Merle Dixon

Right out of the gate you should know this is a Michael Rooker episode. He’s the gifted actor who plays Merle Dixon, the angry, ex-military member of Rick’s group and the writers let him chew up an awful lot of scenery in “The Sorrowful Life,” the latest installment from the AMC smash-hit The Walking Dead.

So, one episode left in the season and honestly it’s been an exciting homestretch. The big showdown between The Governor’s and Rick’s gang has been heating up for a couple of weeks now and it looks like they’re saving the best for last.

“The Sorrowful Life” could mean a lot of things to the show’s main protagonists, but in this instance it can only refer to Merle. He’s tormented, he’s out of place in the world, and since the zombie apocalypse started, the weight of all the people he’s killed has caused his conscience to collapse.

Merle is remorseful but far too proud to seek emotional solace in another living human, not even his brother, Daryl. It’s only fitting, given his fractured state-of-mind and increasingly agitated demeanor that Rick approaches him to take Michonne and hand her over to The Gov and his cronies.

It is clear he still has some humanity left inside when he starts to explain to Rick that the Gov won’t kill Michonne. No, he’ll torture her, including plucking out both her eyes just for fun. Rick, surprisingly, is unmoved even when Merle says, “You’re as cold as ice, Officer Friendly.”

The pressure is also—obviously—taking its toll on Rick’s psyche. He’s started seeing his wife again. No, they’re not dating after a cooling off period; his dead wife. He’s seeing her everywhere, but he knows she isn’t really there.

I can imagine just how disorienting and upsetting that would be. Questioning my own sanity any more than already I do would likely push me right around the bend, over the cliff, gone and not coming back.

Anyway, it’s safe to say there’s a ton of pressure inside the prison compound, and some of it, interestingly enough, has led to something good. Rick’s conscience is dictating the terms and conditions of his Lori hallucinations, and this time it’s quite judgmental. As a result of Rick knowing the right thing to do all along, he decides he can’t toss Michonne under the proverbial bus. Whew, right?

Speaking of Michonne, remember her? Merle got to her before Rick had a chance to text him the good news, and in a New York minute has her hands bound and they’re on their way to see the Gov.

Of course we all saw this coming, but that’s not the point. We know lots of expected things are coming, but it’s still great when it happens because, well, because it’s always something cool or otherwise important.

We get to see a lot of Merle at this point in the story, and learn that he’s the real deal. In a combination of good writing and great acting, I knew that he was a man who was most likely heading to his death, intentionally, and as a result has made the peace he needed to make to focus on the last tasks of his life.

It was eerie; the point of any good horror flick, right? I can’t say enough about the last 20 minutes or so of this episode. All the shaky, jittery, unstableness we’ve witness with Merle was gone. The scenes were serious and somber at times; props all the way around for this bit of television excellence.

On approach to the Gov’s compound, Merle stops the car in the middle of a blacktop road in the woods and tells Michonne to scram, that he’s got things to do that don’t involve her. Like any other person who’d been kidnapped and hadn’t yet succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome, she boogied and didn’t look back, sword in hand.

Sure enough, Merle has a plan that involves getting good and drunk, fine-tuning his best sniper rifle, and attracting a parade of walking slowly trailing after his car. He leads them into the Gov’s compound through a back route, ditches the car, and takes up a firing position inside an abandoned building.

Of course the Gov’s gang is forced to deal with the walkers, which means firing their guns. Each time they do Merle fires his rifle and kills one of them. Merle took out at least ten of the Gov’s soldiers before he’s discovered by, you guessed it, the Governor himself.

In what I can only call a very shocking and touching ending, Merle is tossed to the walkers and, well, it’s not good news. In the final scene, Daryl discovers zombie-Merle eating a rack of ribs off a fairly fresh torso, and exhibits such a wave of emotions as to draw me right into the moment. It was powerful. It was Michael Rooker’s last episode on The Walking Dead.

And in case you couldn’t tell, it was an amazing episode; such emotions and tension from a cast that rose to the occasion and made an excellent episode very special. I don’t know how I’m going to last until next Sunday with all my fingernails intact.

Episode rating: 10 Stars

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