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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Review: The Walking Dead, "This Sorrowful Life"

Season 3, Episode 15

Grade:  C+
Summary:  After a boring episode last week, The Walking Dead at least tries to do something more this week, which is a nice break from two weeks of relatively stagnant episodes.  By choosing to spend most of this episode focusing on Merle, Daryl, and Michonne, the show is at least making good on putting attention towards its only interesting characters.  While this episode does have a few really good moments, particularly towards the end, overall it is only slightly less boring than the previous week.  With only one episode remaining in this season, The Walking Dead is not giving me too many reasons to stick around for Season 4.

After spending the entirety of last week's episode with the Woodbury group, this episode spends the majority of its time with the group at the Prison.  As the Prison group features all of the show's leads, this seems a bit of a logical choice.  Although one wonders why end last week's episode on such a menacing note if the scene will not be returned to until the season finale.

In this week's episode, Rick is dealing with his decision to give Michonne up to the Governor.  Merle becomes too impatient to just wait around for a final say, so he decides to take matters (or Michonne) into his own hands.  As we see, however, Merle does not do this without his own plans for the Governor, making for the most development the character has gotten thus far.  Meanwhile, Glenn wants to marry Maggie and nobody (i.e. the viewer) cares.

A small, but remaining complaint I have from the previous episode relates once again to the weather situation.  I realize that The Walking Dead was probably shooting up until November/December of 2012 (with some possible reshoots in January), but that does not excuse randomly shifting the time of year this season from summer to winter.  Everyone this week is donning their winter best despite it being the middle of the over-bearing heat of the summer not two weeks ago.  I realize this is such a trivial thing to complain about, but it will be even more jarring if one decides to marathon the entire third season in one sitting.

Moving on.  As I mentioned above, I was pleased to see this episode focus on the only three interesting characters left: Daryl, Merle, and Michonne.  The episode has some nice preliminary material with Rick struggling over the decision to give Michonne up to the Governor, but, as Merle says, we all know that, deep down, Rick cannot give up someone who has become so integral to the team.  Michonne does not get the full focus of the storyline of this episode, but she does get enough to develop her character a bit more.  Initially I was worried as the television version of Michonne has been so isolated and distant from everyone else, a bit at odds with her comic book counterpart.  While this episode did not entertain me as much as I would have liked, we get a very nice moment for Michonne when she is tied to a post and a car alarm is signalling a few walkers.  I do not want to give too much away about this moment, but it is definitely one of the more brutal/entertaining aspects of this half of the season.

Michonne gets a bit of development this week, but the majority of this week's character development goes to Merle.  This is a pretty good thing as, up until this point, Merle has been nothing more than the annoying redneck who gets under everyone's skin and lacks the charm of his brother.  Merle and Michonne actually have some pretty decent character moments together as Merle escorts his prisoner back to Woodbury.  The best scene between the two is a conversation in the car where Michonne begins to plead for her life, a moment of desperation that seems almost at odds with the way this character has been established up to this point.  This conversation does not serve to develop Michonne, though, but Merle and we see a very rare moment of compassion from the man...which should have been a sign of the way this episode was going to end.

In this episode we finally get to see Merle become a team player.  It is a relatively believable transition as Merle does this very much so in his own way.  One would like to believe it comes from Merle wanting to finally be a part of a larger group, but it comes off more as him realizing that fulfilling this role will be his only way to stay with his brother.  Merle wages a one man war against the forces of the Governor and it serves as a very physical manifestation of the way this character has evolved over his time on the show.  He is not as interesting as his brother, nor did I find myself caring about him more, but this episode helped me to at least like Merle.  The beginning of this episode features a nice conversation between Merle and Rick that shows just how Merle sees this apocalypse: practically.  In many ways, it would seem this change in the world was meant for men like Merle as the world finally suited his view on life.

While the development of his character felt pretty smooth (a rarity for this show), it almost made me wish Merle had been around for Season 2 so that this development could be even more explored.  Although I suppose Merle's return in Season 3 would not have been as important without the key developments of Daryl which took place in Season 2.

The gut-wrenching final minutes of this episode are going to make Daryl fans out of any viewers of this show who had not already jumped on to that bandwagon.  In fact, one of the only interesting things remaining in this show will be to see the ways this episode evolves the character of Daryl.  Unfortunately, I cannot discuss this too much in-depth without spoiling the final moments of the episode, but it was definitely a well-done ending.  This may not be as talked about an episode as the one where Lori was killed, but it delivers more of an emotional punch.

Now, you may be saying, "Shane, you seem to have a lot of nice things to say about this episode, why did it only get a C+?"  That would be a very good question.  I would start off by saying that, were I to give this episode a rating out of 100, it would get a 79 (or 7.9 for those who prefer their ratings out of 10).  As a teacher, I cannot see a 79 as anything other than a C+.  This episode certainly has a lot of good moments, as mentioned above, but it is also worth mentioning that these moments are small.  The scenes which build up to these nice character moments are just as stale as some of the more boring episodes of this show and I cannot excuse those just because the good scenes happened.  Also, this episode suffers as it does nothing outside of the Merle plot but to set-up the season finale.  In other words, this would be the third week of set-up for the finale. 

Overall, this is an episode with a few nice (and one great) moments of character development, but is overall just as stale as the ones leading up to it.  If the finale next week is not worth the three weeks of set-up, it is going to be very hard for me to return to this show for another season.  The Walking Dead can sometimes be a very good show, especially when it hearkens back to what made the first season so great.  What this show mostly suffers from is far too many episodes per season.  16 episodes is ridiculous for a show that gets stagnant at 12.  The best thing that could happen to The Walking Dead would be for Season 4 to only have 10 episodes.  Sadly, I do not see this happening and, sadly, that will mean yet another season of only 3-5 good episodes.
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