“I don’t know why I do the things I do. Never did. I’m a damn mystery to myself.” – Merle Dixon
Tonight’s episode has everyone getting down to their ultimate core, to who they truly are inside. It’s not always pretty, but DAMN does it make for fine television. If you’ve not watched this episode, you’re going to want to fix that before reading this. Trust me, it’s an episode you do NOT want to be spoiled on – I’ll still be here when you’re done.
I love how this show follows the British Television principle: don’t dumb things down by showing all the minutiae; jump into the action and let the viewer follow along. (I don’t need all the exposition, American Television, I really don’t.)
We start mid-conversation with the Inner Circle: Rick, Hershel and Daryl. Daryl is getting caught up on the Toys for Tots program the Gov has initiated. (He just wants the one toy: Michonne.) Things I love here: Daryl shocked and sad that Rick is considering it. Rick’s the dream brother he’s always wanted, and there he goes doing something shady like that. ”It just ain’t us, man.”
Yeah, well. Times are rough. Speaking of, Merle needs to be in on this, but Rick will do his dirty work and talk to him. Merle, meanwhile, is hilariously ripping up all of the mattresses in Cell Block D looking for contraband, AKA weed. (Or maybe some girlie mags or cigs.)
Protip: when in possession of a room full of potentially useful fabric like mattress coverings, rip at the seam to find your crack rocks in order to spare as much material as possible for future use.
Merle can’t find any because apparently prisoners in Georgia don’t know how to party. Nah, I bet they all used that shit up when the guards turned; I know I would have. Rick tries to broach the topic of some dirty work when Merle can’t help himself and smarts off.
“Do you even know why you do the things you do? The choices you make?” Rick asks. This is the first time since mid-season one that we’ve seen Rick as who he was before the world went to hell. He’s been creeping out over the past two episodes, but right here? This is Pre-Apocalypse Sheriff Rick Grimes, somebody cuffed and sitting on a bench, waiting to be formally charged. This is the Sheriff pissed off that someone with potential went down the wrong path, giving the start of a speech that Merle should have heard long before now, and Rick knows it (but he can’t help but give it, all the same).
But Merle is no dummy, never has been. He knows that he’s the guy who people like Rick turn to for the dirty work. He’s the Get Things Done Dude. And quite frankly, he’s a little surprised that Rick is even going to go along with this cockamamie plan of the Governor’s, because Rick knows that he’s going to torture Michonne, right? Do…things to her? Huh. If that’s the case, if Rick is actually living Dog eat Dog now, then hell, “You’re as cold as ice, Officer Friendly.”
Not to worry, Sheriff, because Merle knows you don’t have the stones for the job deep down. Nonetheless, the look of utter disappointment Merle fixes him with as Rick walks off is a thing of beauty. Thought you knew who Merle Dixon was from Season One? Think again because he’s not that guy anymore. Even Merle wants there to be people that stick to who they are. He does, after all. Those are the only people he can respect.
Maggie, wearing a UPS delivery jumpsuit, and Carl bang on pots to draw Walkers away from Glenn, Daryl and Michonne as they lay out tire traps for the Governor’s people. Michonne, because she’s in it to win it, takes out every Walker nearby without breaking a sweat. Why these people don’t have daily “sweep the fence” patrols to thin the herd is beyond me. No bullets need to be wasted, but FFS, you leave them out there, they’ll only draw in more. You’re just setting up a huge liability when the Gov’s people return.
Rick is surprised (and pleased) by Michonne’s ingenuity because oh yeah, the traps were her idea, according to Daryl. ”We don’t have to win,” she tells them. ”We just have to make them getting at us more trouble than it’s worth.” Don’t you kind of wish Morgan could get his shit together and join up with these guys? Morgan and Michonne would make the most amazing booby traps.
Merle is inside watching all of this and clucking his tongue. He knows Rick won’t follow through. Carol is nearby and wants him to figure himself out: is he with them, or isn’t he? ”I’m with my brother.” Huh, well, he’s with us, so…. Merle takes a moment to admire (albeit in his creepy, condescending way) Carol’s emergence from scared Eeyore to ass-kickin’ Mama. Calls her a late bloomer.
“Maybe you are, too,” she says. And hey-o, that’s some nice foreshadowing.
Daryl goes looking for his brother, but finds a surly Glenn instead. (Also, why the hell did he chain that fence so loosely when that gap could easily be breached by a relatively thin person? COME ON, GLENN, GET YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME AND CHOKE UP ON THAT CHAIN.) Daryl continues his life’s job of apologizing for Merle, but Glenn ain’t having it. Oh, he can deal with what Merle did to him, but Merle hurt Maggie. And that’s not right, and it never will be.
Things to take away from this: Daryl has never once given up on his brother because he is hands down the most loyal person on the show, and two, Glenn is his family as well. He continues his search for Merle, finding him in a workshop “looking for crystal meth.” Ahahahaha, that was freaking hilarious. Merle spends the entire episode trying to find something that makes him feel good. More on that later, when he succeeds.
Merle tells Daryl that yeah, he knows the plan, but does Daryl know that Rick will buckle? ”Yeah,” Daryl replies. ”But what he says, goes.”
And boy, doesn’t that get right under Merle’s skin. The only person Daryl is supposed to show blind obedience to is him. Not that two-bit sheriff. Daryl calls him out on what he did to Maggie, and Merle tries to remind his brother that he’s unlovable (even though he desperately wants his brother’s love) by saying coldly, “I’ve done worse.” Time to man up. He knows everyone thinks he’s the devil, but lookee there, Rick and Daryl are turning into bad guys, just like him.
And why? Because that’s what it takes, Merle thinks. The world needs people that will do the dirty work .
“You want the truth? Brother, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? Sheriff Rick? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Michonne, and you curse the Governor. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Michonne’s death, while tragic, probably will save lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to. You can’t handle the truth.”
Yeah. I totally just went there.
But because Daryl Dixon is better than us all, he simply reaches out with a shy sort of sad smile and touches his brother’s arm. Because all he wants is his brother back. Merle actually feels a tender emotion, which freaks him out, and his voice wavers as he backs away from Daryl’s touch. ”Get out of here, man.”
Daryl leaves and we see that Merle is packing a fun bag. I’m guessing Michonne won’t find it too entertaining.
Hershel has prayer hour with the girls (thankfully not using the “though I walk through the valley in the shadow of death” set of verses), essentially begging for God’s mercy for what he’s about to take part of as Rick wanders outside looking for wire. (Merle gave him all sorts of tips on how to abduct Michonne.) Because everyone has a spare ethernet cable, that’s what Rick picks up. And then sees Lori.
But this isn’t perfected Saint Lori in her strangely unstained satin wedding dress, this is dirty, pregnant, “I’m just trying to do the best I can with what I got, and I never stopped believing you were a good man, Rick,” Lori. Well, then. Rick unwraps the wire from his hands because you can’t argue with a dead apparition of your once pregnant, cheating wife. Mostly because of that ghost thing, but for the emotional reason, too.
Hershel, choked up, tells his girls “What I wouldn’t do to keep you two safe,” meaning: give Michonne up to be tortured, when Rick comes in. Before Hershel can tell him to stop the plan, Rick’s two steps ahead of him. He won’t do it.
Better hustle, then, because Merle has Michonne down in the catacombs with a flimsy excuse of “let’s plug the gaps in the wall.” She’s on high alert for shenanigans, but enough Walkers stream in that he’s able to brain her, kill the Walkers, and drag her off. Well…shit. He pulls a sack over her head and ties her wrists and HOW IS HE TYING HER WRISTS WITH HIS LEFT HAND AND A KNIFE-STUMP ON THE OTHER? HE’S RIGHT-HANDED.
True fact: in my apocalypse-training religion from my youth, we went survival camping every summer where our leader taught us how to tie specific knots one handed. ”Just in case.” To this day I can still tie a bowline one-handed. But that wasn’t a bowline on Michonne, those were like hojojutsu knots, and those are really hard to do. THESE ARE THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS I NEED ANSWERS TO.
We jump to the two of them – Michonne bound and bruised – walking through a distant town. He gives her the skinny on the Gov and Rick, and shucks, he’s just doing what needs to be done, and she should think of it as an honor to be the sacrificial virgin so the prison’s crops can grow. A Walker approaches, he delightedly takes it out with her sword, and they push on. You can tell he respects the hell out of her, but he’s got a job to do and he’s not backing down on that Code Red.
Back at the prison, I laughed like a lunatic when after Rick realizes that Merle’s gone and follows Daryl to the workshop, Daryl finds a scrap of fabric on the floor and uses his superior tracking skills to determine what’s happened and what’s to come.
“He had her down here, they scuffled. I bet they’re headed out on Highway 9 on the feeder road, will cut through pass the Jamesons’ – there’s always a Jameson in every town – and I think he ate black beans…no, kidney beans for dinner last night. And Michonne’s two days off her cycle. And has a small rock in her shoe. I’m on it.”
He makes Rick stay because a) that’s smart, and b) Rick’s family, too. Aww, boys. Hearthands!
Michonne and Merle walk down a suburban street (oh my god, they passed the Jamesons’, Daryl is a freaking Merle-Whisperer) where Michonne tries to put the whammy on him. ”They’ll take you back, you know.” Suuuuure, Merle says. He’s gotta do what he’s gotta do, and it’s hard, but hey.
…which is interesting, she notes. Because he keeps going on about how hard he is, how bad he is, but real bad guys? Evil guys (Her jawless pets, ahem)? They don’t feel the weight of their sins. Nosir, they’re light as feathers. ”They don’t feel a thing.”
And the hell of it is: he knows she’s right. But he plays it off like she can’t get to him. He’s killed 16 men since Woodbury, and he feels every damn one of them. But she won’t hear it from him. A trail of Walkers appear in the background, and they keep moving.
Glenn has a moment with Hershel where he admits that the pocket watch he was given back in Season 2 was just something shiny, but now he realizes it meant that Hershel sees him as family. And…he really loves lamp. [Maggie]
“Do you really love lamp, or are you just saying you love lamp because you see it?” Hershel asks.
“I…I love lamp,” Glenn implores. And even though they’re all going to die, he’d like to make Maggie his official Mrs. Glenn. Why, Hershel would be honored to have such a son. Aww, hearthands time twenty!
Merle and Michonne get outside a motel; Merle affixes Michonne’s wire restraint to a pole and works at hotwiring a Delta 88, rolling on 28′s aww yeah. Unfortunately, he trips the car alarm and JESUS PLEASE US, MERLE, SOUNDS BRING WALKERS. Which happens. Like, a lot of them. And Michonne is tied up, and they’re mostly bearing down on her. He can’t hear her screaming at him over the car alarm (and seriously, HOW IS HE HOTWIRING CARS WITH ONE HAND? Freaking ninja redneck.) and it’s not looking good.
Except this is mother trucking Michonne, ladies and gents. She head stomps one Zed, crushing his noggin like an overripe plum, and wraps another one up around the throat for a little Goodfellas-style kiss. (Aka, garroting, nice and old school Sicilian.)
There’s a tremendous shot from the passenger’s side as Merle works on the alarm with the sword on the bench seat, Merle trapped under the steering column, and in the distance, a gutless wonder bearing down. Merle gets up in the end, kills the Walker, frees Michonne while keeping her hands bound, and they hop in their ride and peel out.
After enough time to catch their breath, Michonne continues her Wear Merle Down Tour. She scoffs, saying that anytime someone needs their piss bucket emptied, he comes running. He could have a new beginning if he just tried. But he’s choosing his life now. And when he dies – because he will – no one will mourn him, not even Daryl. (Put a pin in that, folks.) Daryl has a new family, after all.
And as Hershel said back three eps ago, “Never underestimate his feelings for his brother.” But let’s apply that to Merle. Don’t think for a minute that he doesn’t see things clearly. That’s the problem: how clearly he sees things. And he may be on the outside, but so is she.
She’s all: “Yeah, well after the Governor kills me, I’ll be dead. You’ll still be an asshole.”
He pulls over and cuts her bindings. “I can’t go back, don’t you understand?” He tells her to get the prison folks ready, gives her back her sword, and looks away. This conversation is over. She stands there in the road as he drives on.
Michonne comes upon the beheaded Walker and stabs his brain as Daryl walks up. No, she didn’t kill his brother, she explains, and he went thataway. He tells her to not let anyone follow him and takes off. She rolls her eyes at those crazy hillbilly boys and heads back to the prison.
Merle has found a liquor store and is getting nice and buzzed – finally, but that’s not the real pleasure, that’s to come – as he formulates his plan. Blasting some Motörhead to attract Walkers, he does this [the picture below] and I cackled with glee. Damn, he’s a fun character to watch.
Merle then Pied Pipers a huge crowd of Walkers all the way to the meeting place where the Governor and his men await. Merle is a brilliant tactician and slows the car to a crawl, blasting the music through the windows where it ricochets off all the metal walls and silos, confusing the Woodbury peeps as to his location.
He ducks and rolls out of the car with a hell of a gun (with an amazing optic scope) and makes his way through a barn. The Woodbury people are caught unaware (their own trick used against them, ha!) and under the cover of their firing on the Walkers, Merle hides his own deadly shots as he snipes out the most likely-looking assassins from the bunch. I think I counted a solid 7 that he took out in total.
He gets the Gov in his cross-hairs but fucking whiny Ben gets in the way and gets a shoulder-full of lead. A Walker finds Merle, and as he fights it off, they tumble outside, and his cover is fully blown. Martinez and crew start kicking the hell out of him when the Gov steps up and says, “You leave him to me!” Same instructions he had for Michonne.
Merle fights to the end, even though he’s been severely weakened and gets his arm broken for the effort. The Gov bites off two of his fingers, spitting them to the ground and that’s it. That’s the end for old Merle, and he knows it. But “I’m not going to beg!” he shouts.
I’m pretty sure the Gov was counting on that. He raises his gun and says with glee, “No.” And fires. Merle? You went out like a gee dee hero, Sir. But we’re not done, oh no.
Back at the prison with the sun sparkling off the field of overgrown grasses and bloody corpses, Glenn approaches Maggie and jams something in her hand. Aww, is that a sparkly ring he pulled off that dead lady’s finger? Maggie grins and nods enthusiastically. Yes, she will marry you. These two crazy kids in love with dead people all around. It’s enough to bring a tear to your eye.
Because we’re nearing the end of the season, it’s time for Rick to give a speech. But this time, it’s as Sheriff Rick Grimes, husband to Lori, father to Carl, elected official to the town of who the hell cares, it doesn’t exist anymore but it MATTERS, Lori. THANGS. He tells the folks about the stupid plan with Michonne, how he decided to not go through with it, how Merle cocked it all up, and that from now on, the Ricktatorship is done. It’s a Prisonopolis, a Jailtopia from here out where everyone has a voice, everyone has a say. He can’t be their Governor because they’ve seen how that turns out and he’d like to keep both eyes and his kids, thanks ever so. Rick has finally become the person he’s meant to be.
In the distance, he spies Michonne through his scope. She’s alive and he doesn’t have to carry her death on his shoulders, whew.
Daryl continues tracking his brother and I was hollering at my screen for the man to get behind some cover, because if I was the Gov, I’d keep someone there after the shoot up, in case Rick showed up. But that’s not the focus now – the dead bodies and nomming Walkers are.
Dead, dumb Ben is lying in someone’s lap, being turned into Second Breakfast when the Walker looks up. Holy shit, it’s Merle. The Gov did to him what Merle did to his men: the worst thing you can do, leave someone to turn. Daryl positively crumples. But he won’t kill him straight out, no way.
He shoves Merle back as Merle licks his lips and moves forward. Daryl shoves him again, and again, gearing himself up to do what he has to do. He shoves Merle to the ground and stabs him. And then stabs him again. Then gets lost in a sort of fugue state of crying and screaming and agony and drives his knife into what was his brother, the man he believed could be his brother again, stabbing him over and over as he cries.
Because Merle isn’t ever going to tell him he’s sorry. Merle isn’t ever going to apologize or nudge his shoulder or go hunting or do that one call they made up when they were kids hiding in the woods from their dad to keep from being beaten and he’s never going to tell Daryl that he’s proud of the man he’s become.
And Daryl falls to his back, sobbing and all I can think of it, “Thank goodness he still has family.”
(And somewhere Carl is shrugging because it wasn’t his mom in childbirth, so…)
HOW IS THERE ONLY ONE SHOW LEFT? Merle? You could have holed up with drugs, booze, a willing (or unwilling, I wouldn’t put it past you) woman, but you went out easing the load for the folks back at the prison. You went out making it easier for your brother to survive, and you went out a better man than you started. Salute.
And note: next week is the finale, but it’s also the season opener for Game of Thrones. And since I don’t get screeners, that means a big night of staying up and writing. In other words, this will be up later on Monday afternoon, but it will be up. Thanks for your patience in advance!