Spoilers if you haven't seen tonight's episode of The Walking Dead ("This Sorrowful Life")!
I never would have predicted Merle's death to be a heartbreaking occasion. But then again, I'm not sure I would have taken into account the reaction of his brother, or Merle's last-minute redemption. When the Governor demanded Michonne in exchange for a truce, I considered the decision to be a true test of Rick's character. And it was, but Rick wasn't the only one whose character was tested in "This Sorrowful Life." Merle had a shot at redemption, and he kind of took it, in his own unpredictable Merle way. Maybe a leopard can't change its spots, but Merle went out with a bang and one that showed there was at least some good in him.
From the start, it was looking like Rick was going to give up Michonne. Even when Merle shared a few graphic predictions about what the Governor might do to her, he was standing his ground in the decision, which he only shared with Herschel, Daryl and for some reason, Merle. Maybe he wanted Merle's two cents on the matter. Maybe he knew talk of Michonne losing her eyes or whatever other horrible things Rick had already considered might be in the cards for the woman would get him to eventually change his mind. Heck, even Merle knew Rick didn't have the guts to do what he was claiming he was going to do.
So Merle took matters into his own hand
More than one person suggested to him that he could change tonight. Carol suggested he was a late bloomer, which says a lot, coming from Carol, who has compared Merle to her husband, or Daryl's relationship with him to her and her husband, anyway. Michonne later talked about Merle having a chance to start over back at the prison. But I think when it came down to it, Merle lost all hope in himself. In the end, he took a stand against the Governor and lost - but not before taking out a handful or more of the Governor's guys.
At least he found himself some booze and some loud rock 'n roll, which not only provided a soundtrack to his march toward certain death, but also brought a throng of hungry walkers to the scene to create some bait.
The Governor repaid Merle for his efforts by biting off one (or two?) of his fingers and then killing him and leaving him to turn, which happened really fast. Either Merle wasn't looking so hot before he died, or he began to rot pretty much right away. He was already turned and feeding when Daryl found him. Daryl crumbled like a child at the sight of his zombified brother. It was a heartbreaking scene, particularly when Daryl pummeled his brother's face in.
Earlier in the episode, Daryl said he wanted his brother back, but I can't imagine their relationship would have ever been the same, even if both men tried to get on solid ground. Daryl found his place in that group. That may have been part of Merle's choice to do what he did. For all he said about Daryl and his balls (or lack thereof), deep down I think Merle knew that his brother was making something of himself, and that Daryl was wanted and needed in a way he wasn't (and didn't believe possible). His inability to change or his belief that he couldn't may have been what led him to the Governor without Michonne. I think it was a suicide mission on some level. If he really thought he had a chance of walking away from that place, I don't think he would've gone drinking first.
Daryl may be the only person who will truly grieve Merle's loss, but that grief will likely be layered with anger and frustration that he may never be able to resolve. If there's one person left in his life that can relate to that, it might very well be Carol.
Michonne returned back to the prison, which I'm curious about. If she knows Rick was originally planning to hand her over to the Governor, why would she go back there? Maybe it's a matter of her not having anywhere else to go. Or maybe she's giving him the benefit of the doubt that he wouldn't have gone through with it.
Rick did the right thing in deciding not to hand Michonne over, and just after Herschel seemed to come to the same decision following some prayer with his daughters. As much as these men stand to lose if and when the Governor comes, they couldn't give Michonne or anyone up to that monster. Not only did Rick come to the right decision, but he also confessed to the rest of the group, so there's no deep dark secret to be exposed. This confession came with a speech about being the greater good and choosing how they live and die. He's not their governor and they need to decide things as a group.
Thus ends the era of the Ricktatorship, apparently.
It seems like maybe this whole season has been about choosing how to live. Season 2 was like that toward the end when Rick and Shane were divided on what to do with Randall, but the contrast was greater when looking at Woodbury and the prison. Is survival worth it if it comes at any and all cost? Some would say yes, but Rick's starting to see the value in taking risks for the greater good, even if it means potentially shortening their lifespan.
Surviving isn't the same as living, and the distinction was made tonight when Glenn proposed to Maggie. First he spoke to Herschel about it. Given everything he and Maggie have been through, Glenn has a deeper appreciation for Herschel's approval of him when it comes to his daughter. Herschel gave him his blessing and Glenn went to found a ring.
Did anyone else have a major Beetlejuice flashback when Glenn hacked off that zombie's finger to take her engagement ring?
"I'm telling you honey, she meant nothing to me! Nothing at all!"
The proposal was incredibly sweet. Simple, with Glenn taking the ring and putting it in Maggie's hand, and her saying yes. All to the sound of walker rasping coming from beyond the gates. Now let's hope these two kids survive the finale and actually tie the knot! Let's also hope Daryl gets back in one piece. Or maybe he'll show up at the prison after the Woodbury people do. The inevitable battle should be something spectacular and potentially devastating.
Just a reminder, The Walking Dead marathon starts tomorrow night!