‘The Walking Dead’ Season 3, Episode 15 Review – The Inner Circle

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Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus in The Walking Dead This Sorrowful Life The Walking Dead Season 3, Episode 15 Review – The Inner Circle

Merle Dixon has been a somewhat complicated character for The Walking Dead. His recognition seemed to be derived mostly from the popularity of his brother Daryl (and, for some, the hope that he had another brother named Daryl, which would lead to a brief Bob Newhart cameo) and the fact that the character had been played so convincingly by Michael Rooker.

Having missed the majority of season 2 – save for a brief hallucinatory appearance – Merle remained something of a question upon his return early on in season 3, which saw him partaking in the vicious beating of Glenn and occasionally acting as an agent in the ongoing grudge match between Michonne and the Governor. Once he was cut loose from the town of Woodbury, after its bloodthirsty citizens demanded his participation in their small-town version of gladiatorial combat, Merle found himself once more among people who didn’t much care for his presence, but apparently tolerated it because he possessed several useful skills.

And so, in ‘This Sorrowful Life,’ The Walking Dead, and, more specifically, director Greg Nicotero (and the episode’s writer/TWD future showrunner Scott M. Gimple) take what will essentially be Merle’s swansong and apply the notion that he’ll never be fully accepted into the group because of who he is and what he’s done, to Michonne’s growing importance within the prison group.

However, this wasn’t nearly as carefully constructed an episode as ‘Clear‘ or even ‘Prey‘. Glenn’s proposal to Maggie, though sweet, didn’t seem like an appropriate fit, while other characters’ various decisions, and their subsequent reversals, came basically out of nowhere and served only to place Merle further in harm’s way.

Michael Rooker in The Walking Dead This Sorrowful Life The Walking Dead Season 3, Episode 15 Review – The Inner Circle

It was difficult to buy either of Rick’s decisions during the episode, especially since the initial choice to give Michonne over is based on Rick trusting the Governor (a fact that undermines the character’s heroism and calls into question his intelligence), while the abrupt about-face he makes is essentially brought on by yet another vision of Lori.

On one hand, everything feels like an overly choreographed move to get Merle where he needs to be, but the somewhat muddied turnaround on Rick’s behalf seems to have happened solely to announce the end of the “Ricktatorship” and give everyone an equal say in what happens from here on out. That’s not to say Rick’s change of direction isn’t a good sign for the character, because it is – but the manner in which he arrives at it felt artificial. Similarly, while Merle’s motivation to take charge of the situation (he thinks “officer friendly” is too soft to see such a dirty scheme through to the end) certainly makes more sense, his eventual release of Michonne seemed just as arbitrary.

But what ‘This Sorrowful Life’ lacks in delicate plotting, it makes up for by offering another big moment in the series that (thanks to great performances by Rooker and Reedus) comes off being more emotionally balanced than some of the other major deaths that have occurred in the show.

Norman Reedus in The Walking Dead This Sorrowful Life The Walking Dead Season 3, Episode 15 Review – The Inner Circle

The highlight of the episode is, of course, Merle’s redemptive assault on the Governor and his men, which is then closely followed by Daryl’s emotional discovery of his zombified brother snacking on the corpse of what appears to be a dead Woodburian. The scene benefits from the lack of dialogue and is, in that respect, reminiscent of the quiet moment between Hershel and Rick after it was evident Hershel would survive his spur-of-the-moment amputation. Obviously, Merle’s condition prevented the writers from diluting the situation with unnecessary talk, but, as it was with the convalescing Hershel, the lack of dialogue here added some much-needed gravitas.

What’s more: despite the sequence of events leading up to the final moments, Gimple and Nicotero are able to wrangle some compelling elements out of Michonne’s journey with Merle. In addition to a white-knuckle moment involving a car alarm and a horde of walkers, their conversation hint at Michonne’s understanding of Rick and the group back at the prison, and what it means to be an outsider trying to find a (permanent?) place among them. If anything, this helps to better inform why she would return to Rick and the others, while also providing some insight into Merle’s last ditch attempt at doing the right thing.

That surprisingly affecting note leaves season 3 with just one episode to see whether or not the group thinks the prison is worth fighting for, or if they’ll vote to cut and run.


The Walking Dead ends season 3 next Sunday with ‘Welcome to the Tombs’ @9pm on AMC. Check out a preview for the episode below:

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  1. One of the best after the mid season break.

  2. It was kinda like “Pretty Much Dead Already” when Sophia came out of the barn. I should have known she was in there just like I should have known Merle would turn after he was shot, but still a emotional impact at the shock of seeing it. Great job to Michael Rooker and Norman Reedus.

  3. Best episode thus far since the midseason break. This episode has me excited about next season as this is the first episode of the Gimple era. I saw many similarities in the way Gimple did this episode and Darabont. Next episode should be awesome and judging by all the leaked info on people who had access to early screenings of the last episode it’s very positive. Driving in today on a morning sports talk radio station they were talking about TWD saying how they just starting watching the show and how they are hooked. Another example of how popular this show is now. One guy on another site said “this show and the growing fan base reminds me of Lost. Lost had some plot issues in the later seasons but the show’s popularity was still growing. TWD is the same way besides the fact of the obvious plot hole issues. In the end both shows entertained people to the fullest.”

  4. never cared for the merle character (for obvious reasons) but man that was a really sad seen when Daryl finds the zombified version of merle.

    • No.

  5. Good episode. Just wondering, according to the comic (which I’ve only read about on Wikipedia), isn’t this about the time when Rick gets voted out as leader and Hershel (or is it Tyreese) gets voted in? Is this the point in which the group arrives to the “Safe Zone” (Maybe that will be the backdrop for season 4)?

    Also, Merle’s death scene was great, although the show had been setting us up for his death since the beginning of season 3. When Carol asks him, “Are you with us?” in the beginning of the episode, Merle realizes that the answer to that question will always be no, because Merle wants to live – and die – on his own terms. I’m just glad that they had the character die in an act of redemption in the end.

    Also, I think the baby’s going to get it. That whole plot pretty much dragged down the story line in seasons 2 and 3. I doubt the show would ever do this, but it would be cool in some sadistic way if the baby somehow turns in to a zombie, and the only way the group notices it is by the fact that baby seems to like human blood more than formula.

    • Rick gets “voted out” of the leadership position in the prison in the comics for hardly anytime at all. Tyresse and Dale (in the comics) eventually go back to Rick and ask for his help where Rick takes over again, but he isn’t as crappy a leader. And the Safe Zone doesn’t show up for a while after the prison. The prison ends at issue 48-49, and the safe zone doesn’t show up until issue 69. So i doubt it would be in season 4 cuz there is still a lot of cool stuff they could do. Plus the safe zone is in Alexandria near DC, so that would be kind of lame if they didn’t take a while to get there.

      • Thanks. If it took them nine months to find the prison between seasons 2 and 3 – even though they were like 100 yards away from it – I can only imagine how long it would take them to get to Alexandria.

    • I felt when Merle met up with Rick after rescuing Daryll his actions towards Glen and Michonne and his blatant mocking of them sealed his fate. He showed that even when people went out of their way to save him and his brother he was not at all grateful. I will say in the last nights episode he did have a change of heart to do the right thing. It was an excellent episode and I can’t wait until next week. Good Job Michael Rooker excellent performance.

  6. Rip Merle. Michael Rooker is such a good actor it was sad to see him go. I was starting to like merle and then they kill him off :( poor Daryl that scene was pretty emotional when he killed walker merle. Cant wait for the season finale

  7. Pretty exciting episode. Darrel and Merel aren’t in the original comics, but then again there’s not a lot of this story that follow the comics. I’m glad too because the comics really has a bad show down for Rick’s group. People would really be angry with that ending. The Govenor in the comics is so much more bat crap crazy than in the series. I can’t wait to see how they wrap the season.

    • I think this is the main reason why I am happy I never read the comics. Love the fact I get treated to something so good as this series has been without “expecting” something, or comparing everything.

      • I got a big compilation of the first 40 some in one volume after the second season just to see how they compared….I would have done just fine without it. The author really goes over the top with the characters to a point that you really don’t mind them getting killed off if they do. Instead of feeling it’s too bad like in the tv series you feel like “Finally” in the comics.

  8. As Daryl walked up on Merle’s zombie, it brought the full weight of Merle’s earlier statement “You need to grow up.” to the forefront. And seeing Daryl react, it’s like he momentarily forgets himself, and he’s back to the little kid with the bully big brother. All he can do initially is shove back, and then the pent up anger takes over.

    Beautiful episode.

  9. Merle being dead just makes me sad, though i haven’t watched the last episode

  10. Excellent performances by Michael Rooker and Norman Reedus this week. BTW anyone notice the rims on Merle’s car changing from chrome 22’s to stock rims and back as he jumped out of the car? lol

  11. ok

    • Possibly the most useless comment ever. Why waste seconds of everyone’s life to post THAT?

  12. As sad as I am to see Merle go I’m glad it was done in way where there’s no doubt he’s dead. The Lori’s alive conspiracy theories were driving me nuts and I didn’t want to deal with that again.

  13. You will not be missed.

  14. Fantastic episode. I really feel for these characters. Daryl I felt bad for definelty. Merle I’m hapoy he went out on a good note. With what he was trying to do. But Rick was highlight this week for me. His speech was perfect.

  15. R.I.P. Merle

  16. Saying that no one would do these things in a zombie apocalypse are some big words you act like you’ve been in one and could make a better show that can amass millions of viewers. What’s your show called?

  17. I honestly didn’t think Rick was ever going to hand over Michonne. Sure he thought about it for a while but in the end he changed his mind. I thought the ending was very emotional. I was actually sad when I saw what happened to Merle (which shows how good of an actor Rooker is!). You want to hate him for his past deeds but after seeing him look up as a walker and look at Daryl was hard!!! I thought that ending scene was amazing genuine. I felt sooooooooo bad for Daryl!!! Reedus is such a good actor! I can’t wait to see what he is going to do in the next episode!!!

    • I agree, I kind compared that episode where Rick and the Governor meet to the scene in the Godfather where Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) has a truce with Tataglia, and afterwards says “It was Barzini all along” and then has his son Michael order them all to be executed.

      I think somewhere in the back of Rick’s mind he knows full well that the Governor was planning to renege and kill them all anyway, so I was a bit surprised when Rick actually had some inkling that the Governor was telling the truth.

      Can’t wait to see how the season ends.

  18. Best episode ever imo, wow…Merle went out like a hero in the most awesome scene since this show started. Awesome. This is one show that keeps getting better and better with each season, rare quality indeed.

  19. Isn’t anyone going to mention The Governor going full-on mental during his fight with Merle? An already crippled guy getting savagely beaten, having his fingers BITTEN OFF and then left to bleed out rather than be killed with a blow to the head! It’s almost like they want us to hate this Governor guy…

    Not a fan of the Lori-hallucination-induced decision making from Rick, but I do like that he probably realised that *because* that was influencing his decisions, it would be best if he wasn’t 100% in charge. When he said, “I’m not your governor,” it might have been a bit ham-fisted since the show is constantly asking how far you’d go to survive after the end of the world and the parallels between the running of Woodbury and the prison were quite obvious.

    I very much hope that the prison gang decide to leave before the Woodbury army marches into town. I want the episode to set it up as if they’re leaving *just* as Woodbury’s finest attacks, but they really left a day beforehand thanks to information leaked by an Andrea/Tyreese/Milton coalition. As soon as The Governor’s attack starts, we see the no-longer-a-Ricktatorship settle into a large house for temporary shelter as The Governor stumbles into trap after trap that Rick (inspired by Morgan) and the gang set up, eventually imprisoning many of the baddies in the prison.

    Basically, it’d be nice if the prison group could not be on the back foot for once. I want them to use what they have (a good group ethic, teamwork etc.) to outsmart the Woodbury crew with their superior firepower and absolute obedience to The Governor.

    • I agree, they did the whole going out guns blazing when they had to leave the farm. The way you mentioned would make their development stronger.

    • Angie, me too!! it’s hard to resist!!!

  20. I really hope that the Gov doesn’t die in the finale. There is just soo much that they can still do with him. And besides, why keep Shane alive for 2 seasons, but kill the first real evil villain on the show after 1 season.

  21. Apart from Merle dying, I thought this was yet another boring episode.
    Sorry, but that’s just my opinion. The show was better when it had more action.
    And the producers did say that season 3 was going to move at a far greater pace than season 2. I think that was a big fail…

    • Sorry, but the show is stronger with character development. I’m not trying to sound rude or anything, it’s just that “action” isn’t really the genre of the show. I mean, it HAS action and is intense at times, but it’s really a character drama over anything.

      • It’s all good, mate. I understand. But it just gets frustrating when all they seem to do it talk. There’s not much else going on. I know negotiations need to happen but I think they need to break up the monotony a bit more. Season 1 was the best IMHO. It flowed, it kept you in suspense, but the other seasons…well, for tv, I expect to be gripped. Even Homeland has more suspense and thrills than a world full of flesh eaters…
        But like I said, it’s just my opinion and I will keep on watching, there’s enough to keep me hooked…

    • Well at least you had the decency to apologize for your very much inthe minority opinion.

      • Hes a charmer isn’t he!

        • Can’t wait till you catch up. I don’t know what anoymous5’s problem is but he has so far been silent on the season finale posts which suits me fine. I try to make my posts about the show and what people say and whether I agree with them or not. Sorry if I somehow offended anyone but I have no idea what his problem is.

  22. Merle pretty much had to either die or leave at this point in his story arc. I think he realized that the Governor was not going to take him back even if he bought him Michonne, and after he took her from the prison he pretty much knew that would have put him further on the outs with the group than he already was.

    The thing that kind of gets me about the set-up is that Rick was seriously considering the idea enough to try and enlist Merle to carry it out, and in essence set Merle up to hang himself so to speak. I guess it goes to the continuing development of the moral ambiguity that comes with living in a zombie apocalypse. The real question is how much longer will Road Runner Andrea keep dodging her final end?

  23. For those that used to like Walking Dead but have been hating on it this season, if you didn’t at LEAST like THIS episode, I have absolutely no idea how you guys ever even DID like the show in the first place. Everything that’s great about Walking Dead was pretty much wrapped up inside this one episode :)

    Good written article, but I have to dissagree. This episode was almost just PERFECT. I do agree that the Glenn/Maggie thing didn’t really fit for this episode, but I still bought it, it was fine.

    I loved watching Rick finally transform back into the character we used to know in season one. The “I’m not your governor” speech was great. And I loved seeing more Daryl in this episode, but holy crap was the ending emotional! Brilliant acting!

    As for the Governor, I’ve loved watching him go more and more insane throughout the season, and this episode got to show how sick he is as a fighter! And I can’t wait to see what he brings to the finale…

    Overall, this is absolutely my favorite episode this season, and one of the best episodes of the series. This was a great lead in to the season finale. Can’t wait to see the battle! 😀

  24. Gotta say I was very, “NOOOOOOOOO” when Merle got caught off guard by a zombie which led to his capture and death. And him ending up as a zombie was a very poignant moment. Didn’t even think about that outcome after getting offed by the governor but it was the logical conclusion. The only thing that would have been worse would be for the Gov. to have taken him back as a pet.

    So we lost both of the side stories I was most interested in this season (what happened to Merle and Morgan). Excellent but so sad.

  25. Another beautifully done episode. I agree with the articles praise of the way the episode concluded, easily one of the most touchingly emotional moments of this and pretty much any other series. I disagree with his disses of other elements of the episode. 1st and foremost, Rick was struggling with his decision to turn Michonne over to the governor from the moment he made it. He even stated at one point that the governor would probably still kill them all anyway but he was afraid to not take even this miniscule chance to avoid anihilation at the governor’s hands. Based on things the others had said and especially the way Merle reacted, Rick never really was fully committed and his vision of Lori just reminded him of the man he use to be before circumstance caused him to do things counter to that in order to assure his and the people who counted on him survival. Same is true with Merle. His redemption was in play as he witnessed his brother’s place in this disparate family. It’s not always in the dialogue (though there are always clues there) but often in the silent moments and the expressions of the characters as they observe their surroundings. It became clear to Merle as he transported Michonne to the governors but he was already at that point, just hadn’t come to terms with it.
    Also the whole proposal thing. The major complaint is that it seemed out of place. When wouldn’t seem out of place? I believe it made perfect sense at this juncture because the group at the prison are pretty much convinced that they are on the brink of their elimination. Glen just wanted to make the last grand gsture to the girl he is unconditionally in love with. And by the way, these aren’t side stories. These are ongoing, concurrent stories and they are what help make The Walking Dead among the best TV has to offer.

    • Excellent post.

      What he said.

    • I think Rick’s visions of Lori, and the few visions that the living characters have of dead characters in general, are signs that part of Rick wants to simply give up. I think that’s signified by 1) Dr. Jenner at the CDC, and 2)the second time we meet Morgan. Both of them probably saw visions of their dead wives (or something to the equivalent) and both of them gave in to the insanity of the world around them. This is further signified in season 2, when Darryl has a vision of Merle when he’s trapped in the woods. His vision of Merle is scornful and berating, and Darryl ahs to reject that vision in order to escape the woods with his life. Feel free to disagree, but that, to me, is what the hallucinations mean.

      • I do think that the hallucinations are there to spur the characters on, but I don’t think that the good Doctor and Morgan saw visions. Daryl’s vision of Merle was due to his physical condition (hungry, thirsty, tired etc.) as opposed to Rick’s mental state.

        Very good spot by Mr O’Dell that this time, Lori wasn’t in her usual ‘angel’ attire. Perhaps a down-to-Earth version of the Lori vision was a reminder that there isn’t some simple, ‘perfect’ solution to everything and it was at difficult times (such as when the search for Sophia wasn’t getting anywhere) that Rick went to Lori for advice. The vision made him realise that he can’t run the group on his own.

        • Exactly!