We spent the first twenty minutes of this episode SUPREMELY pissed off, as we were expected to sit there and watch the de facto “hero” of this story struggle with a moral question that really shouldn’t have been a struggle at all: Should he hand over an ally, and someone who saved his son’s life, to a sociopath hellbent on torturing her until she dies, in order to “save” the rest of the group?
This is one of those parlor-game ethical questions that always sounds fascinating to Freshman philosophy majors huddled around a bong, but to see it actually play out is something else entirely.
And maybe there is a way to present this so-called dilemma to the audience and have them struggle with the answer. After all, the entire point to a zombie apocalypse story – and the main reason why they’re so popular right now – is because the central question is irresistible to an audience member: What would I do if I were in that situation? And hey, maybe some of y’all really did struggle right alongside Rick, turning over his options and wondering what the “right” thing to would be. But we never felt like the question was presented as much of a moral dilemma, so Rick’s struggle only made him look like the worst kind of asshole. We don’t know why the writers are so intent on trying to make it seem like there’s little difference between the Governor and Rick when it’s obvious there is. That entire 20 minutes – and Rick’s so-called struggle – could have been cut from the script and the story would have only improved for it.
Once Merle got it in his head to take matters into his own hand, the story took off, allowing for the best character work we’ve seen yet, for Michonne, Merle, and even a wonderful bit of sass from Carole. In fact, when Rick stood in front of the group at the end and declared that he would no longer be a dictator (and then, humorously, turned around and walked away from the group without ever soliciting one thought from any of them) and the camera panned over the tired, ravaged faces, we realized that this is what we’ve been missing; this sense of family and community. This sense that these people we’ve been following are real people with real histories. It was wonderful to see Herschel come to his moral decision through prayer and meditation. It was wonderful to see Carole demonstrate that after everything she’s been through, she’s still here, stronger than she ever was and completely unflappable in the face of horror. It was wonderful to see Rick’s Lori hallucination actually have a point, as she reminded him of a time when he didn’t struggle over moral decisions. It was wonderful to see Michonne work on Merle to save her life, demonstrating a combination of empathy and bad-assedness that defines her. It was wonderful to see Merle actually show some form of personality outside of “racist asshole.” And it was downright electrifying watching Darryl fall apart at the sight of his monster-brother, his tears turning to rage, a lifetime of which exploded out of him as he put his brother’s body down for good. Add one fairly kickass action sequence that shows how awesome Michonne is even when she’s tied up, and another one that showed just how valuable Merle might have been to Rick’s group in the coming war.
But this was essentially an extended suicide mission on Merle’s part because he couldn’t come up with a satisfactory answer to the question posed by this episode: What kind of person are you going to be in this new world? Rick chose moral leadership. Carole chose strength. Glenn and Maggie chose love. Herschel chose his faith. And Merle knew that he would never be accepted by either of the groups who adopted him, opting to go out in a blaze of glory and take down the Governor so his baby brother wouldn’t have to deal with it.
All in all, a wonderful 40-minute story. Too bad the script was for a 60-minute one. Still, we’re more than ready for the war to start.
[Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC]