I want to make one thing clear: My complaints about the show's treatment of Merle the character have nothing to do with the portrayal of Merle by the great Michael Rooker, a creature who was beamed down to earth seven centuries ago on a mission from God to get the band back together. It's a testament to just how awesome Michael Rooker is that the show felt the need to give him a legitimate send-off. Most people who die on The Walking Dead die ugly. Merle, though, died grand. We saw his car parked outside a tavern, the music playing as loud as possible. Merle had finally found some whiskey. Zombies were all around his car, drawn by the sound. Merle thought it was hilarious; he pretended to feed one zombie some whiskey, a moment that I choose to believe was improvised on the set by Michael Rooker, who almost certainly believed that the people in zombie makeup were actual zombies.
How cool was Merle? Merle is one of the few people on this show who can actually conceive a decent battle-tactic strategy on the spur of the moment. He slowly drove to the meet-up point, music playing loudly, drawing a whole herd of walkers behind him. He left the car running and dodged out to a sniper point. He drew out the Governor's men, and as they fought the walkers, he took them down: one, two, three, snipe, snipe, snipe. He got a good look at the Governor, fired...and wound up hitting Meatbag #1.
A zombie unexpectedly attacked him, and soon it was all over: Martinez and another Woodbury soldier were upon him. But the Governor wanted to make this personal: "You leave him to me." They fought inside of the shack, and it was a brutal brawl. At one point, it almost seemed like Merle had the upper hand...and then the Governor bit off two of his fingers. It was all over for Merle. He said his last words: "I ain't beggin' you." The Governor agreed that no, he sure wasn't, and then shot Merle Dixon dead.
Now, this was a big emotional moment. What was to follow was even more ruinous.
But first, the show decided to let Rick give a big Braveheart speech. Attempting to parse it is...difficult. Rick told everyone the truth about Michonne, and no one said anything, probably because they knew Rick was making a speech. Rick told them that things had to change. Change what they do, what they're willing to do. "Who we are. It's not my call. It can't be." Rick was setting himself up in opposition to his opponent. "I'm not your Governor. We choose to go."
He explicitly spoke out against the last speech he gave, at the end of season 2, the one about how "This isn't a democracy anymore." Rick had decided that, actually, this will be a democracy now. Tribe Grimes would become Grimes Senate, and everyone would have a vote. They would decide, together, whether they would leave or go or fight the Governor or have scrambled eggs for breakfast.
NEXT: The Second Death of Merle Dixon