Mar 25 2013 10:00am

The Walking Dead, S3 E15 “This Sorrowful Life”

The Walking Dead Television Season 3 Episode 15 This Sorrowful Life

Welp. That wasn’t what I expected for a next to last episode of the season. Last week I assumed we’d spend “This Sorrowful Life” watching Andrea having the screws put to her, but the Woodbury baddies barely had any screentime. Instead, the ep focused on the oddest couple forged by the zombie apocalypse: Merle and Michonne. Rick decided he wanted to be president instead of tyrannical ruler. And Daryl cried like a baby.

Jesus H. Particular Christ, Rick. I get needing a distraction to rout the Governor, but handing over Michonne so he can have a possible chance at getting close enough to possibly shoot him dead is ridiculous. A much better plan would be to have Michonne in on it from the start and have Daryl and company hide around the neutral zone and take out the group while using Michonne as willing bait. More importantly, I thought he’d already decided handing her over was a bad idea. So, what, he slept on it and had a change of heart and now thinks maybe the Governor isn’t an untrustworthy jerkface? This was another one of The Walking Dead’s trademark random plot twists with no basis in any story logic other than the writers needing something to do for 42 minutes. They needed to get Merle and Michonne to travel to the Governor together and for whatever reason decided a double fake out plot twist was the best way to go about that.

Merle wasn’t dumb enough to believe the Governor would be willing to let bygones be bygones, but he was dumb enough to think he might have a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of his former boss. And then his character took a sudden right turn and became tolerable. I don’t know if it was Carole’s snarky retorts, Michonne’s out of the blue chattiness, or Lil’ Asskicker being adorable, but Merle’s heart grew three sizes too big and he decided to go for the Governor himself. He set Michonne free and headed out to the seed farm to blitz the Governor—Why was he out there with his full crew anyway? Were they setting up for their sudden yet inevitable betrayal or was he just taking a break from torturing Andrea? Can a writer for once just tell me what the frak is going on instead of making me throw out wild and unsubstantiated speculations?—and made a good dent in his army before going down. I never wanted to hug a fictional character more than I did when Daryl cried over his undead brother. I wanted to make him tea and feed him cookies and pat him on the head until he cried himself to sleep.

The Walking Dead Television Season 3 Episode 15 This Sorrowful LifeMichael Rooker is a vastly better actor than Andrew Lincoln, and in the cold open it really showed. Norman Reedus held his ground and the two played off each other well. But Lincoln can’t quite compete. The aspects Rooker brought to his character were pretty much the only consistent thing about Merle. Like everyone else on this blasted show, no one remains consistent episode to episode, and Merle fluctuated with the best of them. The Merle we ended with was vastly superior to the one we abandoned on that Atlanta rooftop. This Merle willingly undertook a suicide mission because he knew it was the right thing to do, not just for him but for his brother. He gave the prison crew a chance. (Granted, it was a chance he really didn’t need to take. He could have gone back to the prison with his mea culpas and all would’ve been swell, but whatever.)

Other characters did stuff, too. Hershel shot grumpy, constipated looks at Rick and busted out the Bible for a little religious moralizing. Carole stood up for herself because she’s all kinds of awesome (speaking of fluctuating characters, Carole’s done the biggest 180 of anyone). Glenn proposed to Maggie, and as sugary sweet as it was, it can only mean bad things in the offing. Wonder whose contract isn’t getting renewed after next week? Rick stepped down from the throne of his Ricktatorship with a grand speech about being good, honest people in a bad, deceptive world. He said it was time to be a democracy again and that from then on everyone would get a vote in the future of the group...and then he turned and walked away. Probably not the best way to foster group discussions, buddy.

Final Thoughts

  • “Do you even know why you do the things you do? Choices you make?”
  • “You’re gonna need wire, not rope. Wire. Nuthin’ she could chew through.”
  • There has to be a reason why Merle and Michonne were assling around the way they were. You’d think a man who was desperate to get somewhere would move more quickly than someone out for a summer evening stroll.
  • The look Michonne gave Daryl when he asked her about his brother was priceless. It was the perfect combination of “look at all the fucks I do not give” and “you dumbass white boys.”
  • Of course Michonne gets actual lines now that the season is almost over. She said more lines in “Sorrowful” than she did in every other episode combined. If we’re following TWD’s usual course of action, this means she’s going to die very soon (plus, there are still two other black characters just aching to get a chance to be the show’s token black character).
  • Can someone explain to me how everyone in that prison manages to stay clean shaven and laundered? I haven’t seen a mirror in that whole place, yet they all look immaculate.

Programming Note: Next weekend I’ll be engulfed in the joie de vivre that is WonderCon, meaning I’m going to miss the finale of The Walking Dead and the premiere of Game of Thrones (but hopefully not the premiere of Doctor Who...). What that means for you is I’ll have a recap of the con Monday morning, but I won’t get a review of TWD up until the next day. That gives you a whole extra day to formulate your excited/enraged comments. Yay you.

Alex Brown is an archivist, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

1. merleFTW
No way he went on a suicide mission. That is too far out of left field for that character, even for a show as... flexible... as this one.

Merle was a badass. He knew he was a badass. Badasses don't die. This badass was going to the meetup, was going to kill a bunch of guys (preferably the governor), then go back to his brother in the prison.

Unfortunately, badasses do die, just like everyone else. Merle got caught up, made a stupid tactial error (leaving a defensible vantage point, even though Martinez was already on the way to flush him out), and paid the price. Like real life. Only with more zombies.
Robin Hildick
2. zabraxus
To answer why the Governor was out there with his full crew - he stated a couple of episodes ago to his lieutenant guy that he wanted the place surrounded when Rick showed up with Michonne, and then they would kill everyone who wasn't Michonne in a hail of bullets. I think they even showed the conversation in the "previously on".
3. David G
The actors,yes even Lincoln,made an oddly written and set up episode way better than it might have been.Rooker and Reedus,a great possible law firm name,exressed so much that those performances said more than words did.

Edit fail,making us think the Gov shot Merle to death instead of him becoming a walker.That was misdirection but done poorly.

Merle was a walking contradiction through the whole season so it makes sense that he was a contradiction in this episode.Rooker's performance made you realize this was Merle in a nutshell his whole life.

So having Merle go back and forth on what he wanted to do isn't a stretch.Plus I think it was all about Daryl ultimately.Does giving Michonne up protect Daryl even if it is a sucky thing to do?Or does it protect Daryl to kill the Gov and his men?And this isn't a suicide as such it's a sacrifice,again for Daryl.

Merle I think realized that it was more "humane" to do whatever he could to protect and preserve Daryl than to do that for himself.

Amd Merle's ultimate plan was so great.It all seemed so random and extreme until you saw it come together.

There seems to be a thread that because of the Glen and Maggie zoombie wedding one or both of them are doomed.I'd actually be surprised if that happens.You never know but they are pretty important.

And if it was me I'd be dressing up stuck in the head walker bodies with that body armor and posing them with guns as a fake out to the Gov's men.You could fool them long enough to nail them good from outside.
Jan Kafka
4. JanKafka
New theory: Carol is an evil mastermind. Failing to sufficiently motivate Andrea to kill the Gov, she set Merle off on a suicide mission to do it, and as a bonus gets to have an emotionally vulnerable Daryl to herself.
She's secretly manipulating everyone behind the scenes - if you think about it, she started the Rictatorship by egging Rick on. Maybe she's really a demon. Maybe her "husband" was actually her keeper. Maybe she started the whole...
I was way too caught up in how stupid and self-contradictory the plot was to appreciate the episode. (I wasn't going to tune in but got spoiled about Merle so decided to watch. Love Rooker. He did good stuff with his moments onscreen.)
5. PhilJ
@David G: Not that I'm trying to defend the herky jerky writing of WD, but to clear at least one thing up you should know Merle was shot to death AND became a zombie. In the WD Universe everyone already has the zombie virus and any way you die (zombie bite, or even being shot through the chest) will result in you becoming a zombie. Unless, of course, your precious BRAAAAINS are destroyed.
Bill Capossere
6. Billcap
If you ever have friends tell you acting doesn't make much difference (or if any execs try to use that as argument for on the cheap), this is the textbook example. A horribly constructed episode from a writing perspective--implausible premise, inconsistent characters, silly scenes, etc--and yet the ability of a single actor or two to command the screen and thus your attention and emotion carries the viewer through. Daryl's grief was the most heartfelt, affecting emotion on this show in a long, long time and Merle was nothing short of compelling every moment he was present (which is why of course they immediately killed him. Can't have that . . .)

7. meyers7
Damn, this may be the dumbest review I’ve read on TWD. Have you ever seen the series? I mean really, have you?

“Merle wasn’t dumb enough to believe the Governor would be willing to let bygones be bygones, but he was dumb enough to think he might have a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of his former boss.”

He wasn’t trying to redeem himself with the Governor, he was trying to kill him. Trying to redeem himself with his brother and the Prison gang.

“Why was he out there with his full crew anyway?”

Seriously? You don’t know??? The Michonne handover was scheduled for 12:00 at the barn/grange/silos thing. The Governor had told Martinez they were to set up an ambush for Rick’s group there. You don’t remember any of this???? Get Michonne alive and kill the rest.

“no one remains consistent episode to episode,”

Duh, they are changing. Kinda one of the main points of the series, people are changed by this world and the things that happen to them. The good guys aren’t always good, the bad guys aren’t always bad.

“Can someone explain to me how everyone in that prison manages to stay clean shaven and laundered?”

Ummm, you really are not watching are you?? The two pictures here on this very page show 3 people (Rick, Daryl and Merle) with scraggly beards, dirty clothes, and greasy hair.
You really have no clue at all about this show do you???
8. sofrina
covenants broken all over the place. the governor left merle worse than dead. he meant to make him into a walker. what a horrible way for darryl to find him. and glen cutting off that walker's fingers... he could have at least put her down after.

tyreese's posse is a mystery. clearly they were only together out of circumstance, but how can all four of them eagerly agree to be cannonfodder for woodbury? i'm not sure if the teenager is dead, but he's a least badly injured - maybe permanently debilitated. what are those people thinking?

@ab - prisons have shaving supplies and laundry rooms. i'm guessing they're are availing themselves of the facilities. especially after that one guy turned the generator back on. they at least have running water or the five prisoners would have died a year ago.

michonne's attempts to sway merle reminded me of something xena: warrior princess once said about getting out of jam. something about trying to bluff your way out of it, then talk your way out of it, then turn the enemies against eachother and sneak away.
Alex Brown
9. AlexBrown
@merle: The show made it very clear he switched his plan to a suicide mission. Hence the getting drunk before hand...

@zabraxus: I never watch the "previously on" bit. It's the show's job to make sure the story is clear, not my responsibility to seek out additional info. But I guess I'm so confused because I still don't see why they need to prepare in the first place. Say he thinks Rick is dumb enough to actually bring Michonne, that means Rick, Michonne, and 1 or 2 lieutenants are coming for the hand off. Using his knowledge of Rick's group he got from Andrea, he knows it's pretty much kids and a hobbled old man left behind. Rick has already willingly split his group up, so he can take out those at the feed store just by shooting them point blank range or even stashing a few dudes out of sight to pick them off a la Merle, then send the rest of his makeshift army to run them out of the prison. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Anything else is needless over complication.

@David: I agree. Merle did what needed to be done for his brother, not necessarily out of any heroic orientation.

@Jan: Head canon accepted!

@Bill: Yep. All of which has me greatly concerned for season 4 (this episode was written by Gimple, the new showrunner...).

@meyers: You got me. I never watch the show. I check out the photos on AMC's website and make wild guesses from there. Speaking of the photos, if you look at them, the characters look a little on the grubby side, but not actually dirty. I'd wager Daryl's hair was greasy even before the apocalypse.

And if you really want to argue that what I call inconsistent characters (whose inconsistency is based solely on plot contrivance) is really complex human development, then we have a real sticky wicket. The Merle that was abandoned on that rooftop NEVER would've gone on a suicide mission for anyone, much less his brother, and that had nothing to do with him growing as a person. If you recall, when he first trolled back into Rick's group he went on a massive racist, sexist rampage. No one in real life does 180s like that over night (at least not without some serious epiphanies), and when it happens in fiction it's almost always plot contrivance. I happen to like late period Merle a lot better than early period Merle, and think he made for a vastly more interesting character. Don't know why they couldn't have had him from the beginning rather than throwing him away at the end.

@sofrina: There may be supplies, but you'd think they'd have more on their minds right now. Then again, the characters all do seem to disappear for large swaths of time (were Carl, Beth, and Hershel reading the Bible ALL FRAKKING DAY, and if not, where the heck did they go?) so maybe they're spending it soaping up.

The Governor definitely meant to make Merle a walker. He probably planned to use him against Rick just to be even more of a jerk. As for Tyreese and his group, I'm sure they'll end up turning against the Governor when it comes to killing Beth, Carl, and Judith. They didn't sign up for that. And Michonne's conversations were as deliberate as the Governor's. She wasn't having girltalk with Merle because she wanted to. She was trying to talk her way out of a bad situation.
10. mdf
I struggle to understand the difference between tv writing and book writing and was wondering if anyone can clarify it for me. I am routinely confounded by illogical storytelling and weak worldbuilding on tv shows. As a writer, when a beta reader or an editor flags a hiccup in my work, I'm thankful and accommodate it. Is there no similar function in tv writing?

To give a worldbuilding example, what's the deal on becoming a zombie on WD? In the first season, it entailed a long-drawn out fever before dying followed by an indeterminate "stasis" before zombifying. IIRC, Andrea spent the night with her dead sister before it happened. Now it seems we get Insta-Zombie! Just Add Plot Drama Convenience! Shane didn't even hit the ground before he zombied. Merle turned fast too. Yet, Ben, the kid he was chomping on (who died first, btw), was just zombie food.

I know he was headshot, but what does that even mean in the zombie change? Does a "simple" brain nick do the trick? We've seen zombie prevention thru eye-stabbing, upward jaw thrust and head wounds anywhere on the head. I know we're not going to get the MRI-specific answer at this point, but, from a worldbuilding pov, there should at least be some rationale, no? So who asks these sort of questions in tv writing land?
Jan Kafka
11. JanKafka
@mdf - Just a guess, but I think the writing on this show suffers from more than the usual constraints of having scripts finished on schedule. The creator of the graphic novel now seems to be the show's executive producer, and that has to be an issue - while both television and graphic novels are visual media, there are vast differences. On top of that, it must be just strange creating for a show where the showrunners don't last very long. Write a meaninful script with the Sword of Damocles hanging over your head. I don't envy Gimple. (Okay, yes, I totally do.)

The world-building in the graphic novel is left intentionally vague. The creator doesn't consider it an issue. And for good reason - a few seconds of thought about any of this and it all falls apart. The zombies here are ultimately only a plot contrivance. I'm reasonably sure that's all they can ever be.
A novel stands on the merits of one creator - and to be published, or to stand out in a sea of self-published work, it can have few, if any, flaws. A graphic novel usually has at least two creators, and an audience with generally low expectations. Think soap opera for teenage guys. A TV show has hundreds of craftsmen - including charismatic actors who, like Rooker and Reedus, can make iffy dialog sound good - and the power of a devoted, cult audience. I think that's the difference.
12. mdf
I struggle to understand the difference between tv writing and book writing and was wondering if anyone can clarify it for me. I am routinely confounded by illogical storytelling and weak worldbuilding on tv shows. As a writer, when a beta reader or an editor flags a hiccup in my work, I'm thankful and accommodate it. Is there no similar function in tv writing?

To give a worldbuilding example, what's the deal on becoming a zombie on WD? In the first season, it entailed a long-drawn out fever before dying followed by an indeterminate "stasis" before zombifying. IIRC, Andrea spent the night with her dead sister before it happened. Now it seems we get Insta-Zombie! Just Add Plot Drama Convenience! Shane didn't even hit the ground before he zombied. Merle turned fast too. Yet, Ben, the kid he was chomping on (who died first, btw), was just zombie food.

I know he was headshot, but what does that even mean in the zombie change? Does a "simple" brain nick do the trick? We've seen zombie prevention thru eye-stabbing, upward jaw thrust and head wounds anywhere on the head. I know we're not going to get the MRI-specific answer at this point, but, from a worldbuilding pov, there should at least be some rationale, no? So who asks these sort of questions in tv writing land?
13. mdf
(Note: no idea why my previous comment reposted. Sorry folks!)

@JanKafka: I agree and understand what you're saying, but I guess my confusion stems from one of the points you make: with all the people and money involved, is there not one person whose sole job is to sit back and say "dude, you put a gun on the mantle three episodes ago and now it's a katana? Explain/Clarify."? Viewers do this after every episode of every show. Why doesn't it happen in the writer's room? It's not just this show either.

If I may disagree with you on another point, imho, the strength of good worldbuilding is that it *doesn't* fall apart. It's okay to be vague, but that doesn't mean there isn't a rationale. As a writer, one the hardest things to do is work within the constraints I set for myself and, once a book is published, have to work with pre-existing canon. As a viewer of WD, I can live without a detailed explanation of the headshot issue, but as a writer, I would have it in my mind as I write.

btw, your note about differences in media made me smile. There have been many scenes on the show that I've said to myself "that's a comicbook shot that doesn't work as well on tv."
Jan Kafka
14. JanKafka
@mdf - you're right - I meandered right past the point I meant to make - I wonder if the writers are just told, "We need this, make it work." With the needs of the schedule and shadow of their easy replaceablity replacing concern for the usual tennents of craft. There should be someone there to point these things out - apparently, there's latex instead.
And I'm a stickler for world-building, myself. But I don't think there's any scientific way to make zombies last more than a week or so - so rather than try to make them make sense on any level, they just use them as plot devices and say, "Hey, it's just a show." (And they have precident - that's exactly what George Lucase does.) Ultimately, it's not science fiction but fantasy. (And I usually demand my fantasy makes more sense than this.)
I think you suspend disbelief in order to gain other treasures, like great characters. Where this show lately disappoints is that we've agreed to accept the premise - and now we're being asked to accept characters who constantly do irrational things - and the only pay-off is spectacle. Increasingly, I think, No thanks.
Alex Brown
15. AlexBrown
@mdf, Jan: You've asked a far bigger question than can be adequately answered in a comment thread. And the answer will vary depending on what type of show it is (sitcoms are written differently than dramas) and what type of network it is airing on (a drama on FX is going to be very different from the same drama on ABC or HBO).

The issues you've pointed out do get noticed by the writers. The real question is where in the system do those problems get swept under the rug. I'd argue it's too much studio interference (and, to some extent, Kirkman interference). Every showrunner that has left has claimed their abandonment was due to creative differences with the studio as to the nature of the show and what direction it should be going in. I think everyone is aware of how bad things can get on TWD, but there appears to be massive disagreement between the writers and the studio as to how those issues should be fixed/addressed. The writers want to write a good show, and AMC wants to make money. Sometimes that can work (Sopranos, Lost, Cheers, etc.), but most of the time you can have one or the other (Deadwood was a fantastic show that made little money and cost a lot to produce; Two and a Half Men is a terrible show that makes a shit-ton of money and costs almost nothing to produce). TWD may have a showrunner, but AMC is pulling the strings.

As for the specifics of zombie-ness, yes, I think it's bad that they haven't explained what the deal is, but no, I don't think they necessarily need to. It's too early in the end!verse. Right now, humans are trying to spend as much time away from the undead as they can, so they aren't trying to sort out how the mechanics of it all works. I'm sure someone somewhere in this universe is studying zombies, but most people are trying to keep their faces uneaten as long as they can. And at the end of the day, it doesn't matter so much how killing the brain kills the zombie, as long as it does. Nor does it matter how fast or slow it takes some people, only the fact that they will definitely turn unless the brain is punctured matters. I think if the show moved forward in time a little faster, we'd see these issues crop up, but it's only been between 18-24 months since the outbreak. They aren't in a position to sort out the science yet.

Side note: Alan Sepinwall did a fly-on-the-wall thing with the New Girl writers room a few weeks back. Really worth a read if you're interested in how stories get hashed out.
16. tigeraid
Wait hold on, you thought Merle brought Michonne to the Governor to try and get back in the Governor's good graces?

He spent the whole trip talking about how he wanted to fit in and wanted to stick it out to stay with his brother. How could you have misinterpreted that as betraying his brother?

This episode was fantastic. Yes, the beginning was a stupid plot twist to set UP Merle going off on his own, and I thought it was dumb too. But Rick's clearly not in his right mind, so I don't worry too much when he screws up--and also why he gave his final speech saying he was done with the Rick-tatorship.

This was an episode with two guys who had bad ideas, thought better of them, and redeemed themselves. I really, really struggle to understand the hate week in and week out.

And sure enough, most other reviews on the interwebs thought this was a fantastic episode and a great way for an important, popular character to meet his demise. I'm one of them.
17. tigeraid
Also, they've repeatedly shown Carole doing laundry, so that's how they stay laundered. I don't think it's a stretch to assume somewhere in an entire prison there might be a disposable razor or two. Is it that necessary to show it?
18. tigeraid
@zabraxus: I never watch the "previously on" bit. It's the show's job to
make sure the story is clear, not my responsibility to seek out
additional info.

Except they did. A couple of episodes ago the Governor clearly stated to his lieutenant where and why he wanted his men. And then repeated it on the recap.

I don't know why I even read these reviews. I come to work the next after watching what I think is a really good episode, that I enjoy (and apparently millions of others do) and I get to read a page worth of someone who seems to be watching an entirely different tv show.

Long live Merle. Great sendoff.
Jan Kafka
19. JanKafka
@Alex - thanks for the link to the article. Interesting in its own right, and it does help to illuminate how these scripts must be constructed - if you think zombie kills instead of humor beats, specifically. I believe I've read that this show does not have table reads, another place where someone could point out logic flaws or character inconsistencies. Always enjoy your episode reviews!
20. mdf
@jan, alex: good points all around. That article, Alex, is enlightening--and probably glosses over the negative parts of the process when disagreements arise. When something is done by committee, the end result is something that was done by committee ;)

I think part of my reaction is that, since I've been published and have a number of books under my belt, I know I've become more critical of things like worldbuilding and character development. I know how *I* do it and, given that article, I also have the luxury of fixing it my way.

As a side note, I had this funny idea the other day that Carole should take over the group. Yes, she does laundry a lot and I despised her the first two seasons for being 'weeping woman,' but she now does ammo stocking, keeps the camp organized, learned how to shoot, survived the Tombs by herself, didn't fall apart when Darryl left, decided to teach herself caesarean surgery and has the best "are you kidding me?" look of anyone else.

I would totally get thrown out of the writer's room.
Alex Brown
21. AlexBrown
@tigeraid: Alright, alright, I'll surrender the point about their general level of cleanliness. Obviously people are less annoyed by this than I am. I'll also reliquinsh my complaint about the Governor being at the seed farm. As I said in an above comment, I'd forgotten about him going out there because it seems so illogical to begin with that I blocked it out.

Sorry you don't enjoy my coverage of the show, but I'm pretty sure I never said anything anywhere about not liking this episode. It worked, though it had some fundamental problems. Heck, the whole show is like that. There was no hate in this post - and when I do go on ragey bits, I'm very careful to note those out. If I complain about the show, I complain about very specific problems and explain my reasons for my frustration. Pointing out the glaring flaws isn't a hatepost, it's a review. The only thing I hate about TWD is Andrea, not the actual show. Sarcasm is my schtick, and that does make the review a little on the edgy side. And, granted, this review was harsher than I really intended it, but I'm 15 episodes into a frustrating season and while I knew this ep would be a lot of wheel-spinning, I wasn't prepared for something as wasteful and ill-conceived as this ep was. We didn't need yet another ep about Rick evaluating his moral ground. That being said, what Rooker and Reedus did with the material was masterful. Both men were absolutely fantastic, but that was due to their acting talents, not the script.

As I've said repeatedly, if I didn't like the show I wouldn't review it. I'm glad you thought the episode was fanastic. I thought it was a solid B, as is most of The Walking Dead, with a few outliers on either side. I think you'll find I'm most often on the same page with most other reviewers and TV critics, but generally harder on the show than most recaps. And there's an important difference there. I review it (which includes critiquing the bad, analysing the good, and thinking about the show in different contexts) rather than just recapping it.

I'd genuinely like to know what elevated the episode to fantastic for you, given your complaint about "the beginning was a stupid plot twist to set UP Merle going off on his own, and I thought it was dumb too." Fantastic for me means fantastic all the way through (such as "Clear," which blew me away on all fronts), but it seems fantastic for you means ignoring the troublesome aspects? This isn't sarcasm or a gotcha comment, I'm sincerely interested in how you arrived at the level of "fantastic."

@mdf: The show has definitely failed on some very key levels of worldbuilding. I'd say the biggest difference is that in a book you have the luxury of time and space to craft a world. You can rely easily on description, but in film/TV you have very limited time and must show rather than tell. In a teleplay, the rule is generally 1 page per minute. Then you have to cut down 60 pages to 42-45 minutes because of commercials. Then you have to have scenes near commercials with small cliffhangers, and a larger cliffhanger at the end of each epiosde. Plus you still have to deal with the cold open, and cut out even more time for the credit sequence and/or end credits. And possibly even a tag. If you're telling a serialized show (TWD) or standalone (most procedurals/sitcoms) then you have to follow certain structural requirements, which also reduce your time allotments.

Basically, unlike a book where you have very general rules (if you're writing sword and sorcery then there better be some wizards and dragons), but film/tv writing has very specific rules that must be abided and that are usually formed by the need to save money. All of that cuts into the time and space you have for worldbuilding. You have to rely a lot more on scenery and bits of dialogue to flesh it out. TWD has done a great job on the visual side of worldbuilding, and not so well on the plot side.
22. tigeraid
I'd genuinely like to know what elevated the episode to fantastic for
you, given your complaint about "the beginning was a stupid plot twistto set UP Merle going off on his own, and I thought it was dumb too."

Fantastic for me means fantastic all the way through (such as "Clear,"which blew me away on all fronts), but it seems fantastic for you means ignoring the troublesome aspects? This isn't sarcasm or a gotchacomment, I'm sincerely interested in how you arrived at the level of "fantastic."

You give the episode a solid B. Finding a solid B anywhere on TV is very, very difficult. I would definitely call a solid B "fantastic." The way in which you write the review, which in this weeks case consists of a) recapping a scene and then b) tearing that scene to pieces and dumping on it for every tiny plot point (even the ones you missed, like why the Governor had his men at the factory waiting), does not make it sound like a B. It makes it sound like a D-, and it would have been an F if Michael Rooker wasn't in it.

I guess I just have lower standards. I grew up on Star Trek TNG and Deep Space 9, and looking back on those shows, I see lots of little niggling problems much like the little niggling problems on TWD... And for me, the familiarity with the characters, the personal interactions, and the over-ARCHING plot and themes do it for me. They help me ignore the tiny stuff.

Much like in Star Trek, where a brilliant performance from Patrick Stewart or Brent Spiner or Avery Brooks could make me overlook the ridiculous science-fiction-ey plot holes and unanswered questions.

And the same goes with this. A continuation of an already tedious plot contrivance leads us to Merle taking Michonne to the Governor. The result is an hour of watching Micheal Rooker kicking ass, taking names, and showing us all sorts of character building. And Norman Reedus too. I choked up a bit watching him react to his zombified brother.

The fact that the episode started with Rick waffling back and forth about whether to do something heinous "for the good of the group" is an ongoing theme, that will likely continue throughout the show (just as it does in the comic books.) Where do you draw the line? Do you sacrifice the few for the many? The fact that he screws up and decides to do it, then changes his mind, is what a HUMAN might do. It sucked, he was a dummy, and onward with the plot.

Don't get me wrong, there are things that piss me right off on some of these episodes. We all universally agree on Andrea. We all universally agreed on Lori. I despise how T-Dogg was handled. When Glenn and Maggie snuck away to do the deed when he was on watch, the wife and I BOTH yelled "WTF NO ONE IS WATCHING THE FRONT GATE" at the tv screen.

But tiny things like "why are their clothes clean?", "why aren't they skin and bones?" and easily explainable complaints like "why did they all meet up at the highway after escaping the farm?" either don't bother me, or are obvious to me. I don't NEED to see them doing laundry or brushing their teeth every episode, nor do I need to see them go into the pantry in the cantina and grab a can of beans every episode to figure out that they have some food stored.

And things like Rick basically acting like a wingnut all season long don't bother me either, because HELLO, IT'S THE APOCALYPSE, people are going to be OUT of their mind. Especially the one that just lost his wife because his son shot her to avoid becoming a zombie.

The fact it happens over the course of a season ALSO doesn't bother me, or having multiple episodes where "not much happens" other than talking. Talking is fine. I like drama. Ever read the comic books? TWD comic is MOSTLY talking. There's very little zombies, and very little action, sometimes for multiple issues at a time.

I don't need TWD to be like Stargate, where you have a forehead-of-the-week that O'Neil has to shoot with his machine gun. Building tension is okay with me. A slow burn is okay. Similar to Breaking Bad, in fact. Does anyone here watch Breaking Bad? Do you go insane at two or three episodes in a row where "everyone just talks?"

Sorry for the rant.
Alex Brown
23. AlexBrown
@tigeraid: I get where you're coming from now. I guess it just comes down to you and I having to agree to disagree. Where you see me "tearing into" the show, I see me pointing out the problematic parts. I also think if you think a B rating is boffo on TV then you're not watching enough of the right TV. And, frankly, if Rooker and Reedus hadn't been in last night's ep, yeah, I probably would've marked it down to a C at best, because Reedus and Rooker saved last night for me. I don't think it's lower standards. I just think you're willing to accept what I see as flaws as something that comes part and parcel with TV. I could never get into Star Trek TNG because of the same things that you found easy enough to overlook. And that's fine.

I think if you went back and looked at my reviews, you'd find that I don't define good and bad based on the amount of dialogue. I like action and I like dialogue. I think TWD could use a little more dialogue, but only good dialogue, not the drabble they tend spew out. I think you and I also have different definitions of "slow burn." Mad Men, Treme, and Deadwood, three of my favorite shows, are slow burners. Filling time because there is too much season and not enough material is not a slow burn. The TWD pilot was fantastic and set itself up to be something as great as other AMC fare (The Killing notwithstanding), and there have been enough great episodes that it's disappointing for me to see a show waste such great potential, especially when we know they can do better. If the great episodes were flukes, that'd be one thing, but there's so much talent in front and behind the camera that greatness is achievable if only they'd reach for it.

Obviously my reviews aren't to your taste, but I do appreciate having your opinion in the comments. I like having varied and differing opinions because ultimately the viewing experience is subjective. I definitely don't expect everyone to agree with me all the time, despite what my ego tells me. I value input that can be substantiated (as you just did) more than "THE WALKING DEAD IS MY FAVORITE SHOW UR SO MEAN I LOVE IT AND IT IS PERFECT YAY ZOMBIES", but if you do decide to be done with my reviews, it was nice having you around while it lasted.
Bill Capossere
24. Billcap
Just to jump into the conversation here with a few comments.

One, I think it’s hard to fault those of us criticizing this show with the argument that there are no excellent (an A) or really good (a B+) shows on so we should just be happy with the solid B and ignore its issues (if I’m reading the argument right; it’s possible I’m not). First, as Alex says, there certainly are those shows out there, even if we weren’t in unanimous agreement on which they are (I’d offer up Mad Men, Game of Thrones, pre-this-year Community, Archer Downton Abbey just to name a few). Secondly, in this age of Netflix, HBO Go, , etc., one’s choice of how one spends viewing time isn’t limited to what’s on; one can easily pick up A+ shows they missed on the first go around (West Wing, Deadwood, The Wire, etc). Perhaps it isn’t “fair” to hold modern-day shows to higher standards, but, oh well. In that vein, it’s kind of hard as well to fault those who criticize the show when there are universal “being pissed off” flaws with regard to several huge characters and plot points. I mean, Andrea, Lori—those aren’t redshirts beaming down to Planet Zombie; they’re major screen-time characters. If there is universal pissed-offedness there, that speaks to major, major issues in the basics of the show. Second, I watch and critique this show, sometimes harshly, precisely because it could be so much better than it is (and sometimes is better than it is). I don’t waste my time critiquing shows like Two Broke Girls because (well, primarily because then I’d have to watch them for more than the five stab-me-in-the-kidney-now-minutes I could stomach) they don’t have that potential. As with teaching/coaching, you push the kids the hardest who can go the furthest. Just as you’re proportionately more frustrated by them at times. (let’s face it, are you going to be more pissed off that Mozart doesn’t hit his keys right or some tone deaf 11-year-old who’d rather be making fart noises with his elbow?) I don’t “dump on the show” because it’s bad. I dump on the show because it could be great. There’s a difference there.

The problem isn’t the slow burn; the problem is the burn at times isn’t slow enough. Give us Merle doing what he did after we see a multiple-episode arc that leads him from the Merle we knew to this Merle. That’s a slow burn. This was a pour gasoline on a pool of water, set it alight, then call it a backyard barbeque and hope nobody remembers it was a kiddie pool last night. Sure, Rooker and Reedus made it eminently watchable. But hell, I could watch those two read a grocery list at each other and enjoy it probably. Doesn’t mean I can’t complain about the writing (I thought the transition from extra-virgin olive oil in aisle one to mangoes in produce was a bit abrupt).

And people being “out of their mind” is a lazy cop-out for inconsistent characterization. Especially when they’re only “out of their mind” (i.e. doing stupid stuff) when it suits the plot. Plus, this isn’t a few weeks after the major trauma. The vast majority of the out-of-minders-who-do-stupid-stuff are dead by now. The survivors are crazy-f—k survivors, like the Gov. and Morgan. They aren’t crazy idiots. George from Of Mice and Men or Charly from Flowers for Algernon are not wandering free; they’re ripping entrails out of folks and going to town.

This isn’t to try and convince folks who love it to hate it. It’s partly commiseration over shared disappointment, partly optimism that things will change, and partly just enjoying taking apart the creative process and see how it works or doesn’t.
25. tigeraid
I pick it apart too, in my own small ways. I guess the difference between us is perception, or attitude. I think "yeah I enjoyed this episode, this little part could've been better, or the character could have said this or that" and then I continue to look forward to more. Most of what I read here is snarky, sarcastic and not at all positive.

And this coming from someone who generally IS snarky and sarcastic.
Jan Kafka
26. JanKafka
@tigeraid - I think I get where you're coming from. I watched a Star Trek-TNG episode the other day and was surprised at how stilted and static it was - moreso than I remembered it. And yes, they had some downright silly episodes.
But I'm afraid I really feel as Billcap and Alex do - The Walking Dead is maddening because it could be so much better.
TNG was a very unusual show - nearly every episode, whether it was slightly silly or not, had to do with some then-current scientific advancement or theory, social or political issues. Some of their most memorable episodes were completely character driven. Or about something important, treated with intelligence.
The Walking Dead ignores science, for the greater part. It has one job, besides churning out (amazing) zombies - and that's getting its ever-shrinking cast of characters right.
Instead it gives us characters with plot-craziness, characters who do dumb stuff for the sake of the plot, moral characters acting immoral - for the sake of the plot.
Amidst these awful contrivances, they give us a whole episode to explain where Daryl got his new crossbow. (And strangely, that's an episode almost everyone agrees was the best this season. IMO, this show works best when they move it away from the comic entirely.)
Rick had no real or sensible reason to turn Michonne over. They're stronger with her. They know it won't stop the attack. That was stated in the show. He wants to buy time? For what?
(And while they're "buying time" for unstated purposes, two, three or four of their most able people are MIA, at least one never to return. So who's doing what with this bought time?)
Merle had no real reason to turn Michonne over. Daryl is safer with him and Michonne around.
There was no real or moral quandary, just one to further the plot. The whole episode was about getting Michael Rooker into zombie make-up - no matter how silly the premise - because we were promised two major character deaths by the end of the season. (Me, I don't even like character deaths. I don't tune into The Arena Channel.)
And Merle was one of the more interesting characters. What a waste.
I'm glad you enjoyed the episode, too. I'm glad you enjoy the show. I really want to. I want them to bring up the levels. I want them to leave the comic book behind - I quit reading it because it gives me no more joy.
The sad thing is that they don't have to bring up their game because so many viewers watch this show uncritically.
In other words, we're here bitching for you. And by the way, that episode of TNG? After noting how static it was - it completely drew me in. I wonder how many episodes of The Walking Dead will be worth a rewatch a few years hence?
Bill Capossere
27. Billcap
"Here bitching for you" may just become my favorite bumper sticker, tee-shirt, mug, mantra and self-introduction line. . .

Thank you for that JanKafka
Alex Brown
28. AlexBrown
@Billcap and Jan: My commenters have given me so many great lines over the years, but that one is definitely going on a t-shirt.
29. Chrissa
My guess on the presence of the Governor and his entire group is that they were waiting on Rick to deliver Michonne. It looks like they were ready to ambush him and anyone that came with him so they had less to do when they finally decide to take the prison. I was telling my co-workers that nothing is as it seems on this show and Merle’s 180 demonstrates that very clearly. I think that he took his time getting Michonne to the Governor because by the time they were walking down the road he was having doubts about the right thing to do. There’s nothing like having the person you fought with all the time (and that you may have even tried to kill) point out some things about you and your karma.

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