A review of tonight's "The Walking Dead" coming up just as soon as I crank up some Motorhead...
"This Sorrowful Life" started out seeming like it was going be a long slog towards an inevitable result: an hour of Rick beating himself up over whether to turn Michonne into the Governor, when we all know, like Merle, that he would never do such a thing. Fortunately, it took an abrupt right turn about at third of the way through, with Merle relieving Rick of the choice and dragging Michonne off to the rendezvous by himself.
This was also something of an inevitability. The odds of Michonne being killed before the finale (if then) seemed non-existent, and once Merle decided to let her go and try to take out the Governor himself, you knew how it would end. Again, you can't take out the bad guy before the climax, and you can't have a relatively minor character like Merle be the one doing the killing.
That said, it was at least an interesting march to the inevitable this way, albeit one that burned one of the show's better actors in the process. Because the characterization on "The Walking Dead" is so spotty(*), the show tends to rise and fall on the strength of the individual performers. Once Merle returned this year as something other than a fire-breathing racist caricature, Michael Rooker demonstrated that he was one of the castmembers who could do a lot with a little, and he'll be missed.
(*) Note that this is another one written by new showrunner Scott M. Gimple, and likely a better representation of what he'll be able to do next season than "Clear" was.
But at least we got some insight into Merle before the Governor shot him and his brother stabbed his face eighty dozen times — and not in the superficial "here are one or two anecdotes about my previous life so you'll feel bad about me when I die in two minutes" way that T-Dog and Axel got earlier this season. We got to understand what makes Merle tick — some of that courtesy of the suddenly chatty Michonne — and in his clever solo assault on the Governor's forces, we got to see the kind of value he might have brought to Rick's group if he hadn't been so hell-bent on playing the bad guy.
I'd have liked for him to stick around — and/or for him to have taken out the Governor, which would have been both surprising and something of a relief from a character who's grown tiresome — but I liked the way Rooker and Danai Gurira worked together, and Daryl seeing the monster wearing his brother's face was as horrifying in its own way as Sophia's emergence from the barn midway through last season.
Some other thoughts on "This Sorrowful Life":
* In terms of the action back at the prison, I couldn't help but find it funny that Rick delivers his big speech about how he needs to stop being a dictator and listen to what the others have to say... and then immediately walks away, rather than wait to actually hear what they have to say in response to the many, many talking points provided by that monologue.
* I can in general take or leave the Glen/Maggie relationship, but I enjoyed the proposal scene, both for the way Greg Nicotero shot it and because I could imagine the conversation continuing off-camera with Maggie asking Glen how he happened to come by such a pretty ring. How long do you think he spent disinfecting it?
* The car alarm scene had some nice action beats, like Michonne staying alive with the help of her tether, but wouldn't Merle think to poke his head up for a moment to see if this loud noise was attracting all those mindless killers who are attracted to loud noises?
* I didn't get a screener for tonight, nor will I have one for the finale, so don't go looking for a finale review until later next Sunday night, or possibly Monday morning.
Once again, let me remind you again of this blog's No Spoiler rule and how it applies to this show, as I've had to delete a bunch of comments the last few weeks that violated it. Basic things to remember before commenting:
1. No talking about the previews for the next episode.
2. No talking about anything else you know about upcoming episodes from other sources — and, yes, that includes anything Mazzara and Kirkman have said in interviews.
3. No talking about anything that's happened in the comic that hasn't happened in the TV show yet. (Or anything that's been revealed, like character backstory and motivation.) As with "Game of Thrones," the goal is to treat "The Walking Dead" TV show as exactly that, and not as an excuse for endless comparisons with the comics. If you want to talk about the comics, feel free to start up a discussion thread on our message boards.
With that in mind, what did everybody else think? Given the frustration with the back half of the season I've seen here so far, are you looking forward to the finale, or are you just waiting for things to be over until next fall?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org