And Rick, facing the darkness of Merle’s honest assessment of him as well as the light of the specter of Lori, realizing what we already knew — that as Daryl sagely and plainly said — “this ain’t us.” For once, the vision of Lori actually felt like it had purpose — to put Rick back on the path, rather than to drive him off it. Each of those little encounters was a simple yet wonderfully emotional and affecting moment.

Ultimately, this episode belonged to Merle, and to a lesser extent, Michonne. There was a curious sense of finality to the entire episode, as Merle went through a series of encounters — with Carol, with Rick, with Daryl and finally with Michonne — before finally seeing what kind of man he is. Not the kind of man he wants to be, or pretends to be, but what and who he really is. And the revelation that came with that was as startling for me as it was for Merle, because the truth was that strangely, in this cruel and savage new world, Merle is the only one who can’t find a place for himself. He pushed himself to the limits of his inhumanity in Woodbury and found it wanting, yet can’t live with the guilt of it at the prison. All that’s left for him is Daryl, but Daryl is no longer the brother he once had, nor is Merle the brother that Daryl wants. Daryl wants him in an ethereal, theoretical sense, but Merle now sees that Daryl has changed well beyond what they once were. “We can’t do things without people anymore,” Daryl tells him. And to Merle’s dismay, he can’t find people to accept him anymore.

He learns this through those various encounters, but no one shows him more forcefully, more bluntly, than Michonne. After Merle makes off with her, his redemption — such as it is — really begins. The performances of Rooker and Gurira absolutely owned this episode, giving it the perfect amount of weight and strength, yet never overdoing it. Rooker’s change of heart, his decision to finally be the man his brother wants him to be, is a heartbreaker. He’s right, of course — he can’t go back. He’ll always be a wedge in the group, the festering cut that simply won’t heal. But he can’t fail Daryl anymore, even if he can’t be with him, and delivering Michonne is to fail Daryl yet again. He’s gone too far, done too much. Yet he can, as Daryl promised Glenn, make it right. It will cost him everything, but he can try to make it right.

Of course, that final moment in the car almost lost me. There was another vague “doing something alone without telling anyone anything” moment, the likes of which has brought down prior episodes. The logical choice was to enlist the help of Michonne, a fellow outsider, to help in his newfound mission. Yet much like the overall premise of the episode, we’re sold on it because it’s carried out so perfectly. And that final firefight, with Merle viciously and unflinchingly gunning down his former comrades, felt that much more powerful as his redemptive rage was channeled — even as it ultimately failed. His defiant final moments, in the face of a snarling, atavistic Governor who truly has abandoned his humanity, were harsh and awful and perfect.

Despite all of its flaws, one of this show’s greatest strengths is when it deals with human weakness. It stumbled with its eventual depiction of the Governor, who crossed the line into villainous caricature some time ago. Merle’s arc, however, has been absolutely brilliant, with Rooker taking a reprehensible character and infusing so much life into it and making him riveting to watch. His reappearance has been spectacular, and his redemption, even as futile as it may have seemed, was stunning. It’s what made this one of the season’s stronger episodes, one that was full of power and sadness and depth. It’s a testament to both the show and Michael Rooker that the death of so awful a man could be so affecting, and it sets the tone for the now-inevitable final battle.

This episode was meant to parallel “Prey,” with Merle playing the role of Andrea. They followed the exact same formula — the moments of indecision, the conversations with fellow characters, the departure and moments of clarity, and ultimately the undoing on the steps of the enemy stronghold (at the hands of the Governor in both cases). But this week, that formula was carried out much more cleverly, with greater nuance and intelligence. As the perfect ending, we’re left with Daryl, our favorite character, floored by the utter devastation of seeing not just his brother’s fate, but being forced to deliver the final blows. And now, all that remains is the final battle, and for us to learn what brand of loyalty will have the most survivors.


“You talk about the weight of what you have to do, how you can handle it? The bad men, someone truly evil? They’re light as a feather. They don’t feel a thing.”
-Michonne


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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Ozioma

    One moment that really stuck with me was when Glenn broke off that female zombie's fingers and took her wedding ring without a second thought. And she just...paused and roared at him, louder than all the other zombies. That and Zombie!Merle, those flickers of memories still inside these creatures. Like she knew it was something important and that he shouldn't have taken it.

  • mvcleave

    The moment of the episode that stuck with me was the moment when Michonne taunted Merle about him, 'taking out the trash.' She was clearly referencing herself as being that 'trash,' and I believe that was the means for Merle turning the other way. I believe Merle, who was likely often referred to as white trash, felt a bit of familiarity with Michonne . She and he were rejects for their lack of ability to connect with others and were considered untrustworthy because of it. He felt himself, and she, to be the unintended 'trash' that many people don't feel are worth saving despite there desires to be courageous and noble. She, being the badass ninja that she is, was playing him with that comment, but it hit home with Merle who was nonetheless drawn to forgo his bigotry and do what was right over what was best for his survival.

  • RebelSoldier707

    This review is spot-on. Any episode that Gimple has worked on/written
    has been wonderful. I personally think that Season 4 is going to be
    fantastic, and not the meandering mess this season has been, even with
    it's few moments

    Poor Merle, his actions this episode made up for
    his scumbaggery. I had so many feels when Darryl saw Merle had turned.
    SO MANY FEELS, YOU GUYS!

    However, having discovered the huge
    disconnect between Andrea from the comics and the show, I hate what they
    have done with her in the show.

    Erhmahgerd Michonne. Love her!

    As
    soon as Rick saw Lori's silhouette, he was like, "awww fuck, not this
    bitch again... Hell no I'm not giving up Michonne." I also liked how
    they have (finally) decided to make Rick the anti-Governor. He sees now
    what ultimate power can do, "heavy lies the crown" kind of thing, and
    now he makes sure the whole group is involved.

  • Three_nineteen

    I think it's funny that the image of Lori caused Rick to change his mind, because she would have handed over Michonne in a second.

  • emmelemm

    Touché.

  • Boothy K

    That was the best line. And it was delivered perfectly by Michonne. I like those moments where there is barely a sound, crickets or the slight hum of the car motor. Even though it's the furthest thing from being true, the show feels real in those moments.

  • Single best line of the season, maybe of the series, "I'm a damn mystery to me."

  • lowercase_ryan

    I think Andrea is another person that doesn't fit in this new world. They were both alone, yet one was accepted and one wasn't. I'm really hoping these parallel paths mean she dies in the finale.

  • Regardless of what happens next week you know what would be an awesome one-off episode (or even a two parter) for The Walking Dead next season? The group getting stuck in a hurricane. I mean, they're down in Georgia with no doppler radar to predict these kinds of things - the weather ain't care about an apocalypse. And it's well documented that hurricanes are the zombies of weather phenomena. I have no idea if this sort of thing has been covered in the comics and I don't care. This is the episode of the show that I want to see.

  • ViciousTrollop

    They could also do a tornado made of zombies. If one formed right over a herd? That would be insane. Zombnado.

  • TK

    And thus, a new SyFy original movie is born.

  • PaddyDog

    Especially if a hurricane blew the zombies over the fence

  • Boothy K

    I know. Flying zombies would add a new element of danger!

  • emmelemm

    Watching The Talking Dead afterwards (again, I know, I know), someone pointed out that the Governor chose to shoot Merle in the chest rather than in the head. And for the whole show, both the Governor and the original group made a huge point of, "We never, NEVER, let one of ours turn."

    Fans have said loud and clear, "If Daryl dies, we riot." So, instead of killing Daryl, the producers just pound his poor heart into dust and put him through the emotional wringer to end all wringers. They won't kill him, just torture him in front of us. Well played, producers. Well played.

    I still love The Walking Dead. (I know, I'm like Andrea, I never learn.) Therefore I hate to pick on it, even now, but: Merle has "military experience" and is a sharp shooter, but he never killed anyone until the zombie apocalypse? HUH?

  • Boothy K

    Also: How did he do all that stealth shit if he was drunk?

  • SchmidtUltra

    I think Merle is the type of fella that can handle his drink pretty well.

  • Melissa D

    I've been in the military longer than I care to admit, and I've achieved marksman several times. I've never killed anyone. Just because you're in the military and/or are a good shot, it doesn't mean that killing is a regular part of your job.

  • DeltaJuliet

    I'm glad I'm not the only one to admit I still love the show. Sure, it has it's shortcomings and there is some stuff that bugs the hell out of me (Michonne's lack of dialogue FOREVER, Andrea, just in general) but all in all, it's one hour a week that I totally check out of my life and enjoy the story on the screen. My husband likes to complain when there is not enough zombie killing, but I really like just seeing the characters and how they deal (or don't deal) with each other and certain situations.

    Oh, and as far as Merle never killing anyone before, I can buy it. My husband has military training, knows how to use lots of guns, and has never killed anyone. Training doesnt necessarily mean combat. It could happen.

  • emmelemm

    Sorry.... never meant to imply that everyone who's in the military or has had military training has probably killed someone.

    But the character of Merle that they built up, and then added on that he had military experience and training, sounds like someone who would have found the opportunity to kill someone at some point along the way.

  • Melissa D

    I think that might be kind of the point - he's badass, but he's not some evil killing machine (or wasn't), even though we might automatically think he was in the before times as well.

  • abell

    First, might I add knife hands zombie? KNIFE HANDS ZOMBIE!

    (is the best zombie)

    Secondly, I am just tap dancing mad at Rick about this freshest idiocy. If we end up in a post apocalyptic hellscape, I'd like you all to remember something. The guy who says that he's going to kill you all unless you hand over one girl to be (best case scenario) killed or (more likely) tortured, mutilated, and then killed, is not the guy that you trust at his word. Do you know why? Because he wants to torture a chick for vengeance. Particularly, if you have plenty of evidence of his willingness to be evil/crazy (just ask Michonne, Glenn, or Maggie, or even the Darryl). Even better, why don't you ask Merle and find out how the Governor's dealt with groups like that in the past (did he forget about the army guys).

    Point being, it's the apocalypse, why the hell would you give one of your strongest fighters to a lunatic on the off chance that he's honest? Why would you not even consider treachery? Why would you not consider treachery (the other way)? Why have I not seen a single IED? Seriously, there are just cars everywhere, no one seems to pay attention. Stake out their route to the meeting or the prison, put a nasty hole in their caravan, mop up stragglers? Asymmetric warfare is a thing, Rick.

    Tap dancing over

  • supergwarr

    I think that one of the best
    aspects of this episode was the love story of Maggie and Glen. They are the
    beacon of hope that won't go out.

    This whole season the writers have been showing what kind of man rick can
    become. showing rick the govonor,morgan and Tyrees. Rick is at a path
    diverging. Rick needs to make a choice on who he is going to become and what he
    is willing to do to protect his family.

  • Kristen Mc

    Excellent review, as always. I found Merle's redemption a bit unsatisfying. It seemed to me like he was reflecting mostly on the choices he had made since joining up with the Governor.....recounting the 16 men he had killed, and whatnot. It felt a bit hollow to me, considering he wasn't a likable character when we are first introduced to him. He was always a dick, but he feels bad for becoming a bigger dick?
    In watching an airing of one of the first episodes last night, my husband pointed out that Merle was shouting the same "I'm not going to beg!" lines to the zombies on the roof, that ultimately become his final words to the Governor. Talk about full circle.

  • SVR

    The biggest problem with this episode is that it highlighted how weak the pacing and plotting of the second half of the season has been. Daryl and Merle returned to the prison in episode 10, and didn't speak again until this episode. There was virtually no payoff for a reunion that had been a season and a half in the making. And aside from a fight with Glen, there was no real fallout from Merle living at the prison. Daryl is just now talking to Glen about Merle? Hershel hasn't talked to Merle since that first (incredibly well acted scene) of the two of them discussing the Bible? Carol, who has grown so close to Daryl in the past year, speaks to Merle once? Instead of interesting character based conflict with the best actors on the show, we had two episodes of Andrea's Issues. I'd feel more for Merle's death if the writers hadn't wasted him for several episodes only to bring him out for his going away party.

  • Ghisent

    Part of the problem with this argument is we forget that time is different in the show. Steve Yeun was taking about this on a podcast this week - the time between episodes isn't the same as it is for viewers. Sometimes it's a day, sometimes it's two days, sometimes it's only an hour.

  • Artemis

    That may be true, but the audience only sees what's on screen. If you spend a season and a half building a reunion between two characters, it just isn't good storytelling to do pretty much nothing with the two of them until five episodes after they're brought back together. It doesn't matter if, in the world of the show, it's only been two days and they might have talked off screen -- what we see is more than a month of nothing.

  • SVR

    Agreed. And I'll add that plenty of shows are able to build suspense effectively even though there's a week between each episode. It's not like each episode of "24" was aired one right after another.

  • DarthCorleone

    True, but 24 was consistent in its depiction. At this point, I've given up on a realistic and consistent portrayal of time (and more importantly, geography) and am just going to chalk it up to suspension of disbelief.

  • Boothy K

    Oh, the geography! So messed up!

  • mairimba

    Just like season 2 was about a month in show-time.

  • Great recap, TK.

    Rooker just killed everything dead. How, underneath all that zombie make-up, he was able to express such emotion...the sadness in his eyes as he looked up at Daryl, I'll never know. Every scene he has been in has been utterly infused with Rooker-ness. That man is something special. And when Daryl realized; had to end his brother and fell back onto the ground sobbing, this show totally broke me. I didn't care how stupid Rick has been acting, how cartoonish the Governor, or even how out of character it was for Merle to lie on his back trying to start the car, when he knew the alarm was drawing in the undead. I didn't care one whit about Andrea, or whether Michonne would make it back. All I that mattered was how sad I felt for both Daryl and myself that we'll never see Merle again. Dude, you were scary crazy and I wouldn't want to run into you on my own, but I'll still miss you.

  • prairiegirl

    Rooker was just amazing in this episode and I'll admit, I never thought his character would make me cry but I did. Twice (first watching the episode, and again now, reading the recap). The last 15-20 minutes of the episode were so artfully handled. So well done. . .I really hope Daryl gets to take out the Governor. That is the only way I will get satisfaction with that character.

  • emmelemm

    Absolutely. Rooker's better than anyone gives him credit for.

  • Bodhi

    Hear, hear!

  • Puddin

    TWD is starting to feel like Sunday night homework. I'm just pushing on through so I can feel like I earned my new season of Mad Men.

  • amylu

    Anyone else notice the appearance of (a very good likeness to) Airport Zombie from the original Dawn of the Dead? He showed up during the bar scene with Merle.

    I love Nicotero even more than I did before for throwing us that little bone.

  • Frank Booth

    Saw that too ....nice to see i'm not the only one

  • The absolute best part of the episode for me (possibly the best acting of the season) was the little hint of pent up celebratory joy in the unnecessary (yet ENTIRELY NECESSARY) overkill blows with the knife that Daryl unleashed after he first put Merle down.

  • PaddyDog

    I liked this episode so much but I just don't understand how Michonne can suddenly be so articulate and perceptive. If she had used even a fraction of those same skills with Andrea, Andrea wouldn't be where she is now.

  • Shazza

    Actually Michonne DID try to talk Andrea into leaving but Andrea was so dickmatized, she didn't listen to her. I'm just hoping Tyrese gets some shine soon unless the whole 'can't have 2 black characters on-screen' wins out.

  • "Dickmatized." Amazing.

  • God Of Bal-Sagoth

    While I'm thrilled with the new Michonne, the old depiction of Michonne is one of the biggest screwups the show has made. One more reason to be happy with the new writers.

  • RilesSD

    Right. And how ridiculous was it that in "Prey," they finally gave a little backstory, and Michonne was still fucking silent. So what exactly is the bond between her and Andrea?? Andrea guessing Michonne's thoughts and feelings?

  • mairimba

    "And not just because I think that Rick is such a gosh-darn good guy, but because from a strictly common sense perspective the expectation that the Governor would somehow not betray them is simply unconvincing."

    Remember that the meeting that Rick had with the Governor was the first and only time he has seen him face to face. Talked to him personally. Everything else he knows is from what everyone else has told him. He also knows his group is weak compared to Woodbury. Giving up Michonne came more from being tired of fighting and having some hope that they could just for once move on and live in some kind of peace, and not from trust. Until now he had always acted as the leader of the group. But as the episode went on he realized that it's not just him that has brought the group this far, but everyone has played an important role. Including Michonne.

  • Carrie/Teabelly

    This episode was definitely better than last week. I wish I'd being paying attention at the beginning, as I ended up doing my annoying 'wait, what just happened?' thing. I've just found it hard to care for the last few eps.

    "even as it ultimately failed" seems to be the tagline for the season. I was frustrated with Merle for not getting the Governor. Again. I suppose he may not have known he'd show up, but if he'd been a bit more patient he could have taken him out. Easy for me to say, sitting in my living room and not seconds away from being surrounded by zombies, but still.

    Am hoping the finale will be good, but I'm quite ready for it to be done, which is a shame.

  • mairimba

    He's a trained rifle shooter. He wouldn't have missed the Governor if the kid hadn't stepped in the way. And then the walker came by and screwed everything up.

  • Carrie/Teabelly

    I was thinking more if he hadn't shot until the Governor showed up, therefore not calling attention to himself (I don't know when they realised he was there, I'd have to look again). But again he may not have known G was coming and yes, it wasn't the best circumstances. I just really want the Governor dead, damn it.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Was that Allen's son that walked into the scope as Merle was sighting in the Governor? I can't recall.

  • amylu

    Yeah, that was Allen's son.

    http://comicbook.com/blog/2013...

  • SchmidtUltra

    Not a huge fan of how they neglected Allen's other son and the whole psychotic child killer type story from the comic. Though I guess that might have been a tad too dark for TV.

  • Carrie/Teabelly

    Then uh oh. (In a good way.)

  • Bert_McGurt

    Well I guess Allen's going off the deep end then. There's one of the 27 deaths for next week.

  • Carrie/Teabelly

    Is Allen one of the newbies? (Note: example of me not paying attention.) I don't know but if it was that'd be interesting.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Yes, Allen and his son are part of the group with Tyrese and his sister.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Merle: "You're a late bloomer."
    Carol: "Maybe you are too."

    Poor Daryl. Reedus was really selling it in that last scene. An overwhelming combination of grief and relief. I said earlier this season that Daryl was going to be the one to have to deal with Merle, but this wasn't how I saw it going down.

  • Even Stevens

    His exchange with Carol was my favorite because it showed just how much everything and everyone has changed. Carol is also an excellent example of how the writers have handle character growth and depth. Simply put, Carol is bad ass now. Now if they just could just work on some other characters. COUGH ANDREA COUGH.

  • lowercase_ryan

    If she doesn't die this season then I think you will see Gimple change her completely next year. For the better. Look what he did with Michonne in two episodes.

  • Even Stevens

    Please, if that bitch ain't dead from all the stupid shit she's done already, she's not going anywhere. I find it hard to believe she'll get smarter, either.

  • Guest

    Michael Rooker, you deserved better.

    Overall a meh episode (more indecisive / crazy Rick, more pathetic / crazy Gov, and Maggie, Glen get got engaged, and Merle bought it. *Hopefully Andrea's next) I can't wait until this season is over.

  • toblerone

    Side Note: Not to spoil the finale but it is obliviously the wedding episode. I can't wait!

  • Boothy K

    This. This made me laugh. Out loud.

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