On a show with more consistent characterizations, ‘This Sorrowful Life’ would be one of the best episodes of the series. But on this The Walking Dead, where character motivations are at the whimsy of plot necessity, ‘This Sorrowful Life’ is merely a good episode of the show. It’s at its best with Merle and Michonne, a plot with a tight, definitive arc for one of its more-maligned characters, surrounded by a lot of Rick staring at shit and the continuous glimmer of hope that is Glenn and Maggie.
There’s a distinct lack of plausibility in the opening scene: Rick’s changed his mind about everything Governor-related, deciding that giving up Michonne is the way it “has to be” – a wholly ridiculous idea at this point for Rick, but whatever, right? It quickly moves its focus to Merle, a man who just does dumb shit because he just don’t understand anything (explained in one of the more painfully mindless bits of character interaction all season). But it’s ultimately for the better: it allows Merle to make a single human connection outside of his brother before his death, and define himself as a character a little bit.
I say ‘define’ because the only time character traits are really solidified is when a character is dead – if not, inconsistency will inevitably leak into their actions, as we’ve seen all season with characters like Merle and Andrea. But it was good to see Merle finally accept that he’s the piece of shit nobody really wants to deal with, and at least tries to go out in a blaze of glory – though again, his plan to take out The Governor and his entire militia single-handed is a joke, and isn’t really defined past “Michonne won’t shut the fuck up so I gotta do something”.
If anything, it gives us a scene when Daryl stumbles upon his zombie brother (coincidentally, the most self-aware zombie we’ve ever seen on the show, a sign of what happens when a real actor tries to ‘act’ as a zombie), and has to mourn him as he murders him, silently stabbing him in the face and crying over his lost sibling. Merle’s best scenes in the episode come with Daryl around, whether he’s pointing out how much Daryl’s changed, or staring at him with the lifeless eyes of a zombie amputee.
Outside of Glenn and Maggie – their engagement giving us all a teeny bit of hope for the future, although I’m sure nobody can shake the feeling that one of them will be dying soon (I do hope I’m wrong here) – the episode’s mostly a wash, lots of Rick standing around, being indecisive about being a leader, until he says “fuck it – done with this ‘leader’ thing! Going to play the ‘team’ card here; let’s all decide!” He does make a great point by comparing himself to the Governor, but the flip-flopping that comes before is a big waste of everybody’s time (and yes, I’m including the lame Biblical voice over Herschel provides as Rick finds wire to tie up Michonne with).
I wish we’d seen more of the Governor before the season finale – at this point, they’re no longer concerned with his character or Woodbury, reinforcing their superficial presence in the season. The only time we see the Governor, he says one or two words, bites off some fingers, and shoots Merle dead (a death that oddly takes place off-screen). At this point, there’s no character work left for him or anyone in the town, save for one or two more scenes of the Governor hamming it up in front of the camera before death. As “This Sorrowful Life” proves, characters don’t go out without a showcase.
– if I had to bet on prison candidates to die next week (it’s a season finale, someone has to die), I’d probably go with Herschel and/or Carol. Now that Rick’s being a nice, moralized guy again, there isn’t much left for Herschel to do except marry his daughter and get killed on a high note.
– once Carol was afraid, and now she is not.
– no news on Andrea, or the location of the Governor’s speculum at this time. Updates to follow.
– I haven’t heard the phrase “things are different now” many times this season, but boy, it stuck out like a sore thumb in this episode.
– did anyone see Merle grab the phone Rick was talking on earlier this season? What was the point of that?
– the one thematic thing that worked in this episode (and probably saved it): Rick points out that “we choose how we live, and we choose how we die”, exactly what Merle did in this episode – right before dying, he tells the Governor “I’m not going to beg!”
– Merle’s torn up about killing sixteen men? Since when?
– contained episode with less characters and jumping around = good. How they orchestrated that in this episode = not so good.