(photo courtesy of rickey.org)

(photo courtesy of rickey.org)

For six long years I’ve been in trouble
No pleasure here on earth I found
For in this world I’m bound to ramble
I have no friends to help me now

As expected, the 15th episode of the 3rd season of The Walking Dead finally delivered the goods after a nice slow build-up of the last few shows. Mirroring season 2’s next-to-last episode, there was the death of a major character. However as dramatic as the Rick-Shane showdown was last year, it lacked the sadness and pathos that marked Merle’s demise in “This Sorrowful Life”.

While many folks seem to think this season’s acting highlights came during the Rick and Morgan tense post-traumatic-stress-disorder shouting match of “Clear”, for me the finest acting of this series to date was Michael Rooker’s nuanced performance as Merle this past Sunday night. Previously Merle (or “MORHL!” as his baby bro Daryl likes to call him, similar to the way rednecks call Marlboros “MAW-BURLS”) had mostly been a one-note character, a leering and hateful racist with psychopathic/violent tendencies.

(Although with great politically incorrect lines; one of my faves being the time that he threw the walker in a room with Glenn and said that it would be hungry again in an hour. LOL. Smiley face.)

But in this episode we were allowed to see the weariness of a man struggling with demons and the knowledge that there just isn’t a place for him among most folks, even in this brutal world in which he now finds himself. While the sights of Merle ripping apart prison mattresses in search of drugs or chugging whisky by himself in a car surrounded by walkers were far from subtle, the quiet brokenness and bone-tired expressions of Rooker’s countenance kept the scenes from becoming maudlin.
Even as Carol, Daryl and even his captive Michonne tried their best to reel Merle back in and remind him that he could have a place with the group if he wanted it, Rooker’s haunted eyes let us know that it just wasn’t going to be possible, and cast a sense of foreshadowing that his story was going to have a…well, sorrowful ending. I hesitate to use the word “poetic” to describe Merle’s redemption story, but maybe “lyrical” (in a classic country music sensibility, more on that later) isn’t too far off…

And just as a reminder, here are this writer’s words from my previous prediction write-up:
>I think there have been signs leading up to his redemption cycle coming full-circle, which would be sacrificing himself for his brother and the group. Merle knows he’ll never fit in fully with Rick’s group, no matter how much Hershel Claus sits down and shares the good book with him. He’s all but confessed his sins and going out in a blaze of glory protecting his “family” makes sense. And Merle’s death could lead to some nice dramatic scenes from Daryl. I wouldn’t be surprised if episode 15’s title “This Sorrowful Life” doesn’t turn out to be a reference to Merle himself.

Whoa. I’ll take “Prescient” for $1000, Alex…LOL. Winky face.

When Daryl interrupted walker Merle/MORHL from his lunch of Ben Tartare, the pathetic look on Rooker’s face was every bit as sad + chilling as the moment when walker Sophia shambled out of the barn last year. Acting props to Norman Reedus for a gut-wrenching scene as well. I’ve read/heard that Reedus and Rooker are close off-screen, and Daryl’s display of distraughtness (yes I know that’s not a word) felt quite genuine at the loss of his brother. This was demonstrated by him making a genuine ugly-cry-face, the kind people make when their hearts are really breaking and not the way that actors typically cry (usually in a more photogenic manner). So Daryl gets points for ugly-cry-face, which makes up for his disturbing recent trend of softness he’s been showing lately. Hey, its great to see Daryl’s good guy side, but the writers don’t need to lose sight of the fact that it was his surly cut-you-with-a-broken-beer-bottle attitude that made everyone like him so much in the first place…

And if “Clear” had the feel of a Vietnam-era war movie, “Arrow On The Doorpost” a tense Western, and “Prey” an 80’s slasher flick (ch-ch-ch-ch), “This Sorrowful Life” came across like a mournful little indie flick (and I mean that in the best possible sense). Or perhaps more accurately a good ol’ country song complete with a whisky chuggin’ ne’er-do-well anti-hero looking for a final reckoning  And I don’t mean the modern garbage country on the radio today with laundry list songs about cruisin’ down the dirt roads in brand new Chevy Silverados sung by guys with frosted tips and Ed Hardy T-shirts. I’m talking about the Johnny Cash/David Allen Coe outlaw/white trash songs about desperation, bad decision-making and basically drinking yourself to death…you know: good times. In fact, could the name “Merle” be a reference to Merle Haggard? Yes, I believe I’m going to insist that it is…

But enough about Merle, let’s talk about the finger-chomping one-eyed monster who shot him but apparently NOT IN THE HEAD. Wow, they are really slapping the “villain” paint all over the Gov pretty heavily, aren’t they? He’s progressively gone from somewhat sneaky/probably-not-nice/mildly-disturbed to full-on Darth Jason Kruger Lechter Bin Laden the last few weeks. I fully expected the Gov to kill MORHL, but forcing him to join Team Walker so that a member of Rick’s posse (much less his own brother) could stumble across him was a master stroke. This only reinforces my hunch that even if Phillip Blake dies this Sunday, he will do something utterly reprehensible and soul-ripping to deputy sheriff Rick Grimes and/or family before he checks out.
(But now I’m not sold that the Gov is going to die for sure at the end of the season finale. More on that later.)

Back at the prison, Hershel Claus was reading to his girls from the 91st Psalm, which in absolutely no way indicates that he is going to die soon. Especially when he said to them: “What I wouldn’t do to keep you 2 safe…” (I know what: live to see season 4). Actually, I’m starting to wonder if the writers are making it so very obvious Hershel Claus is dead meat as a diversionary tactic, the old bait-and-switch. While we are watching/waiting for a Woodbury bullet to take out our dispenser of sage greeting-card wisdom, Beth gets Axel’ed instead? Sure, it could happen that way, although I think I may be over-thinking things and sometimes fore-shadowing is just fore-shadowing.

So if Hershel Claus dies, who assumes the mantle of White Morgan Freeman and gets to wear the Dale Horvath Memorial Moral Compass around his neck? Well, Glenn’s “I totally get it now” dialogue with Hersh had the feel of a passing-of-the-torch moment, so he’s the obvious candidate. Especially since he spent the first 2 seasons as Dale’s RV and philosophy padawon before now becoming Hershel’s…


Yes, Glenn popped the question on Maggie in the most romantic way possible: by cutting the fingers off a female walker to get her a ring. And the thing is? That made perfect sense to me and I thought nothing of it. Given the show’s occasional propensity for corporate tie-ins (ahem, I’m looking at you, green Hyundai Tucson), I almost expected a tender moment ala Lifetime/Hallmark/Larry Levinson where Glenn extended a Kay’s Jeweler’s box of gnarled rotting fingers to his beloved. Because every kill begins with “K”. He went to Jared? No, actually he just went down to the chain-link fence with a pair of bolt cutters…

I know I said before that a surprise Maggie pregnancy could dramatically shorten Glenn’s lifespan on the show. But I think instead their impending nuptials insure they will live and Hershel will…well, not. By knowing that Glenn will now be the man of the family, Hershel can die in relative peace. Because what he wouldn’t do to keep those 2 (girls) safe…(He said that, you know)
But who can legally perform Glenn + Maggie’s ceremony? Does being a deputy sheriff give Rick the authority? Does the Gov have jurisdiction? That would be awkward. And what do you get newlyweds during a zombie apocalypse…ammo, duct tape? Are they registered at that “Piggly Wiggly up on 85”?

Another pivotal moment towards the end of the show was Rick finally coming to his senses about sacrificing Michonne to the Gov and giving an emotional speech to the group where he rescinded his previous declaration of Ricktatorship. “I’m not the Governor…” he declared, letting us know that spending time around ol’ Phil Blake had taught him a few things about the importance of a democracy (or the seductive dangers of tyranny?). Rick also took the opportunity to demonstrate his rhyming skillz in front of the group by channeling Nipsy Russell and/or Johnnie Cochran when he said:
“He said he’d leave us alone, if I gave him Michonne…”

Hmm, not bad. I wonder what’s next from M.C. Grimey and the Funky Bunch?

If the crossbow bolt don’t hit, you might get bit?

Roses are red,
Hershel is moral,
Is that Lori I just saw?

So now we’re winding down the final episode and it feels like there’s quite a few loose ends to tie up: Andrea’s situation in the Gov’s little shop of horrors (we forgot all about her!), the fates of folks like Milton, Tyrese, etc and oh yeah some attack on the prison or whatever. We are either in store for an amazingly jam-packed episode (which I certainly think it will be to a degree) or…maybe some open-ended items/unresolved business left hanging over the summer. Yes, while last season ended after farm-pocalypse and (the promise of) the introduction of Michonne and prison life, I think this season will more likely end with a major cliff-hanger. Specifically I’m leaning to the idea that Gov Phillip Blake might just ride off into season 4 with something of Rick’s (ie Judith L. A$$-kicker) in tow.

It’s gonna be good…till it’s over. Then it’s gonna really be a sorrowful life for us viewers. Frowny face.

Until next time, some notes + questions:
>Why did Maggie suddenly show up dressed like a Nazi SS Stormtrooper with brown UPS shirt + pants and knee boots?
>Was Michonne’s wire-around-a-pole decapitation the walker kill of the year? Or is it still Daryl’s head-in-the-hatchback?
>Did you know that if you watch the show with close-captioning turned on (yeah, I’m a little deaf), that when the walkers chow down it reads “(munching)” on the screen?
>Did you know that putting “This Sorrowful Life” into google image search yields a photo of a pregnant Kim Kardashian wearing white mom jeans? I think Google was taking my request a little too literally…

And a quick trivia quiz: what grows the s-l-o-w-e-s-t on The Walking Dead?
a. The grass at the prison.
b. Carol’s Jamie Lee Curtis hairdo (sing: “AC-TIV-EE-AHHHH!”)
c. Glenn’s pube-stache.

The answer of course is (c)…you shouldn’t be getting married if your wife and/or her little sister can grow thicker facial hair than you.

Tune in later,

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avatar J. Christopher Smith (10 Posts)

Chris is a lifelong fan of anything dark + macabre, beginning with the old classic black-and-white horror movies (that he had to sneak and stay up and watch) as well as campy TV fare such as The Addams Family, The Munsters, and The Night Stalker. That led at an early age to the writings of Stephen King and Peter Straub, then onward to the works of artists such as Edgar Allen Poe, Edward Gorey, Thomas Harris, Carl Hiaasen, Chuck Palahniuk, and of course, Dr Seuss. Chris was born + raised in Middle Tennessee, received his further education at Western Kentucky University, and currently lives among the moss-covered oaks of historic coastal Southeastern Georgia. In past lives he's been a long-haired bass player in college rock bands and an over-worked restaurant manager, but currently crunches numbers and curb-stomps spreadsheets for a Fortune 500 company. Chris enjoys spending time at his spooky marsh-front manor (dubbed the Monster Plantation or Monsta P) with his lovely wife Melanie, their dogs, and a monkey butler named Amos Moses.

One Response to A Merle Of Constant Sorrow…The Walking Dead re-cap season 3 episode 15 “This Sorrowful Life”

  1. avatar Darlene Jones says:

    I really hated to see Merle go. just like in real life,you try to do the rigt thing and better yourself and BAM ! YOU GET CUT DOWN. His character did’nt deserve that.but i do hope THE GOVERNOR GETS IT GOOD !I want him to suffer for a long time and beg pitifully and watch him turn and then get put out of his misery.I would laugh ,jump for joy and cheer like a cheerleader.im gonna miss Merle.

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