this sorrowful life 2

Rating: ★★★★★

MASSIVE SPOILERS

Who would have thought the best episode of the season would be about Merle Dixon? I originally thought Merle Dixon was an awful character created to build conflict in a show that didn’t need it. Michael Rooker is an amazing actor, with an incredible body of work, but Merle never won me over. Even with the looming re-emergence of the character I didn’t care.

But Michael Rooker is an amazing actor, as I said above. So not only did he give us a reason to care about Merle Dixon, but he’s going to make us mourn him for a very long time. At the end of the episode, even with all of his faults and personal demons, Merle is only a human being.

Everything he did, he did for Daryl Dixon in this episode. Knocking out Michonne, bringing her to the governor, and deciding his ultimate end, he did it all for Daryl because that’s the only person who ever gave him purpose. When Merle met with Daryl again, little did he know Daryl would find a family and a whole new series of allies to fight for, but lo and behold. At the end of civilization, Merle never found a reason to keep going, while Daryl can count many reasons why he wants to keep going for another day.

All of the head games and manipulation from Merle was a means of controlling Daryl to stick with Merle. Because at the end of the day, Merle needed Daryl more than Daryl ever needed Merle. This is an episode mainly bent on exploring the madness behind a vicious villain for a whole of the series, while giving us a look at some survivors who never quite find a place in the world, even when the world’s been consumed by the living dead. People moved on and grew. He didn’t.

Much like Shane Walsh, Merle Dixon never found a place, and he did whatever he could to give himself the delusion of belonging. Even killing innocent people. At the beginning of the episode, Rick is very prepared to turn Michonne in to the Governor and keep the group safe. He confides in Daryl who merely sighs and goes along with it, and then he confides in Merle, who he attempts to berate. Merle’s ultimate confrontation with the individuals of the group as well as Rick disgusted me, because in essence, Merle was right. They have the gall to look down on Merle for his actions, but in the end, they have just as much blood on their hands.

this sorrowful life

Sure, Merle murdered innocent people to stay alive, but Rick murdered two nomads in a bar to keep himself alive. Sure, Merle beat Glenn near death to get information from him, but Rick and his group tortured, beat, and were going to execute a kid to get information from him about his group. What gives them the right to judge Merle? We’re all just animals, now. Doing whatever it takes to ensure our safety.

Rooker’s performance was incredible, and it became very clear by the end of Michonne and he’s journey that there was just no use in trying to get through to the Governor. No matter who Merle served up to the Governor, the group is doomed for an attack, and Merle eventually realized this. Guerira’s interplay with Rooker is also a major highlight of the episode, as the pair express their outlook on the world, and where they stand. Michonne has so much to live for, even with her position in the group unsure. Merle really has no idea of where he stands, even though Michonne appeals to his judgment to come back and try to find his place in Rick’s group.

The car jacking scene was excellent, particularly in expressing how Michonne is so ready to live, while Merle often has no idea what common sense is. Merle’s ultimate demise is probably one of the most brutal deaths of any character on the series so far, and on paper, his raid on the Governor post with the zombie herd was a wonderful idea (Did anyone else grin wide at the sight of the flannel zombie from “Dawn of the Dead” suddenly emerging to greet Merle?). Barring the intruder in the silo, Merle could very well have cut down the Governor’s numbers wonderfully.

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Sadly, he failed, and the Governor’s reprisal to Merle was vicious, cold blooded and hard to endure. When Daryl finally embarks on the aftermath and is face to face with the very undead representation of his only living relative, it was hard to watch. Reedus’ reaction as well as his refusal to attack Merle was incredible, and it was a tough parting shot from the Governor who I am convinced fully intended for Merle to stray out there to lurk with the other walkers. The Governor surely means business, and leaving walker Merle was a surefire sign that he is not only taking no prisoners, but is enjoying this war.

“The Sorrowful Life” was a wonderful insight in to the life of Merle Dixon, as well as the life of arguably the most popular character on the show, Daryl Dixon. It’s my favorite episode of the season, by far.

We have one more episode until it all comes to a crashing end. Expect some thoughts on the whole season, then.

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This article was first posted on March 25, 2013