The Walking Dead recap: The Devil and Merle Dixon

Merle kidnaps Michonne for the greater good of the group. Or maybe he's seeking redemption. Or maybe he just wants to find a place that still serves whiskey
Ep. 15 | Aired Mar 24, 2013

SUGAR AND SPICE AND EVERYTHING KNIFE Merle died doing what he loved: Bleeding profusely from stumps that used to be important body parts.

Gene Page/AMC

Thus began the central concern of the episode: Merle and Michonne's long walk to meet the Governor. Call it The Sword and the Stub: A One-Act Play. Merle was surprisingly chatty with his prisoner. He told her that he saw some divine plan in the fact that he alone was man enough to take her to the Governor. "Figure that's why I was back there in the first place. Do the dirty work." To be honest, I figured this whole gambit was some kind of long-con ploy on Merle's part. Surely, he knew that the Governor wasn't serious about making peace with the prison, considering that he had told Rick earlier in the episode that the Governor would almost certainly torture Michonne for weeks before killing her.

But no: Merle's heart was fully invested in this. He told Michonne that he wanted to be with his brother, and his brother wanted to be in the prison; this way, he could save the prison. "You gotta play the hand you're dealt," he explained. "I only got one." But Michonne was feeling surprisingly chatty, too. She told him that -- all evidence to the contrary -- "You're not a bad man. Someone truly evil? They're light as a feather. They don't feel a thing." Merle told her that he'd killed 16 men since the zombies arrived, but he looked melancholy; you could tell that the deaths of all those men weighed on his conscience, that deep down he wasn't really...

Honestly, I'm not buying it: Not buying the idea that Merle is a badass with a heart of gold, not buying the idea that Michonne -- a woman who led Rick's squad back to Woodbury with the express purpose of killing the Governor because the Governor tried to kill her -- would tell Merle, "You know, guy, you're really just a badass with a heart of gold." And if I'm dwelling so much on this point, it's only because the whole episode dwelled on it -- on the idea that Merle was a lovable sociopath, as opposed to the clearly evil, finger-biting, boob-grabbing, one-eyed sociopath at Woodbury.

Look, there are plenty of TV shows where clearly bad people gradually evolve into good people. Sometimes that evolution is justified; sometimes it just happens because we all learn to love the bad person, and we want to see them join the good team. (Al Swearengen on Deadwood is a good example of the former, although Deadwood was too smart to make anyone obviously "good" or "bad." Ben Linus on Lost is a good example of the latter: By comparison, imagine if the Joker evolved into Robin.) And I'm on board with the idea that Merle was misled by the Governor, although it's difficult to understand why everyone treats the clearly middle-aged Merle as some kind of at-risk teen who could totally get into Harvard if he could just listen to the teacher who really cares played by Michelle Pfeiffer. But the fact that the whole episode seemed designed to redeem Merle in the hammiest way possible was unforgivable.

Anyhow, it had been about four minutes since any zombies got killed, so Merle went to kickstart a car and accidentally set off the car alarm. The zombie kills in this sequence were pretty inventive: Michonne would have earned a rare non-katana Zombie Kill of the Week for her impressive wire-around-the-pole-through-the-neck move, but I had to immediately declare Michonne ineligible for the ZKotW Award because of what happened next. Merle cut her free, and said, "Get in the car!" AND SHE GOT IN THE CAR WITH THE GUY WHO WAS TAKING HER TO CERTAIN DEATH. Now, if you want to argue that they were being attacked by zombies, fine. I say that there were maybe a dozen walkers around them, and Michonne can run about five times faster than any zombie can walk.

But fine, she wanted to get her sword back, and also she wanted to save Merle's soul, or something. She pointed out to Merle that he never killed anyone before he came to the Governor's camp. "He saved your life, cleaned you up, fed you a line of bull---. Why would you kill somebody else for him?" She told him that they could still go back to the prison together, because Michonne is suddenly someone who forgives people for wanting to kill her, because she had a moment with Carl, or something. Merle told her, mournfully: "I can't go back. Don't you understand that? I can't." By way of answer, Merle cut her bonds, gave her back her sword, and told her to get out: "I got somethin' I gotta do on my own."

NEXT: At long last whiskey

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