Even if you had your Dock Street “Walker” in hand as you watched the season four finale of AMC’s The Walking Dead, you were likely too nervous to enjoy it. While the first half of this season wrapped up some leftover conflicts of season three, the latter half promised the survivors (and viewers) a look at Terminus, the mysterious meeting place advertised as a sanctuary. This episode did its damnedest to make you fear for the safety of everyone in the cast, and for 90% of the hour, the tension was quite well sustained. Then came the last few moments, which will likely divide fans on either side of the rail line. Hit the jump for my take on the season four finale, and season four overall.
This episode, titled simply “A,” showed us just how brutal the world of The Walking Dead truly is, while also reminding us of what kind of world it can be. Central to this episode, and really the series overall, is the question of whether or not it makes sense to strive for a semblance of normalcy in a world gone insane. Rick struggles with it as a central character flaw, but nowhere is his internal conflict more obviously presented than in this finale. We’re taken back to a happier time when Hershel was still alive, and was showing Rick how to tend crops, a useful skill he then passed on to Carl. Of all the places our survivors have been, the prison was truly the closest they’d come to having the sense of security and family they’d been looking for since the day the Walkers first appeared.
But that time has passed. It may have taken a bit longer than many fans wanted (about a half season too long), but the prison is gone. Rick laments its loss, as seen through his flashbacks, and he laments the loss of Carl’s innocence and his chance at a normal childhood even more. If it wasn’t all gone before, it certainly is now. In one of the most brutal scenes of the entire series, Joe’s gang of “thugs with a code” catch up to Rick and get the upperhand on them. In no uncertain terms, they plan to beat Daryl to death for lying, ie sticking up for Rick & Co., rape Michonne, rape Carl, and put a bullet in Rick’s head. This was one of the most intense sequences in The Walking Dead at large for a number of reasons: first, the situation put our heroes in a very vulnerable position which made it feasible that any one or all of them wouldn’t make it out alive; second, that the evil these men were about to commit is a very real horror that doesn’t need to occur in an undead apocalypse; and third, that the violence carried out against each other was not survivor to Walker, but rather man to man. I’m glad that Daryl offered himself up as sacrifice, as I’m equally happy that Rick not only saved their skins but got some vengeance upon the sickos in the gang. It was a bit White Hats vs Black Hats, but it was also tense, and visceral, and satisfying; all the best that The Walking Dead offers.
As for how it affected Rick and Carl, they’re both convinced that there’s no going back (or even looking back, as the marketing suggests). Maybe in the far-flung future there will be opportunity to sow and to reap, but for the time being it’s all about survival at the edge of a blade or the barrel of a gun. Rick and Carl each came to this conclusion independently, and it’s a necessary frame of mind for this world, but it’s not a happy one for these characters.
If the first half of this episode established the lengths Rick and the others were willing to go to keep each other alive, the second half tested that resolve. Let’s just say right now that this foursome was a helluva lot smarter than the others that came before them; they avoided the tunnel and they didn’t walk right in the front door of Terminus. However, that caution and foresight wasn’t quite enough. As was quite obviously foreshadowed with Rick teaching Carl and Michonne, in detail, the best method of setting a trap, so too did his own group get funneled through the designed passageways of Terminus, harried by rooftop gunfire. At the end of the trap wasn’t so much a noose with which to hang themselves but rather … we’ll get to that in a moment.
Let’s talk about Terminus now, since the second half of this season has been driving us inexorably toward it like a runaway train. The penultimate episode left us wondering if Glenn and Maggie’s group found a warm welcome and a hearty meal when they arrived, or if they had been relegated to a more dastardly design. Luckily Rick has a keener eye than I, since he noticed the citizens of Terminus (who acted rather like they were in the business of selling timeshares) in the possession of items prized by his friends. Again, the tension was palpable as we watch the group herded through the maze like cattle to the slaughter, passing by tarps covered in a grotesque pile of bloody human skeletons, awaiting victims calling out for help from their imprisonment in containers, and through a candle-lit memorial with the words, “Never Again. Never Trust. We First, Always.” painted on the walls. And then we come to the end of the line.
I’ll admit, I was incredibly nervous when the four were slowly being walked to the lone train car. What possibly could have awaited them inside? More piles of dead bodies, which happened to include their friends? A cramped compartment of huddled prisoners awaiting their certain death? A surprise New Years celebration? (I was hoping for the latter.) Nope. Just their friends looking quite healthy and just sitting in the dark of a train car, without a word of warning or call for help. As they walked forward one by one and revealed themselves, that sense of dread and anxiety that had been building since the episode’s open began to fizzle away. ”There’s still a chance that someone won’t make it out of this alive,” I told myself. ”They could do something crazy and just off everyone!” I thought, in a moment of terror. Nope. They’re all just going to hang out in there until October, leaving fans frustrated at knowing little to nothing until then. (Oh, hey, anyone seen Beth? Daryl? Oh, she’s just “gone”? I guess that settles it then!)
Now I know this is a scene from the comics (Thanks, Twitter!), but Rick’s final line just sucked all the energy out of the episode for me. Was it badass? Sure, but it was equally cheesy. I’m all for getting Rick back into alpha male mode, but this show has a habit of stringing its plots across season breaks rather than bookending them within a season. Season four’s mid-season finale was essentially the desired endpoint of season three; season four’s finale felt more like an intended mid-season break point. I guess I can’t be too disappointed, since everyone who was divided is now united again (Beth, who?), which does indeed make them a force to be reckoned with in Terminus. The next question is, how long will we be spending there before moving on? Guess we’ll have to wait until October at the earliest to find out.
Episode Rating – First 55 minutes: A+, Last 5 minutes: D, Overall: B+
Season Rating – First Half: B-, Second Half: B+, Overall: B
*A note on the second half of this season: I think I liked the way they split up the cast of characters more than most, but please let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Casualties: Joe, Thugs (x4)
Walker kills: 9
Best Kill: Has to go to Rick’s “throat rip” of Joe or his berserker kill of the fat rapist
Best effect: Man eaten alive starting with the eyes, and the Roadkill Walker.
Nice to see Hershel again, even if it’s only in flashbacks!
Rick: “It’s been a while. I’m gonna go check the snares.” Carl: “Can I go with you?” Rick: “How else you gonna learn?” To Michonne: “You too.”
Rick: “That was one small rabbit.”
Apparently it’s New Year’s Eve? Or was Joe just being Crazy-Talkin’ Joe again?
Joe: “Teach him, fellas. Teach him all the way.”
I honestly don’t know which of Rick’s kills was more brutal/badass/primal: the throat rip, or the sadist stab. Let us know!
Rick: “You should save it to drink.” Daryl: “You can’t see yourself. I can.”
Rick: “It’s not on you, Daryl. It’s not on you. You being back with us here, now, that’s everything. You’re my brother.”
We finally get to hear the rest of Michonne’s story about how she lost Andre (when Walkers overran their camp while she was on a run, because Mike and Terry got high), and why she kept them around as pack-Walkers. Good stuff. Now she can continue to develop (if she gets out of Terminus alive).
Carl: “I’m just another monster, too.”
Remember this in October, but Rick buried a bag of guns and ammo just outside the Terminus fence.
Gareth: “Well, I bet Albert is on perimeter watch.”
What the heck were they all working at on those tables? And what’s up with their weird mantras? It’s like everyone’s been trained under the same pyramid scheme.
Alex: “The more people become a part of us, we get stronger. That’s why we put up the signs. That’s how we survive.” – So much creepier once you pick up on the cannibalism vibe. Kudos to the commenters who predicted this in recent weeks (even if you were sharing potential spoilers).
Ringleader. Archer. Samurai. The Boy… Carl just can’t catch a break, even in the cool nickname department.
Rick: “They’re gonna feel pretty stupid when they find out.” Abraham: “Find out what?” Rick: “They’re screwin’ with the wrong people.”
Well that’s it for this season of AMC’s The Walking Dead! Be sure to vent your adorations and frustrations in the comments section!