There comes a time in every B-character on a violent show's life where he or she has to face the reaper. Sometimes that death is sudden, quick, and painless — like Omar from The Wire, or T-Dogg. It's the audience and that character's loved ones who are in pain, not the deceased. They were given a mercifully quick goodnight. Then, sometimes, the character (and the audience) is tortured with a painful, slow, and untimely demise — like Adrianna La Cerva's, or that horrible death on Sons of Anarchy last season. (I'm only spoiling shows that are more than a year old. Come on, people! Watch more TV!) They knew that they were going to die, and spent their final moments in terror. It's awful for them to experience, and it's awful for us to watch.
But sometimes, a character gets to go out in a badass blaze of glory that renders a show's audience unable to sleep (thanks, guys), and leaves a mark on TV history that will never be forgotten — largely due to galleries on websites like this one. I'm talking Dualla from Battlestar Galactica's "perfect day" suicide, Lane Pryce's resignation, that awful riverside demise on Breaking Bad last year, and now, Merle Dixon's suicide attack on Woodbury. It was horrifying, it was unexpected, and most importantly, it made Daryl cry. If only he had seen the mercy his big brother showed Michonne before he made his final choice. If only.
One of the great things about it was, NO ONE saw this coming at the beginning of the episode. If you can honestly tell me that you foresaw this turn of events, then I hate you because you're a liar. I truthfully thought that this episode might be another exhausting mental trip for Rick Grimes, like circa early Season 2 — where he'd spend a whole hour debating whether or not taking a life was worth the risk. Waaaaahhhh. I mean, he did sort of do that, but silently. And he had Daryl, Hershel, and even (sort of) Merle telling him that trading Michonne was a stupid idea. So, that trade was never going to happen.
See, thanks to that God that Hershel was praying to, we were treated to a Merle figuring his s**t out episode, and he ultimately figured out that while there wasn't a true place for him in this world due to his own choices and behavior, he could finally get one thing right. (Oh, and for the record, Hershel was reading Psalm 91:7, which says in a nutshell that God will keep you safe while everyone else is dying around you. I know that they are a religious family, but given the current circumstances, I wouldn't find those particular verses to be very comforting. Maybe something from Revelations, Dad?)
So Merle kidnapped Michonne (and her sword), unbeknownst to the rest of the Grimes Gang, even though he seemed sort of not cool with the arrangement when Rick first brought it up. "He ain't gonna kill her, you know," Merle said to that crazy cowboy who sees things. "He's just gonna… do stuff to her." Ick. Ick, but he's totally right. "You're cold as ice, Officer Friendly," he continued. I think that's what did it for Rick — his little chat with Merle confirmed that A, the Governor was a total liar and B, Rick would be completely to blame for whatever happened to Michonne. A Grimes Man cannot live with that sort of thing on his conscience. A Dixon man? Maybe. I mean, that's why Rick asked him in the first place. It's not a Glenn errand, ya know? (Aside: Any Justified fans out there? Because a conversation between Merle Dixon and Walton Goggins' Boyd Crowder would be THE BEST THING TO EVER HAPPEN. To make myself feel better, I will spend the rest of my night writing fan fiction that centers around Boyd and Merle chatting at a bar.)
And this latter point — the fact that Merle was and always would be the guy to "take out the trash" — seems to be what finally drove Merle to let Michonne go. I mean, I personally was shocked — I didn't think her "trash talking" would ultimately get to him, but everything that she sad was true. The Governor never saw Merle as a friend. He never even semi-respected him, like a Milton and maybe even a Martinez. Even though Merle had never actually killed anyone before the apocalypse — which proves that he was never actually a HORRIBLE guy, just that asshole you warn all of your friends about when you are forced to invite them to a barbecue — the Governor had made him his mercenary, and had him kill a whopping 16 people before his prison break.
That's a pretty crappy job: the guy who takes people "out on runs" to slit their throats, because they had become a nuisance to the Governor. (No bullets: those were not to be wasted on unimportant people.) And now, he was doing the same exact thing for Rick Grimes. His "no balls" (his words) little brother had become a beloved and leading member of a family, and he was just... there. A nuisance. The guy you would only talk to when you needed some dirty work done. I bet before the apocalypse Merle was that guy that everyone had in their phones as a total last resort when they REALLY needed weed or meth or adderall or coke or whatever. They would literally text everyone else on their contact list first, then Merle if nobody else was available. Then they'd meet up with Merle and he'd be lonely and alone and want to "party" with them and they'd regret ever going there in the first place. Yeah, Merle was totally that guy. And now, in a zombie apocalypse — a time when even Glenn the Pizza Boy could rise up and become a hero-slash-romantic-lead — Merle was still playing the same thankless role.
So the great Merle Dixon stood up and said, "Nevermore!" (Oh wait, no, this isn't The Following. Thank God.) Life was sh***y, and even though he would never fit in anywhere, he knew who the good guys and who the bad guys were. When Rick asked him, "Do you even know why you do the things you do? The choices you make?" at the beginning of the episode, he had no answer. But now, with this one choice, he had an answer: He was doing it for the people, Goddammit! Now he would drink some fine southern whiskey, blast some hard rock, and lead a bunch of Walkers to The Governor and his new favorite trash-taker-outer, Martinez — oh, and his own grave, of course. While neither of those horrible men died, a whole bunch of the rest of them did, and every Woodbury man down is a good thing for the Grimes Gang, who are SEVERELY outnumbered. An early RIP to you, Hershel, Beth, and probably Carol.
As soon as Merle did this one heroic thing we all knew he was a goner, but little did we know how horrifying it would be. The Governor and his cronies beat him half to death, then we saw the Governor's gun go off. Sad, we thought. Very sad. But at the very least, Merle was now in a better place. So many mattresses with drugs in them, we thought. A real party.
BUT OH NO HE WASN'T! Minutes later, the younger Dixon — the hot one, as they (me) say — was forced to do what Morgan and Carl and Andrea and so many before him had to: Kill his zombie-fied loved one. I mean, OF COURSE The Governor wouldn't grant Merle a "kind" exit from this world with a bullet to the brain. That man likes to cause as much pain as humanly possible. So then, the younger Dixon cried, and the world cried with him. Yes, this younger Dixon might be better off without his big brother, but he was still family. And now, he'd have to live with the fact that his brother died to save him and his people. Which, I think, is actually a lot better than Merle dying while giving up Michonne.
Daryl repeatedly stabbing Merle in the brains while sobbing is an image that won't go away for quite some time. Merle's death was powerful. It was haunting. It was the kind of death that a Dixon man deserves. We were promised "27 deaths" in next week's finale, and I'm truly glad that Merle's inevitable one was given the time and care that it deserved. Kudos to The Walking Dead writers for making me cry/gasp/run to the wine store before it closed because I can't handle this s**t. Please see below:
Now, before we all go to bed we have to talk about the other things that happened in this episode. Mainly, that Glenn and Maggie "got engaged" and Rick gave a Braveheart-esque battle speech to the Grimes Gang to lead us into the finale. The former was great only because we needed some happiness peppered into this tragic tale, and hearing Hershel give a clearly nervous Glenn his permission was just lovely. Glenn "ring shopping" via chopping the fingers off the female Walkers outside of the prison offered another jolt of reality, but it's nice to occasionally get lost in Glenn and Maggie's (probably) doomed love affair in the midst of so much violence.
Now, my colleague was not happy with the manner in which Glenn proposed. "You gotta say the words dude," she said. I personally was okay with it. Glenn has told Maggie what she means to him several times throughout their romance, and their quiet moment together before next week's battle royale was lovely. Real life calls for a real proposal, but they're not living a real life. They're marching towards death way quicker than you or I (fingers crossed), and they both know it. He can't do the thing where he promises her a beautiful life together with children and vacation days and central air and HBO, because there's a good chance that they'll die tomorrow. So he just handed her this ring, as a symbol of how much she meant to him. Sometimes, silence speaks loud and clear. Like when a guy suddenly stops texting you back, or when Glenn proposes to Maggie before they take on a mad man and his heavily armed village.
Now let's move to to Rick, who figured out pretty early on that turning Michonne in was not the right call. When Merle said in his Merle way that it was a bad idea, and told him that it was basically the same as Merle turning Glenn and Maggie in to the Governor, he realized that the Elder Dixon was right. So he spent the rest of the episode doing... stuff... until it came time to give a speech to the gang minus Daryl, who was busy bashing his dead brother's head in. "What we do, what we're willing to do, who we are… it's not my call," he said to the group. "I couldn't sacrifice one of us for the greater good, because we are the greater good. We're the reason we're still here. Not me." I guess his point was, in a world where death and chaos reigned supreme, they were going to be the Gang worth fighting for. The Justice League for the world without justice. They were only as good as the choices they made, and the choice to fight instead of giving up Michonne would at least allow them to sleep at night. Good for you, Grimes! He also saw Lori again, but let's just skip that part. We hate that part.
So with a "tonight we celebrate our Independence Day," that was that. Michonne was back with the group, Merle had headed off to that little redneck whiskey bar in the sky, and the Governor was STILL out for blood. We saw none of Woodbury or Andrea during this episode, but next week's horrifying slaughter should make up for that. Who will die? My bet: Milton, Carol, Hershel, Beth, and a bunch of other people we don't care about. MAYBE the Governor, but I wouldn't be surprised if he made it. Getting rid of Andrea would be a welcome mercy kill for the fans, but no. She will live forever.
What did you think of the episode, friends? Will you miss the Elder Dixon? When Daryl cried, did you? Do you think that each of Daryl's fallen tears will someday grow into a beautiful, magical tree that grants wishes for poor redneck children with honest, Daryl-esque souls? I sure do.
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[PHOTO CREDIT: AMC]