03/25/2013 04:54 am ET Updated Mar 25, 2013

'The Walking Dead': Merle Finally Chooses Sides (VIDEO)

Merle finally made his decision in the penultimate episode of "The Walking Dead." He'd been loyal to the Governor until he found his brother. But Daryl was loyal to the prison gang, and they had legitimate reasons to distrust Merle. Would he stand by his brother, or would he turn on Rick?

It came down to that offer from the Governor to give up Michonne in exchange for immunity for the entire prison gang. Of course, the offer was a lie, but no one at the prison knew that. Knowing that Rick had come back for him on that rooftop, Merle knew that Rick could not sacrifice Michonne to the Governor. So he took matters into his own hand.

On the way, though, he and Michonne talked and his mind opened a bit. He made a rational decision, and for the first time in his life he may have even known why he was doing what he did. He let Michonne go and headed out to take on the Governor's men on his own.

He did manage to take down several of the Governor's soldiers, but the Governor got him in the end. Just to emphasize his cruelty, he didn't take Merle down with a head shot, either. So when Daryl showed up, he was faced with Merle as a zombie and forced to dispatch his own brother. It was a heartbreaking scene, despite Merle's less-than-stellar character traits.

“I've always thought he's one of the more interesting characters because he seems to have so many sides. He's the callous, racist thug, but he's also a loyal brother," Slate wrote of Merle. And The Wall Street Journal had nothing but praise for Michael Rooker's portrayal of this complex personality, writing, "Michael Rooker’s portrayal of Merle has been one of the show’s best performances, and it’s truly sorry that this southern straw that stirred so many drinks had to join the dearly, horribly departed."

The stage is set for the season finale of "The Walking Dead," next Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.

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