[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Sunday's "This Sorrowful Life" episode of The Walking Dead.]
With the Governor's deadline looming, Rick prepared to make a difficult choice about Michonne's life during Sunday's penultimate episode of The Walking Dead's third season as he did what he thought would bring peace between the residents of the prison and Woodbury.
Still haunted by visions of a pregnant Lori, the community's leader struggled with his conscience and ultimately ditched his plan to hand Michonne over the Governor. However, he comes up short after Merle -- who he'd enlisted to help with the handover -- knocks Michonne out to ready her for their journey to Woodbury.
Rather than head with Daryl and Rick to Woodbury, he instead takes Michonne solo to the Governor -- in a bid to repair his reputation among the prison community and stay alongside his brother. After a close call with a horde of walkers, Michonne tells Merle that he blew his chance to start over -- and that no matter what happens to her, he'll have to live with his decisions.
After their conversation, Merle frees Michonne and takes off in a bid to kill the Governor himself. When Daryl finds Michonne on her way back to the prison, he takes off after his brother -- instructing Michonne not to let anyone come after him.
Armed with a bottle of booze and a car, Merle collects a sizable pack of walkers and leads them into Woodbury where he abandons the car and sneaks into the community. There, Merle begins to open fire on the Woodbury gang as they attempt to clear out the walkers. With the Governor in his cross hairs, a walker forces Merle to reveal his location, where Martinez and the Governor find him and proceed to beat the crap out of him -- including the Governor biting two of his fingers off.
The Governor ends the fight by shooting Merle, only ending his human life and leaving the elder Dixon for Daryl to find reanimated as a walker upon his arrival in Woodbury. A tearful Daryl is forced to put Merle down, as he repeatedly (and emotionally) stabs him in the head before he breaks down completely.
Realizing that he was too late and Merle has already taken Michonne to the Governor, Rick comes clean with the rest of the group and, in a sign that he may have moved passed his grief, effectively tells everyone that the he was wrong about what's been dubbed the Ricktatorship. "What I said last year, that first night after the farm -- it can't be like that," he tells them. "What we do, what we're willing to do, who we are -- it's not my call. It can't be. I can't sacrifice one of us for the greater good because we are the greater good, we're the reason we're still here, not me. This is life and death: how you live, how you die, it isn't up to me. I'm not your Governor. We choose to go, we choose to stay. We stick together. We vote. We can stay and fight or we can go."
Meanwhile, Hershel and company -- expecting the worst in the pending conflict -- realize their time at the prison may be short. During a heart-to-heart with Glenn, Hershel gives him his blessing to ask Maggie to marry him. After cutting a ring off a walker, Glenn later hands it to Maggie during a sweet and simple proposal that ends with her happily accepting in what may one of the final calm moments before the storm.
The episode comes to a close when Rick spots Michonne -- alone -- returning to the prison, leaving the group to mull whether to take on the Governor or clear out of the prison, with Merle and Daryl's fate still unknown.
What did you think of the episode? Did Merle's death surprise you? Hit the comments below with your thoughts on what you think the group should do. The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.