The Walking Dead, Ep. 3.15: “This Sorrowful Life” transcends its genre roots even as it feeds into them

Merle-WalkingDead

The Walking Dead, Season 3, Episode 15: “This Sorrowful Life”
Written by Scott M. Gimple
Directed by Gregory Nicotero
Airs Sundays at 9pm ET on AMC

There is a common mistake most viewers make when watching a television show, and that is, that they assume characters will and should react in ways that they would if put in a similar situations. When browsing the internet, one can easily come across thousands of complaints based on how a certain character in The Walking Dead chooses to react. In truth, nobody knows how people would act in a zombie apocalypse. There has often been leaps in plausibility and character logic in AMC’s hit series, despite it’s preternatural setting – but sometimes you just have to be willing to accept it in order to further enjoy the show. Why would Rick, Herschel and Darryl even consider giving up Michonne to The Governor is beyond me. Why would they even go to war considering that three members of their group consist of a newborn baby and two adolescents? And why would anyone choose to stay in a prison which has already been proven to not be a safe haven? Any rational human being would have packed up and moved on, but not Rick and his gang. They instead choose to stay, and fight an army, knowing full well, blood will be shed. These are just some of the many questions viewers of season three are struggling with – and that is just the tip of the iceberg. And let’s not forget of course, Andrea’s every decision and move all season long.

The good news, is that this penultimate episode titled, “This Sorrowful Life,” was nothing short of outstanding; a terrifying, perfectly executed piece of grade-A horror that transcends its genre roots even as it feeds into them. Written by season four showrunner Scott Gimple and directed by special effects wiz Greg Nicotero, “This Sorrowful Life,” packs an emotional punch that manages to move the story forward. Gimple has publicly announced that season four will focus more on character development, and given the last few episodes, it seems clear that this is exactly where the show is headed. While the plot is centred around the “deal” between Rick and the Governor, this episode is all Merle, and the writers take giant strides in fleshing out his character.

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When the Governor requests Michonne in exchange for peace, it not only becomes a true test of Rick’s character, but Merle as well. With “This Sorrowful Life,” The Walking Dead delivers another great bit of character redemption, by way of sacrifice. Merle gets a shot at redemption, and he runs with it, in his own erratic way. Can a leopard change its spots? All animals, including humans, are instinctual, and we may or may not be able to change that. If change means behaviour as a collection of habits, then people are definitely capable of change. But why the sudden turnaround for this Dixon brother? Truthfully, Merle hasn’t changed – he’ s just always had some bit of good inside him. Anyone thinking that Merle would actually deliver Michonne to The Governor is reading his entire character arc wrong. The tight bond between the Dixon brothers has long been established, and again reinforced here during his chat with Carol and later with Michonne. Carol suggests that he is a late bloomer, and Michonne later tries to persuade Merle to start over. But Merle knows who he is, and knows that life will be simpler for Darryl if he would just see his way out of his brother’s life. Perhaps Merle’s mission is motivated not so much by him seeking redemption as it is, just knowing his baby brother has found a new family and will be better off. Make no mistake about it, this was a suicide mission from the get-go. For a character who has been racist and sexist since the start, it was a nice touch on the part of the writer Scott M. Gimple (also responsible for penning the excellent episode “Clear”), to have Merle gain awareness from an African American woman. And how surprising is it, that Merle’s death is so utterly heartbreaking? Naturally, a good chunk of credit goes to actor Michael Rooker, but let us also take into account the reaction of Daryl. Norman Reedus is afforded a chance to show off his range as an actor when conveying Daryl’s absolute despair in the final moments. His finding Merle is reminiscent of the scene when Rick kills Shane, also in a penultimate episode, that of Season 2.

Jean Luc-Godard once said, that if a movie features three great scenes and no bad ones, is a great film. If the same can be said for an episode of a TV series, then “This Sorrowful Life,” is excellent. There is a trio of standout sequences found here: Michonne and Merle’s brief road-trip is punctuated by one suspense sequence where Merle accidentally sets off a car alarm and Michonne discovers new and innovative ways to take out a couple of walkers. Decapitating a walker, all while tied to a post, was stupefying, and Merle’s last stand is a terrific follow up. The slow reveal of his master plan is well executed and accompanied with the sounds of Motorhead, no less. Merle’s march toward certain death, while followed by a large crowd of flesh eating walkers is truly terrific, but director Greg Nicotero one ups the scene by having Merle use the gunfire of The Governor’s men to conceal his own blasts. The entire sequence is nothing short of genius, culminating with The Governor biting off Merle’s fingers and spitting them right out on the camera’s lens. How often does a series have a climax so fiercely funny and utterly horrifying?

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Michael Rooker does terrific work here and it’s a shame he has to go. Merle and Michonne are always fun to watch together onscreen, and Danai Gurira and Rooker have great chemistry. In “This Sorrowful Life,” Michonne is awarded her most screen-time and most dialogue since “Clear,” and their fateful trip reassures us that Gimple is the right man to take over as showrunner. The journey is highlighted by superb character beats, good acting, and some much appreciated touches of humour. Meanwhile, back at the prison, some alone time is awarded to Glenn and Maggie. Their subplot brings some much appreciated levity, and Glenn’s marriage proposal is handled with subtlety. Yet having them embrace with the sounds of groaning walkers in the background has me fearing that this heartwarming moment is foreshadowing Glenn’s soon to be death. Personally, I think a wedding episode would be a ton of fun, so let’s hope the young lovers have a chance to tie the knot.

The last important change to take away form this episode is that Rick ends his “Ricktatorship” lead. One can only assume, and hope that this episode features the last time Rick will ever see Lori’s ghost. I also have to highlight Rick’s big, motivational speech to the group: “We are the greater good. We’re the reason we’re still here, not me.”

Blood has been shed on both sides of the conflict; and with one episode left in season three, we should expect more blood loss… and maybe the loss of a few limbs – or heads – or babies?

- Ricky D

Other thoughts:

The name of the episode shares the same name as the sixth volume of the Comic Series, Volume 6: This Sorrowful Life.

R.I.P. Ben

This is the first episode since “Killer Within” to have a main cast member die.

No Andrea!!!

The Walker Bomb set up by Merle parallels the scene when the Governor released walkers out of a truck into the prison yard.

Merle: “You’re cold as ice, Officer Friendly.”

Many fingers were lost in this episode – four to be exact: two from a walker and two of Merle’s fingers during the fight.

Merle: “Do you even possess a pair of balls, little brother? Are they even attached?”

Merle: “You gotta play the hands you’re dealt. I only got one.”

Carol is still awesome despite the little screen time she is given.

Michonne: “Wanted my sword back before I got away”

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By Ricky

Ricky D is the editor-in-chief of Sound on Sight and one of the hosts of the Sound On Sight podcast and the Sordid Cinema podcast. He is Sound On Sight's expert on Horror and contributes written reviews when time permits.

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2 Responses to The Walking Dead, Ep. 3.15: “This Sorrowful Life” transcends its genre roots even as it feeds into them

  1. Ricky March 25, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    I actually did not notice this. Now I need to go back and watch the episode again.

    Reply
  2. sil March 25, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    great episode..anyone notice the homage to ‘dawn of the dead’? the walker with the plaid shirt coming out of the bar..just like the zombie in DotD movie poster and gas station scene..

    Reply

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