by Kat Rosenfield
With only a week left in the season, the latest episode of "The Walking Dead" was only a warm-up. The real carnage should come on next week's season finale, which, in the manner to which fans have become accustomed, is rumored to be an out-and-out bloodbath. "This Sorrowful Life", on the other hand, involved only a couple of sad goodbyes — and one cause for (quiet, non-zombie-attracting) celebration. Ready? Here's what went down.
Rick's moral center has been wobbling all season long, but it may have finally fallen down. As the show begins, he's decided to fulfill the terms of the Governor's agreement: Michonne in exchange for the long-shot possibility that her death will ensure the group's safety. Hershel and Daryl look appropriately horrified, but this is a Ricktatorship, y'all. All he needs is one more participant in his nefarious scheme... Merle!
Merle, being nothing if not consistent, is busy eviscerating the prison mattresses in search of hidden drugs. Rick explains the plan, but Merle is skeptical; considering the gory fate in store for Michonne, he doesn't think Rick can be so cold-blooded... but for the record, he suggests tying her hands with something un-chew-through-able.
Which brings us to this episode's primary character: Merle, the magnificent. Merle, the morally ambiguous. Merle, the mysterious! On one hand, he seems to have some of his own reluctant loyalty to the group Daryl has grown to love; on the other, he's hanging out in the basement looking for crystal meth and complaining that nobody likes him. (Though he does have a point: everyone hates him for giving up Maggie to the Governor, but it's okay for their fearless leader to sacrifice Michonne?) And Merle wasn't wrong: despite his best efforts at being a bad guy, Rick can't go through with the plan.
...But Merle can, and will. He conks Michonne on the head, binds her with wire, and perp walks her away down the road. Things aren't looking good for our katana-wielding heroine, and they get worse. Merle tethers her to a pole while he tries to hot-wire a car, which forces Michonne to improvise an amazing kill using her own wire bonds (decapitation by telephone cord!) when the squalling security alarm draws a horde of walkers, and then he bundles her into the passenger seat as they move again for Woodbury. But just when it seems like she's bound for the Governor's death chair, Merle pulls to the side of the road and... lets her go?!
And while everyone contemplates the wild and glorious enigma that is Merle Dixon, let's check in on the prison survivors — specifically Glenn, who's having some Real Talk with Hershel. He wants permission to marry Maggie! Y'know, insofar as that means anything in a world where your spouse could be eaten by zombies at anytime.
"We don't have to have a wedding", he says. Well, that's probably wise; all the good venues are crawling with corpses. We can just forget the trappings of the wedding-industrial complex entirely. Except that Glenn then goes outside, checks out a group of lady zombies at the fence, and procures an engagement ring for his bride-to-be by cutting off one of their fingers. Wow. WOW. (Next week: the bachelor party!)
And back on the long road to Woodbury, Merle has taken a moment to stop, think, and booze it up in a zombie-infested parking lot while the walkers paw hungrily at the windows. Soon he's got two dozen dead people chasing his car, and his plan becomes clear: he's bringing the horde for a nice dinner with a local head of state. Sneaky! And effective! The walkers approach and the Governor's posse comes out to kill them. Merle, hidden in an empty building, takes the posse out one by one. But when he gets the one-eyed ubervillain in his sights, tragedy strikes: poor Ben stumbles in front of the bullet, and Merle stumbles out from his hiding spot in mid-tussle with a walker. He's caught! Fists fly! Merle screams, as the Governor bites off two of his five remaining fingers and spit them on the floor! And then, it's over. Merle's caught, and he knows it. He glares at his enemy, and spits, "I ain't beggin'."
"No," says the Governor, and shoots him.
Oh, but not in the head; that would be too courteous. Instead, when Daryl appears, he finds his brother — dead-eyed, fully zombified, and teeth-deep in somebody's spleen. And there's a lot of stabbing and crying.
And so it was that the reign of the dastardly Dixon boys, plural, came to a terrible end. RIP, Merle. You were the best sandpaper-voiced bully with a weaponized hand stump a girl could ever want.
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