The second half of Season 4 has been a story of journeys. Not since the opening season and the trip to the CDC have we seen so much movement, and never have we seen the group scattered so badly. Yes, Rick woke up alone before finding the group in Season 1; Andrea was separated from the group at the end of Season 2; and we spent a couple of episodes with Daryl, Michonne, Tyreese, and Bob as they sought out antibiotics earlier this season away from the main group – but they always knew there was a home to go back to. These past seven episodes since the Mid-Season Finale and the destruction of the prison have been a series of focus pieces that have not only shown the group members alone and dependent on their own devices, but has enabled us to get to know them much more intimately than we had before. This, of course, sets the viewers up for a much more emotional season finale. New people have been introduced: the good (Abraham, Rosita, and Eugene); the bad (Joe, Len, and the other marauders); and the not-necessarily-but-could-be-ugly (Mary, and the other inhabitants of Terminus). All of this combines to bring us to what could be a grand climax at the appropriately named end of the line: Terminus. Does the finale live up to the season that’s come before? Click through after the break to get my take.
<<Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss at length plot points of The Walking Dead S04E16, “A.” TRIGGER WARNING: There is a sexual assault in this episode that I will be discussing. There may also be some mild language as I discuss some of the things different characters said in the episode. Read more at your own risk.>>
The cold opening begins with a flashback. Carl is opening the gate at the prison, as a car carrying Rick, Michonne, and Glenn pulls in. Hershel is there, and everyone seems happy. Cut to Rick, leaning with his back against an SUV, his hands and face covered in blood, shaking – this is the Rick we saw interspersed throughout the Promo video for this week. We go to opening credits.
Back in the present, Rick, Michonne, and Carl are sitting around a small campfire, talking about how hungry they are. Carl says he’s a fifteen on a scale of one to ten, and they share a bit of a laugh. Rick decides he’s going to go check their snares, and the others come along. As they walk, Carl asks Rick, “When we get there, we gonna tell them?” Rick asks what he means, and Carl clarifies – are they going to tell the Termites (Termians? Terminussites?) what they’ve done to survive so far. Rick replies, “We’re going to tell them who we are.” As he says this, a walker comes out into the open right in front of them, and we see exactly who they are, as they set their faces in grim, business-like lines and move forward to dispatch the threat. Tonight’s episode, in fact, becomes one scene after another teaching both the viewers, and Rick, who exactly he is after all that’s happened so far.
They get to the snare, and we see the scene from this week’s Sneak Peek (see my extensive write-up here). After going over how the trap works, funneling prey into its snare, we hear a man screaming for help, and Carl takes off. Michonne and Rick are close behind, and they come to a clearing where a lone man is being attacked by about twenty walkers. Rick pulls Carl back as he’s about to shoot, telling him they can’t help the man – as he does so, the walkers grab the guy and start chewing on his face – quite a visceral shot. A couple of walkers notice the three, and start for them, so they hightail it back the other way. They get back to the railroad tracks, and see a group of walkers at a crossing in front. The group is smaller than the one following them, so they go forward and take them out, Rick using the butt of his gun, Michonne slicing and dicing.
We now find ourselves in another prison flashback. Hershel comes to wake Rick, and Beth comes around the corner to take Judith for him. This is not the only time we see Beth in a flashback with Judith tonight, and I think this has a fair bit of significance, which I’ll discuss below. Hershel tells Rick he wants to show him something. Rick begins to belt on his gun, but Hershel turns all Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, telling Rick that he won’t need the gun, that it’ll “just get in the way.” I loved seeing this moment – not only do we get a bit more Hershel, which was a nice surprise, but it is highly reminiscent of the scene in TESB when Yoda tells Luke, prior to Luke entering the Dark Side Cave, that he’ll only find what he brings with him. Hershel is taking Rick outside to teach him something, and bringing the gun will only bring Rick’s violent side along.
Back in the current time, the three are walking down a road, looking for shelter for the night. They see an abandoned SUV, with a mostly decayed walker struggling on the asphalt nearby, only its head and right arm mobile. Michonne dispatches it, and they set up camp. We skip to night. Carl is relaxing in the SUV, trying to get some sleep, while Michonne and Rick sit outside by a fire. They’re talking about food, when they hear a stick snap in the woods. They stop talking, tense. Rick kicks out the fire in case it’s attracting walkers, and the two continue. Michonne is uncertain about Terminus, and they discuss the fact that although they took new people in at the prison, so did the Governor at Woodbury. Suddenly, a gun appears at Rick’s right temple, and we hear Joe: “You screwed up, asshole. You hear me? You screwed up.” One of the other marauders kicks Michonne’s katana away from her. It’s going to be a “Day of Reckoning,” Joe continues, the capital letters clear in his enunciation. Joe’s voice is almost liturgical, like a fire-and-brimstone minister delivering his sermon. Tony, the man who saw Rick under the bed, stands pointing his gun at Michonne, two more stand back with guns up, and a fifth goes to the SUV. He pulls a knife and places it against the window, leering at Carl inside.
Joe begins to count down from ten, readying to shoot Rick in the temple. He hits eight, and Daryl comes out of the shadows. “You’re stopping me on eight,” Joe half jokes, as Daryl tries to tell him that Rick and Michonne are good people. He offers himself, telling Joe that if he wants blood, he can have his. Joe points out that Daryl is saying that Rick is good, but Rick choked one of their men to death, meaning that Daryl is lying. “Teach him fellas, teach him all the way,” he tells the other men, as the two that were standing back grab Daryl and start to beat him against the side of the SUV. The marauder with the knife pulls Carl out, and throws him to the ground. Carl struggles, but the man is much larger, and he tries to position Carl face down. Rick sees this, and begins asking Joe to let him go, but Joe will have none of it, telling Rick that they are going to do his son, do Michonne, and then do him last. The knife wielder gets on top of Carl, and Rick slams his head backward, hitting Joe square on the nose as he discharges the gun, shooting in front of and just missing Rick’s face due to his sudden movement. The sound switches to a muffled high pitch whine, giving us the sense of what Rick is hearing and feeling. Michonne tries to use the distraction to disarm Tony, but he’s watching and she can’t get the gun. Carl’s assailant continues to position himself, ignoring the other action around him, as Daryl is knocked to the ground and kicked. Rick stands, struggling, and Joe grabs him in a big bear hug. “What you going to do now, son?” Joe asks. Rick lunges forward, grips the side of Joe’s neck between his teeth, and rips out a huge hunk of flesh. Joe’s jugular begins spurting his life’s blood all over as, shocked, Joe falls to the ground. Tony stares agape, and Michonne grabs his hand, twisting it around and pointing the gun beneath his chin as she pulls the trigger. She grabs the gun, shoots one of Daryl’s assailants, and Daryl knocks the other down, stomping him with all his strength square on his face. The marauder assaulting Carl stands, putting his knife to Carl’s throat and threatening to kill him. Michonne sights down the gun at him, but Rick pulls his knife and tells her that the marauder is his. The man releases Carl, drops his knife, and pleads to be let go. Rick walks up to him and stabs him in the stomach, ripping the knife up through the man’s sternum right to his throat as he spits blood. The camera goes to Carl, as he watches and we hear the sound of stabbing – it seems to go on for a very long time, long after the man is dead.
We go to another flashback. We see that the thing Hershel wants to teach Rick is how to farm. He mentions that they’ve been at the prison for two months, placing us four months prior to the beginning of Season Four. Hershel is doing this so that Rick can teach what he learns to Carl. “He knows how to shoot,” Hershel points out, reminding him that Carl shot the Woodbury boy right in the face when he didn’t need to. He tells Rick that Carl needs to learn about the other, less violent side of life. He asks Rick, “What way are you going to show him?” He’s reminding Rick of the mantra we heard him say several times in the first half of the season: “We all have jobs to do.” The scene is idyllic – they’re sizing up the land, talking about honest work and making something of what they have. Hershel’s last words are, “We can make this better now.” It’s poignant seeing him in these situations, knowing what we do about his eventual fate.
We come back to Rick as we saw him in the cold opening, bloodied and shaking. Michonne is sitting inside the SUV, holding Carl as he lies there with his eyes open. Daryl walks up to Rick, holding out a cloth and some water. Rick wants him to save it for drinking, but Daryl points out that he can’t see how bad he looks. Daryl sits beside him. “I didn’t know what they were,” he starts, trying in his own way to apologize for being with Joe’s gang. He tells Rick that he’d been travelling with Beth. Rick asks if she’s dead, but he tells him, “She’s just gone.” Daryl continues with his mea culpa, saying, “I knew they were bad, but, they had a code…. It was something. It was enough.” He tells Rick that Joe saw his quarry, so Daryl decided to hold back, decided to leave rather than participate in a revenge killing – but then he saw who it was (which blows my theory of him knowing who he was following due to the chocolate bar wrapper out of the water). “It’s not on you,” Rick says, and tells him, “You’re my brother.” Daryl looks off into the distance, and then tells Rick that what he did the night before – what he did to the man with his knife – that it’s okay, that anyone would have done what he did. Inside the SUV, we see that Michonne and Carl are listening – they both look a little shocked still after the events of the night before.
The four of them get moving down the tracks, Rick and Michonne taking the lead. She looks leery as she walks beside him, but tells him that what he did is alright, that she understands. They find a Terminus sign on the ground, and Daryl notes that they’re going to arrive there before nightfall. Rick suggests that they move off the tracks and approach from the woods, hoping to get a sense of who the Termites are before they are seen. They come to a fence on a ridge, and look down into Terminus. They see the same building Glenn, Maggie, and the rest of that group saw in last week’s episode. Rick wants them to scout along the fence for a bit, and asks Carl if he wants to go with him. Carl refuses, and goes with Michonne instead. The two walk off. Michonne tries to get Carl to open up, but he’s hesitant, so she tells him about how she lost her son Andre. She tells him that they were all at a refugee camp, but that it was falling apart, people leaving and not coming back. She was coming back from a supply run, when she saw that the camp had been overrun. She doesn’t say exactly how Andre died, but the assumption is that he was eaten as the walkers overran the camp. Her boyfriend Mike and his buddy Terry had been high, unable to fight, and she decided to punish them by taking their jaws so they couldn’t bite, and their arms so they couldn’t scratch. It was only by accident that she learned that this camouflaged her from the other walkers. She tells Carl, “I was just another monster,” but that he doesn’t need to be afraid of her, nor should he be afraid of Rick. Turns out, however, that this isn’t the issue. Carl tells her, “I’m not what he thinks I am. I’m just another monster too.” Michonne takes him into a big comforting hug. Rick is watching from a distance, but doesn’t hear what they’re talking about. It’s interesting here that, when confronted with the monstrous acts of his father and of his friend, Carl not only does not judge them for what they have done, but in fact judges himself by a much harsher measure. Carl has indeed matured on the road.
Rick, near the fence, packs most of their weapons (and a bunch taken from Joe and his gang) into a blue duffel bag, placing it in a hole. “Just in case,” he says to Daryl, and then fills in the hole with a covering of dirt. The four climb the chain link fence into Terminus, and walk toward the large building nearby. As they enter, they can hear a voice over a PA, saying the same words that Daryl heard briefly on the radio when on the run to the veterinary clinic. They enter a large warehouse, and see people working at tables along the far wall painting new Terminus signs, and a woman speaking into a radio microphone, talking about Terminus. Rick says hi, and she stops. A young clean cut man walks toward them, and complains mildly about whomever is on perimeter duty. He apologizes, and tells them his name is Gareth. “Welcome to Terminus,” he says, and asks to see their weapons. Rick hesitates, but tells him he understands. The four place their weapons on the ground, and allow themselves to be patted down. Gareth then hands the weapons back – except for Daryl’s crossbow, which he grabs himself.
They follow another Termite, Alex, out into the yard. As they walk, Alex tells them a bit about Terminus, and they arrive at the same place we saw Glenn, Maggie, and the others at last week, with Mary cooking and a few others standing around doing other chores. Alex says, “When people become a part of us, we get stronger.” If that sounds like a loaded statement, you’re onto something. Rick, never one to let his guard down entirely, begins to scan the other Termites. He sees one wearing riot gear that looks like prison issue, another wearing a poncho that looks disturbingly like Daryl’s (but which, incidentally, we saw Maggie wearing when she arrived at Terminus last week). The clincher is when he sees a chain coming out of Alex’s pants pocket. He moves forward, knocks the plate of food Carl was just handed by Mary out of his hands, grabs the chain and pulls a pocket watch out, all while grabbing Alex around the throat and drawing his gun. I don’t know how he does it all without having three arms, but he manages. “Where’d you get this watch?” he demands. It’s Hershel’s, the one he gave to Glenn back at the prison.
We jump to another flashback. We see a close-up of hands making a Lego car, and then a wide shot of one of the cell blocks. Carl is at the back of the room, cleaning and polishing guns, while his friend Patrick (the first one to die from the illness in the prison) is playing with the toys, although he is a bit older than Carl. On a set of stairs, we see Beth once again holding Judith. Patrick apologizes to Rick for playing with toys, but Rick tells him not to worry. He goes to Carl and tells him to come with him. Carl ignores him at first, but then goes to put his gunbelt on. Rick tells him it’ll just get in the way, echoing Hershel’s words from the earlier flashback.
Back in the Terminus yard, Rick tells Alex he sees the sniper on the rooftop, and Alex shouts at him to put his gun down, that he can handle the situation. He tells Rick he got the watch off one of the dead, so Rick continues, asking where the riot gear and poncho came from. Gareth arrives and tries to calm Rick, but admits they have a problem: Rick no longer trusts them. He holds his right hand up, palm open, a gesture of peace; suddenly, he closes his fist, and the sniper opens fire. People scramble, Rick letting go of Alex but shooting him as he does so. All the sniper’s shots miss, and the four turn and run. Each time they come to an intersection between buildings, more shots ring out, none hitting, but all clearly preventing egress along one or more routes. It quickly becomes obvious that they are being herded deliberately. As they run, we can hear voices over walkie-talkies, apparently reporting on their location. They go through one building, only to have an exit closed in front of them. They then leave through another door, passing by a large fenced area filled with viscera and human skeletons; it’s a virtual abattoir, and it looks like knocking the “food” out of Carl’s hand was a good idea. They enter into a very eerie room, the one seen briefly in the Promo video. It’s full of candles and religious iconography, and there is writing both on the walls, and on the floor. Michonne says, “These people. I don’t think they’re trying to kill us.” Rick agrees, saying, “They’re aiming at our feet.” The writing on the wall says, “Never again. Never trust. We first, always,” and the writing on the floor is a series of names, written radiating out from the center of the room where a ring of candles stands. On or beside each of the names is some sort of, presumably, personal object: a guitar, a doll, various oddments. They leave through another door, and find themselves near the fence. They try to make a break for it, only to be confronted by a whole group of people with automatic weapons on the other side.
Gareth appears behind them, and tells them to drop their weapons. They hesitate, but see it’s a no-win situation, and comply. Gareth tells them to go one at a time to a nearby boxcar, calling Rick “Ringleader,” Daryl “Archer,” and Michonne “Samurai.” Daryl and Michonne give Gareth looks that should kill him on the spot, while Rick just looks at Carl and nods. He just calls Carl “kid,” and threatens to kill him if Rick and the others don’t follow all of his instructions. They get to the boxcar, and are told to open it and enter. They do so, and Carl follows slowly behind. The tension is thick – I was sure at this point that something was going to happen to Carl before he got to the boxcar, but nothing does, and he gets inside. The door is shut from outside, and their eyes adjust to the gloom. From the far end, movement; it’s Glenn, Maggie, Tara, Bob, Sasha, Abraham, Eugene, and Rosita. Maggie introduces the new faces, saying that they’re friends. Daryl says, “Now they’re friends of ours,” to which Abraham replies, “For however long that’ll be.” “No,” says Rick, and we flashback once more to the prison.
Rick’s busy digging along with Carl and Hershel. Beth walks around them holding Judith. Rick starts teaching technique to Carl, who smiles. Rick takes his hat off of Carl, and puts it on Beth. “Looks good,” he says. Hershel says, “It can be like this all the time,” and Rick says, “It’s like this now, and that’s enough.” He recognizes the ephemeral nature of life in the zombie apocalypse. Rather than making long-term plans, of dreaming about what they could have, he’s happy to be in the place he is in now, in the moment, and finds it satisfying.
In the boxcar, Rick turns to the door and peers out through a crack at the yard beyond. He says, “They’re going to feel pretty stupid when they find out.” “Find out what?” Abraham asks. The camera goes around, looking closely into the faces of each of the survivors as they stare intently at Rick. “They’re screwing with the wrong people,” Rick replies. It isn’t a threat – it’s a simple statement of fact. Farmer Rick is finally put to bed, and although I have no idea how they’re going to get out of this predicament, I already find myself feeling sorry for the Termites – or at least I would, if they weren’t murdering thieving cannibals unworthy of the slightest bit of sympathy.
This was a much better finale than I suspected it would be. We still don’t know everything about Terminus, but we have a doozy of a cliffhanger which promises us more at the beginning of next season. In addition, the fact that they’re wearing/holding things belonging to other survivors, combined with their apparent ready supply of fresh meat, and the disgusting abattoir Rick and the others passed while fleeing, says pretty clearly that the Terminus group is a bunch of cannibals.
The events with Joe’s gang early in the episode would have, under most circumstances, provided the climax for an entire episode; here, they were the first course in a meal of action and revelation. The depths of anger held within Rick surfaced, and this has a huge effect on those around him, as they are aware of this other side to him that he’s been repressing for some time. They aren’t specifically afraid of him; in fact, Carl puts it best when he’s talking to Michonne, and he admits that he, too, is a monster. None of the group is afraid of Rick: they’re afraid of themselves. The attempted rape of Carl is a very disturbing scene, with his attacker alternately trying to hush him, and force him into a position to be assaulted in. As a father, I completely understand where the rage in Rick came from. While Michonne and Carl use the word “monster” to describe these moments of desperation and violence, I prefer to think of it as times when they become pragmatic killers. Certain crimes cannot go unpunished, and in order to survive, it is becoming much more common that one needs to kill. If we did a complete body count for Season Four, you’d find that the number of people killed by other people far outnumbers those killed by walkers. Walkers are there, but are almost a background threat now; the real danger is the monster within the human heart.
While this episode saw several regulars, it was really about Rick’s journey. He’s come full circle back to being the man who was able to gut his best friend in order to save himself, as we see this action mirrored when he guts the man who assaulted Carl. The in-between period, what I like to call “Farmer Rick” emerged as an attempt to teach Carl that life isn’t all violence and death, and that Rick hopefully has a place again sometime in the future – like when the series is done and he’s officially retired somewhere post zombie-apocalypse. But while the series continues, kick-ass killer Rick is a much more interesting character. Carl is better balanced, whereas Rick is a bit of a pendulum. He’s swung all the way back, and this will lead to dire things for the Terminus group come Season Five.
There were some really touching moments of connection tonight: Michonne and Carl sharing their “I, Monster” moment; Rick calling Daryl his brother, and the look of painful emotion on Daryl’s face as he realizes Rick is a better brother than his real one was; and Carl’s support for his father, when they are being frisked at Terminus and he tells Alex that the other guys (Joe’s group) got what they deserved, not hesitating even a second when he does so. The reunion in the boxcar was good to see, and there is an immediate chemistry between Abraham and Rick – Abraham is already looking at him for leadership, although I suspect that when things get sorted next season, there may be some friction between them over the group’s direction – should they both survive.
I mentioned earlier that the constant recurrence of Beth holding Judith was very interesting. We still don’t know the whereabouts of her, nor of Tyreese, Carol, and Judith. I think that the four of them will play a very important role in getting Rick and the group out of Terminus. The fact that Beth is shown with Judith several times struck me as being something the writers were trying to subconsciously draw our attention to. I believe that Carol and Tyreese will find Beth, save her, and that she will be in charge of looking after the baby while Carol and Tyreese go kick some righteous butt. This is just guesswork, and we won’t find out for another six months, but that’s my take on what’s going to happen with those four who have yet to be ensnared in the Terminus web. Of course, it is possible that this is where Beth was taken, but we’ve seen no evidence of it; after tonight’s episode, I believe that she’s been taken by someone else entirely, someone we have yet to meet.
Six months is a long time to wait, and this is, frankly, the biggest cliffhanger The Walking Dead has left us with in any of their season finales. So many questions left unanswered, our survivors weaponless and apparently helpless in a boxcar surrounded by armed cannibals, and yet Rick’s defiance, his intensity at the end of the episode, has me feeling optimistic for what next season will bring. The question posed at the beginning of the episode, asking themselves who they are, was answered quite resoundingly by the end of the episode. Rick’s going to do everything he can to save his friends, and to take out the Terminus cannibals – even if his only weapon is sheer willpower.
For readers of the comics, there were several obvious tie-ins, to such things as the events that occur when Rick, Abraham, and Carl make a supply run, and to their run-in with the group that calls itself The Hunters. It’s nice to see how some of these themes are included by Scott Gimple, but that the television show has its own take, thus not spoiling things for people yet to read the comic (and if you haven’t, now’s a great time to get started. You can read my reviews of Compendium One and Compendium Two if you’d like.
Steve’s Grade: A
An action-packed Season Finale that had not one, but two major climaxes. Most of the group is back together, but under circumstances so dire that nothing is certain going forward into Season Five. A six month-long cliffhanger awaits; let the speculation begin!