The Walking Dead "This Sorrowful Life" Review: Sick Sad World

The Walking Dead S03E14: "This Sorrowful Life"

There's an inherent flaw in The Governor's intimidation factor: He resembles the cursed loved child of Bruce Campbell and Tim DeKay and, other than his disregard for human life, I don't know how he got to be so great and powerful. What I'm saying is, he looks he should be collaring painting forgers with Natty Matty Bomer and not biting anyone's fingers off.

I haven't read the comics (I know, I know), but from the images I've seen, The Governor is much more intimidating-looking when he comes off like a chubby Danny Trejo and not like your dad. Though that's possibly a conscious choice on the show's part, to make The Governor look less like a Cobra reject and more like someone in your neighborhood, that anyone could be put upon enough to make these tough choices and be these bad people.

The penultimate episode of a TV season is almost always used to set the table for the finale—especially on a series like this one and especially with a season constructed like this one. I get the feeling, however, that we probably could've leap-frogged "This Sorrowful Life" and condensed it to a couple scenes where Rick says, "Nah, I'm not going to throw Michonne to them. There's literally not a stupider move I could make," and we could just slip into the war. Instead, we got a meditation on why The Governor looks like a poor man's Coach Taylor and not a sinister land pirate.

"This Sorrowful Life" drew heavily on whether people have the stones to be a part of this world and make the hard decisions. So many people are at so many different stages of their post-apocalyptic character development, and the season has been so efficient, that we could spend an episode just sorting through it all. Though we checked in with Daryl, Merle, Carol, and Glen this week, the obvious comparison was Pip Blake and Rick Grimes.

Merle has been the character to pass judgement most bluntly, with so much frequency, it's almost soliloquy. In his mind, Rick doesn't have what it takes and The Governor has almost too much. The problem has to do with which one worships humanity and which one worships the ideal of humanity. Rick coming off "soft," after the death of his wife and being demoralized by the onslaught of a new villain who isn't mindlessly craven—not to mention a set of etched-in-stone principles that keeps him from doing Bad Things—is directly related to his quest to maintain humanity in a world that's quickly losing it. Andrea may think he's grown cold, but he's just cagey and leans toward stasis rather than absorbing anything challenging.

We've seen him crack under the burden of this Lori-less world and a petulant warlord but, for me, it wasn't until this episode that we not only got a Winger speech out of Rick, but it segued effortlessly into a Jack Shephard speech. He started off very apologetic and mood-enhancing, inspiring the sort of familial clannishness that binds the group. He admitted that he's been wrong to demand his dictatorship and conceded that they all need each other in order to survive. The exact words weren't there (they're something like "we stick together") but the sentiment was: live together or die alone.

Meanwhile, The Governor is hellbent on protecting a "way of life" rather than actually respecting humanity. He's been able to maintain society and civility in Woodbury through charisma, reason, a bit of nationalism, and, when necessary, violent exhibitions of cold-hearted brutishness. Andrea started (or maybe just continued) that rhetoric of Woodbury being recorded in the annals of history and, for such a concept to turn the crowds so much so quickly, it appears to be the effective platform that The Governor ran on unopposed. While Rick maintains order through sheer righteousness, our b'patched villain disguises with idealistic principles the seedy, inhumane nature of the violence he uses to keep order.

Other people with stones according to Merle: Carol and Michonne. Carol he told directly, saying she's no longer a mouse scared of her own shadow. That is a good thing about Carol that I'm glad the show bring up. In the first couple seasons, there were no two people who annoyed me more than Dale and Carol, because both of them were so whiny. As Carol's gotten some tragedy under her belt, she's become a contributing member of the group (not that washing clothes wasn't essential) and a voice of reason to the growing number of crazies who populate it, including the cray of crays, Merle. Not that I'd wish any of what the character's had to endure on my worst enemy, but it's been good for her to become grounded and jaded just like everyone else. There's no room for crybabies here. Well, except for the baby, though it's up for debate if there's actually room for her in this cast, either.

But obviously the person in this crew with the truest stones is Michonne, and I was glad to see those one-on-one scenes to show the mutual respect she and Merle share, despite hating each other with the fire of a thousand suns. Merle is a brick wall to anyone who tries to talk some sense to him: Rick, Daryl, almost anyone with breasts. But one car ride with Michonne and the guy about loses it and lets her out of the vehicle just before he sacrifices himself for the "greater good" (defined by Rick to be the people at the prison, not the people in Woodbury).

And that brings us to Daryl. In the conversations I've had about this show, I've maintained that this group would be cooked if it weren't for Daryl doing the things that needed to get done with regard to basic survival, like hunting and being able to shoot walkers without attracting the attention of God and everyone. Merle passes judgment on everybody he comes across based on whether or not they have the spine to survive in this world, but Daryl is the only one who's never been given permission to have balls. Nothing Daryl could do would make Merle admit that his brother has grown up or taken charge of his life. Merle has been the spectre that haunts Daryl's confidence. He's the father figure the brothers never seemed to really have, the one that Daryl is constantly trying to please in his mind. So it's fitting that the only way he could exhibit manhood was to kill him.

Well, Pip Blake beat him to the punch of actually killing Merle. But Daryl was able to accomplish the next best thing while never having to violate the audience's opinion of him. Killing his own brother while that brother was alive might not have turned viewers sour on Daryl, since Merle was still "the devil" (his words), still a little racist (playfully, if that's possible, as opposed to with the vitriol he spewed in Season 1), and, most importantly, still Daryl's personal demon. But letting Daryl put Merle out of his misery as a walker allowed him to reap all the benefits of killing his brother with none of the costs. He still gets the character trauma and resolution with none of the pesky "oh my gah he just killed a human!" side effects.

Episodes 14 and 15 have been relatively weak ones leading up to the end of the season, but they allowed us some decent meditations on character, like how Rick is the humane leader and how Andrea is a putz. We're through them now, though, and we can focus on the inevitable battle between our protagonists and the villainous forces led by Kyle Chandler's body double.


– One last event that took some cojones: Glenn asking Hershel, then Maggie, to marry into the family. I appreciate how Glenn asked Hershel first, and that it took a lot of guts to go about it by beating all the way around the bush before getting there. But then what was up with that sickly proposal? Just slide it into her hand and don't even really ask? Have some guts, man. G: "So, I got something for you." M: "Yeah?" G: "Yeah. It's this thing I took from a decomposing, reanimated corpse after I broke her finger off through a fence." M: "That's so sweet. Of course, I'll marry you." G: "Dope."

– Michonne killing a walker by wrapping what keeps her in captivity around the throat of her would-be assailant and cutting its head off with a garotte. That was a thing of beauty.

– I'm slightly disturbed that I thought Merle's body count, at 16 people, was low.

– Also, it was probably a little weird that, when I saw Merle's zombie head poke up, mouth full of guts, all I could think was, "Hey, hermano."

– Everyone seems to hesitate when they've got The Governor in their sights. They wouldn't have such problems if they had a little more Ryan Hardy in them.

– What was up with Maggie's uniform? It was like she was about to start goosestepping.

– Also, why is Maggie the only one getting haircuts? Carl's rocking the bowl cut version of a Bieber sweep, while Daryl's crossing into My Chemical Romance territory. Carol's hair is definitely going through an awkward phase. Yet Maggie always looks fresh. Are we to assume that it's just what Lauren Cohan's genes bring to the role?

– Not to make too many allusions to Lost here, but there's something about Tyreese's group that reminds me of the tail section group: a bunch of misfits who don't really belong and are basically useless thus far.