“We have any whiskey? Hell, I’d even drink vodka.” — Merle
It’s time to say goodbye — again — to Merle Dixon. He might not have been a “good guy,” but he proved in “This Sorrowful Life” that he truly was capable of change for the better.
The penultimate episode of Season 3, “This Sorrowful Life” begins with Rick, Hershel and Daryl talking about giving up Michonne to the Governor on the promise that Woodbury will then leave the Prison alone. Rick says they need Merle’s help and proceeds to tell the elder Dixon brother what they have planned. “He ain’t gonna kill her, you know. He’s just going to … do things to her,” Merle warns of the Governor. “You’d let that happen for a shot? You’re cold as ice, Officer Friendly.” Merle, who had been ripping open mattresses looking for dope, seems on board with the idea, but he later reveals he doesn’t think Rick will go through with it
Merle has a handful of interesting interactions with the Prison survivors, the most significant one being between him and Daryl. After Merle notes that Rick & Co. are doing the same thing with Michonne that he did with Glenn and Maggie, Daryl says, “You can’t do things without people anymore.” Well, Merle goes on to prove his younger brother wrong.
Just as Merle predicted, Rick decides not to go through with his plan. Unfortunately for him, however, Merle had already taken it upon himself to kidnap Michonne and bring her to the Governor on his own. He walks her down the road, taking her katana from her and using it to kill the walkers who attack them. The duo eventually comes across a car that Merle fixes up, but not before Michonne face-stomps a zombie and then decapitates another with the phone wire her captor used to tie her to a post.
Once Rick, who’s still having Lori visions, finds out Merle and Michonne have disappeared, Daryl heads out after them. Meanwhile, Michonne is doing her best to convince Merle he doesn’t need to kill her. After admitting that he’s killed 16 men since he arrived in Woodbury, Merle seems to have a change of heart. Maybe it’s because Michonne notes that Daryl won’t want him anymore once he brings her to be killed or maybe it’s because he knows what the Governor will do to Michonne. But whatever the reason, Merle let’s her go, saying he has something he needs to do on his own.
Daryl finds Michonne headed back toward the Prison, but isn’t able to come to his brother’s rescue fast enough. Merle has one last hurrah in the car he fixed up, drinking booze and listening to loud music, before leading a herd of walkers to the feed store where Rick was to meet the Governor. His distraction works, and Merle is able to take out a few of the Governor’s men, but not before his former leader gets his hands on him. The Governor beats Merle and even bites off two of his fingers, finally shooting Merle after the oldest Dixon promises he won’t beg. At least Merle shows his true colors before being executed, doing what was best for the Prison group and sacrificing himself in the process.
The saddest part of “The Sorrowful Life” comes when Daryl arrives at the now-abandoned meeting site. He doesn’t just find Merle dead, but discovers his older brother had already turned into a zombie. Daryl breaks down in one of the most emotional scenes of The Walking Dead, finally gathering the strength to kill the walker. This is the first time since Sophia turned that fans have seen a major character in undead form, and it was sad and a bit terrifying to see happen again.
Fortunately “This Sorrowful Life” isn’t all sad. With the attack against the Governor looming, Glenn asks for Hershel’s permission to marry Maggie. Hershel gives it, and Glenn cuts an engagement ring off the hand of a zombie in the prison yard. His proposal to Maggie is simple: He just slips the ring into her hand, and she of course says, “Yes.” It’s worth noting that they do have more of a chance of a future now that Merle took out a few of the Governor’s men.
Rick also finally sets the record straight about how he’s ruling the Prison group. He reveals the Governor’s proposition about Michonne and apologizes for not telling them sooner, also explaining why Merle, Michonne and Daryl are absent. He acknowledges that fighting the Governor is their choice, and that, “We’re the greater good. We’re the reason we’re still here, not me.” “I’m not your Governor. We choose to go, we choose to stay. We stick together,” Rick says, letting the group as a whole decide whether they want to stay and fight run away. It remains to be seen what they choose, but “Welcome to the Tombs” won’t be a very good The Walking Dead season finale if there’s no fighting.