After two fairly bland and drawn-out episodes, The Walking Dead reminds me why I'm still excited to tune in every Sunday night. With a strong focus on character development and raw emotion, "This Sorrowful Life" is a topnotch episode.
While the spotlight is technically on the "deal" between Rick and the Governor, this episode is all about diving into Merle's mind and taking huge -- and I mean huge -- strides with the character. A villain having a moment of redemption before dying is something we've seen a gazillion times before. Hell, I've previously speculated that we'll end up rooting for Merle before he bites the dust. That said, being predictable isn't exactly a bad thing. While his overall story went as expected (for the most part), it was brilliantly handled and amazingly gripping. His interactions with just about everyone were pretty compelling, which is a very nice change of pace since dialogue heavy scenes in the past two episodes have been mostly uninteresting. Naturally, a good chunk of credit go to actor Michael Rooker and writer Scott M. Gimple (who also wrote the most excellent episode "Clear"). His chat with Carol once again brought out how much she's matured and developed along the way, and his conversations with Michonne, Rick and Daryl all did a masterful job making him one of the most unique characters in the show. Yes, it's a bit odd how he's no longer blurting out racist slurs from time to time, but this just goes to show how much he's changed. His time with the Governor made him a killer, but he also worked with a wide variety of individuals. I'm sure he's still narrow-minded in that regard, he just does a better job of holding it in.
Sure, Merle went down like a total chump when he finally came face to face with Philip, but the scene that followed was nothing short of gut-wrenching. Additionally, it further cements how diabolical the Governor is. Biting off his fingers? Disgusting, man. How writer Gimple had Daryl respond was perfect and Norman Reedus made it quite a powerful moment. You've got a heart of ice if this conclusion doesn't tug at your heartstrings.
Despite the strong focus on character driven moments, no episode would truly be complete without a gruesome kill or two, would it? Don't get me wrong -- action isn't mandatory, but it's certainly appreciated. Luckily for us, "This Sorrowful Life" delivers and then some in this regard. We're treated to the usual hack and slash kills which always look cool, but there's two particularly horrific kills here from Michonne. That wire kill? So awesome.
Gimple also did a superb job humanizing Rick in this one. We've seen such a cold take on the character as of late, so it was nice to see those emotions come full circle. Rick finally faces the harsh reality of these decisions hethinks are for the greater good, and the result is definitely intriguing. We're brought back to his declaration of a "Ricktatorship" and how that brings him dangerously similar to the Governor. His assertion was absolutely needed back then, though. The group was in shambles but that's clearly no longer the case, so it was pleasing to see he's turned the group into a democracy. Now that there aren't frustrating characters in their mix, observing their voting on the coming war should be interesting if handled properly.
The plot with Maggie and Glenn brought some much appreciated levity. The group has a tough finale approaching, so a heartwarming moment such as this one was both unexpected and welcome. Still, having them embrace with the sounds of groaning walkers around the fence was a good way of reminding us this isn't all sunshine and flowers. Even in the most touching moment there's a reminder that there's pretty much no chance of obtaining any kind of paradise. I can't help but feel as though this happy moment will soon be counteracted by one of them dying in the finale. We've grown to love both characters and killing one of them after this would be a huge blow to our emotions.
My only real complaint here was Merle's absurdly slow reaction after the car alarm went off. I get he was focused on disarming it, but at the same rate, the dude has to know that noise is going to lure the undead his way. Leaving himself vulnerable for that long without even looking felt very foolish of him. Simply put, I feel like he's smarter than that. Aside from that minor gripe, Season 3's penultimate episode was great. Hugely emotional and fascinating conversations sold this one. A nice amount of action was just icing on the cake.