Review of ‘The Walking Dead’ – Series 3, Episode 15
As one of the series’ most controversial characters, Merle was initially introduced as a trademark villain so lacking in redeeming features he made the zombies look somewhat charming. Having returned for the series’ third season and once again played by the excellent Michael Rooker, he has recently undergone a compelling metamorphosis. His morality or the seeming lack of it, is the puzzle to be solved by the end of the episode.
‘Your people look at me like I’m the devil,’ says the embittered Merle during a discussion with his estranged brother Darryl.
If this is true, then the purpose of this week’s stellar episode is to prove that even the devil deserves our sympathy.
The time has arrived for Rick and his companions to reach a decision about the Governor’s ultimatum. They have until noon to deliver Michonne into the hands of a psychopath. Convinced that it is the only way to ensure the safety of the group, Rick seeks Merle’s help in staging the betrayal. It is at the eleventh hour that Rick decides he can’t go through with it… only to learn that it may be too late for him to go back on his decision. As Merle prepares to sacrifice Michonne, Darryl races to stop his brother from making a terrible mistake.
All of this season’s most complex and intriguing themes are on show in this instalment, a lean, well-structured hour of television that covers ample emotional ground without indulging in melodrama. It’s an episode where the central characters lurk in the shadows like vampires, and the hero of the group is hallucinating about his dead wife, unaware that he is increasingly becoming a mirror reflection of his greatest enemy.
Of course, a saviour steps forward to help the group back on the right path, which the audience knows must happen. The great surprise lies in the discovery of a hero in the most unlikely place, as Michael Rooker’s Merle goes on to deliver his greatest episode of the series. Rooker does a fine job of demonstrating the extent of Merle’s development, his scenes often brimming with barely contained emotion, without losing any of the character’s signature gruff mannerisms.
For most of The Walking Dead’s run, Merle has been cast as a fairly simplistic villain, devoid of a conscience or any sense of social responsibility. He is a character so morally bankrupt and lacking in positive qualities that you could fit his eulogy onto a Post-It and still have room to spare.
In an episode that functions as a compelling psyche study, the final act offers a much-needed dose of action, with Merle’s kamikaze mission ultimately leading to one of the series’ most brutal fight scenes, transforming Merle and the Governor into a pair of ruthless titans battling to the death. Both Rooker and David Morrissey work together to deliver a ferocious final confrontation, made all the more heartbreaking due to its stark realism and the abruptness of its conclusion.
The intensity of the central story is somewhat relieved by Glen’s heart-warming proposal to Maggie, which manages to be effective because it is so softly played. By this stage, actors Steven Yeun and Lauren Cohan have developed a convincing chemistry, their romantic interactions all the more believable because their love always appears to be underpinned by the remembrance of their respective losses. Congratulations Maggie – may that ring bring you greater luck than its previous owner.
Is it a perfect episode? Like the wounded character it so sensitively deconstructs, it’s not without its flaws. Upon discovering that Merle has put his plan into action, Rick’s response is somewhat lacking in urgency, and his decision to remain behind while Darryl tracks Merle feels somewhat forced, a device utilised to set up the final scene.
However these are small drawbacks in an episode that is far more concerned with its intricate, world-weary characters. It’s a successful send-off for Rooker, who exits the series on a high, in the culmination of a character arc that has been both surprising and convincing.
With the series finale in sight, who will soon be joining Merle in the afterlife? Can Milton free Andrea from the terrors of the Governor’s torture chair? And will the group escape the prison before all is lost?Tagged in: Andrew Lincoln, David Morrissey, The Walking Dead, zombies
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