“A”? More like B+ at best.
So Season 4 of The Walking Dead comes to a close with “A.” Given the groups we’ve focused on as we approached the season finale, this episode, I think, had to accomplish two goals: give Rick’s group the main focus and get them to Terminus. While the episode did manage to do both, the overall experience felt like a jumbled mess hampered by flashbacks that reinforced character points about Rick that the audience already knows.
The episode begins in the past, sometime during or before the events of Season 3 with Rick, Maggie and Glenn arriving back at the prison. Hershel’s there, too, and he watches as Rick and Carl share a moment before Rick heads to the fence to gut some walkers.
Flash to the present where we see a despondent Rick, sitting in front of a truck with bloodied knuckles and a look of absolute emptiness written on his face.
So how’d we end up here? Well, we cut back to Rick, Carl and Michonne preparing some food before continuing their journey. They aren’t too far from Terminus, but Carl is concerned about whether the three of them will tell the others what they did. Rick responds that they’ll simply tell them who they are, but at this point, Carl isn’t even sure who they are anymore.
After Rick gives Carl a brief lesson on traps to snare a rabbit, Carl hears a scream from further in the woods. He rushes and spots a man surrounded by walkers, but Rick pulls his son back, insisting that they can’t help him. Within seconds, the walkers feast upon the man, but not before a few of them spot the three and give chase.
Time for a flashback! Hershel comes into Rick’s bunk to wake him up for the work, despite not knowing what time it is. Nowadays…er, well, then-a-days, Hershel’s lost his sense of time. While the two of them get to work, Beth will take Judith for the day.
Right, so back to the present, the three spot an abandoned truck and decide to make camp for the night.
That evening, Rick and Michonne discuss food and realize just how odd it is to have these types of conversations. Rick wonders if Terminus has any sort of established system, but Michonne’s concern is whether Terminus is legitimate. Rick isn’t entirely too concerned about that. After all, they let in new people, but then so did the Governor. Then, the two hear noises. Suddenly, Rick feels a gun on his temple.
And who should it be but Joe and the marauders?
Instead of doing, you know, the practical thing and just shooting Rick in the head as retaliation for Rick strangling their comrade, Lou, Joe decides to try and have a countdown.
He’s interrupted by Daryl, who arrives and, without giving away his relationship to the three, tells Joe that these are good people. But these people killed Lou, so in Joe’s eyes, Daryl just lied. And you know what happens to liars.
Two of the men begin to beat the hell out of Daryl. Carl, meanwhile, is dragged from the truck by one of the marauders, who shoves Carl to the ground and attempts to force himself upon him.
Rick insists that the men stop and, in his desperation, headbutts Joe, causing Joe’s gun to go off and leave a ringing sensation in Rick’s ears. Despite the pain Rick’s ears must be in at this point, he bites Joe’s neck and leaves him to bleed to death. He then grabs Joe’s blade and heads toward Carl’s attempted rapist. Once Carl is free, he and Michonne watch as Rick guts the man over and over again.
Time for a flashback! Hershel throws out the idea of domesticating pigs to Rick. In addition, if they’re to make the prison work, they need to plant. Once they have a system in place, Rick should take it upon himself to show Carl how to do the same thing. After all, there’s no telling what his life will be like. Hershel admits that he and everyone else owe Rick a great debt. This can be the start of a new life. Rick counters that life changing for them inside the prison doesn’t mean that things outside the prison will be any different.
So anyway, back to the present. Day has arrived and we find Rick sitting next to the truck. Daryl approaches and tells Rick that he never fully knew what the marauders were. He always thought about leaving, but he just stayed after he got separated from Beth. When Rick asks about Beth, Daryl can only say what he knows- that she’s just gone. Rick doesn’t blame Daryl for his involvement with the marauders. After all, they’re still brothers despite everything they’ve been through.
Not too shabby, considering Rick once put a gun to Daryl’s head, but hey, times have changed. Daryl tells Rick that anyone would have done what he did, but Rick disagrees. Daryl persists, telling Rick that what happened last night wasn’t who he truly is, but again, Rick reminds Daryl of what he did to Tyreese during their fight after they discovered Karen and David’s bodies. Whether Daryl wants to accept it, Rick acknowledges that he is going down a very dark path.
The four continue along and are closer to Terminus, but rather than follow the train tracks, Rick suggests they travel through the woods so they aren’t seen. They approach the fence surrounding Terminus. The plan is for them to spread out.
Carl opts to head with Michonne as opposed to Rick, which gives Michonne a chance to explain how her family died. They were at a refugee camp. Mike, Terry and Andre just got worse. Some people gave up and left, but Michonne didn’t. Soon enough, Mike and Terry get bitten. Michonne could have stopped it, but didn’t. Instead, she severed their arms and tied chains around their necks so she always knew what happened. However, doing so also kept her safe, but it also, in a sense, turned her into one of them. All she did was drift until she met Andrea and everyone else.
Michonne knows how Carl looks at Rick after last night. She tells Carl that Rick is still proud of him, but Carl admits that he isn’t the man that his father thinks he is- he’s just another monster.
Rick, meanwhile, buries a duffel bag filled with a gun and ammunition for later on, so you can count on that to be brought up during Season 5.
The four scale the fence and sneak into one of the buildings where they find people hard at work on…something. One of the men, Gareth, played by Andrew J. West, welcomes the four newcomers while also wondering why Albert isn’t on perimeter watch. Gareth asks if the four are there to rob them, but Rick tells Gareth that he just wanted to see them before they saw him.
Gareth senses their nervousness, but he tells them that they’re in a safe sanctuary. He has the four inspected for weapons. Once they’re cleared, the four meet Alex, played by Tate Ellington, and Mary, from the end of last week. When asked, Mary explains that newcomers are let in so they can survive.
Rick notices some very familiar articles of clothing and an even more familiar watch before seizing Alex, putting a gun to his head and demanding to know where he got the watch.
Time for a flashback! At the prison, Rick watches Carl, with much focus, assemble a gun. When Rick manages to get Carl’s attention, he tells him that he needs his help before handing over his gun holster.
Yeah, anyway, in the present, Alex tells the shooters positioned all around him to hold their fire. Gareth explains that they found not just the watch, but also the very familiar looking poncho and riot gear. There’s no trust going around here right now, so the shooting begins.
It appears as if the folks of Terminus have poor aim, as they shoot well past Rick and the others, who make their way into a building filled with candles. The room they find in particular is assembled like a setting for a ritual, but the four keep on moving. They make their way back outside before the shooters corner them with gunfire all around.
Gareth calls for Rick to head to a nearby railcar labeled “A,” followed by Daryl, Michonne and eventually Carl. Without negotiations, Gareth orders the four inside.
Luckily for them, sort of, they’re soon reunited with Glenn, Maggie, Tara, Bob, Sasha, Marcia, Jan, Cindy, Rudolph, Comet, Dasher, oh, and the three newcomers. Glenn lets Rick know that Abraham, Eugene and Rosita are good people and now part of their crew.
Wait, just one more flashback! Rick teaches Carl how to farm the land. Hershel acknowledges that such peace can’t last forever, but for Rick, it’s good enough for now.
Back in the rail car, Rick tells the group that the good folks of Terminus are going to feel pretty stupid when they realize that they’re screwing with the wrong people.
Well, that was a season.
As I said, this episode had a few goals to accomplish by episode’s end: among them, get Rick and his group to Terminus and maintain audience interest in the show so viewers will stick around for Season 5. I enjoyed “A,” but felt it could have packed a much stronger punch than it did. That’s not to say the episode was bad, but it wasted some potential on unnecessary flashbacks that, in my opinion, added nothing that we didn’t already know about Rick and Carl’s personal struggles to maintain their humanity.
Now, the episode did provide character growth for the group we focused on and Rick’s very visceral murders of the marauders provided another look at how far down the dark path he is. We also got a glimpse of just how odd and potentially dangerous Terminus is, but then, in the world of the zombie apocalypse, what’s even considered normal compared to what people do to survive?
This episode had a lot of buildup. After the prison assault, the group not only needed to find each other, they had to come up with a new plan and a home where they could settle. Throughout the second half of the season, characters like Beth and Daryl or Tyreese and Carol grappled with the idea of staying put at temporary locales until walkers and the harsh reality of the world around them forced them out of their potential dream homes. Obviously, the reunion of most of the group didn’t have the same warm feeling that Glenn and Maggie’s reunion did, but the scene did accomplish the goal of putting most of the main characters back together in one place.
As far as the characters go, I’ll start with Daryl. Like he told Beth in “Still,” he and Merle just drifted. He found some solace in the marauders because, like him, they were often without direction. With them, Daryl managed to forge a connection just so he could belong to something. Sure, he knew that these were bad people and even admitted to Rick that he didn’t fully understand what they were, but even Daryl’s had his bad days. The marauders just happened to find Daryl at the right time and Joe saw something in Daryl’s honesty that made him worth keeping around. Daryl would never have fully meshed with them the same way he doesn’t fully fit in with Rick and the others, but it was convenient for the time.
And, of course, there was no way he’d turn on Rick. I did wonder if we’d ever get a confrontation between one group and the marauders while Daryl traveled among them, and I did appreciate his attempt to save Rick, Carl and Michonne from death while not losing face. For Rick to call him a brother shows how deep their bond has become. Remember that Rick told Daryl that he had become a part of their extended family. Granted, Daryl still split with the group and went to Merle- which I can’t knock him for because, at the end of the day, Merle was blood- but he’s proven to be a worthwhile ally and friend. I also couldn’t help but laugh when one of the Terminus members attempts to hand the four back their weapons, but Daryl picks his crossbow up himself, as if no one else- aside from Beth, I guess- is allowed to touch it.
I’m really enjoying the bond Carl and Michonne have fostered. While I found it shaky at the start, mostly due to Michonne’s awkward dialogue, she understands what Carl is going through when he looks at Rick because she, too, has grappled with her demons and the darkness that ate away at her. Now that she’s coming to terms with who she was and who she is, she’s allowing herself to open up and be a normal person as opposed to a dead woman walking. She was as gone as Mike and Terry were and drifted like the very walkers she cut down.
Starting with “After,” this season has given us a more in-depth look at Michonne’s humanity, and her character has greatly improved because of it. Meeting Andrea was the start, but here, Michonne is forming a healthy relationship with Rick and Carl that goes beyond their need for survival. It’s still a bit rocky and Michonne still isn’t the best conversationalist, but it’s a work in progress. Over time, she’s become less of a mute and more of a person, such as her fun and games with Carl. She’s also somewhat of a surrogate mother to Carl when she tells him how proud Rick is of him. At the same time, she’s not overly protective and treating Carl like a child. She knows him better than that and I appreciate the fact that she doesn’t try and talk down to him, but tries to reassure him of his own strength.
But Carl, right now, doesn’t see things that way. His journey this season has been about seeing his limits. We’ve seen him survive on his own without his father’s help. He fought off walkers and managed to score himself some food. At the end of the day, though, Carl is still young. He couldn’t bring himself to shoot his own father when he thought Rick was beginning to turn, but he still wants to prove that he’s every bit as tough as Rick. Watching Rick gut his potential rapist, however, gave Carl another look at the type of monster he sees in not just his father, but himself.
Remember that back in Season 3, Carl shot and killed a young man who worked for the Governor just as the boy had begun to lower his weapon. This concerned Hershel, who feared that Carl had begun to walk down a very dark path from which he couldn’t return. Carl has his own demons. He knows that he can defend himself, but, like Rick, he openly acknowledges that he’s a monster. I like that the writers actually make Carl think about his own humanity, rather than just turning him into some heartless killer. He fears his father as much as he fears himself.
And Rick definitely fears for his own humanity as well. Andrew Lincoln’s performance during the fight with the marauders was great to watch. The desperation on his face as he watches a man try and rape his son, his labored breathing and the way the blood looks on Rick’s face shows that this is a man you should not mess with, and that’s exactly what the marauders did. They pushed Rick to a breaking point. We’ve seen Rick kill before, but not in such a hostile manner where he could easily have been killed. It pushes him further down the dark path and has him question who he is even more than he already has. He acknowledges that he’s a monster, but still someone who is suited to make the tough decisions.
That’s how Rick’s gotten to this point and what made the others look to him as a leader: he made the tough decisions that no one else would make, but he also had the best possible solutions in the heat of the moment. Like Carol with her shooting Lizzie, Rick doesn’t always make the popular decision, but the necessary one. Rick exists in the moment. That’s what he meant when he told Hershel that the calm life might not have lasted forever, but for now, it would suffice.
Rick’s struggle has been about salvaging his humanity and being a good father to Carl. As designated leader, he’s called upon to get his hands dirty and make the choices no one else will make. Despite being both a leader and cop, he’s a father first. He knows that Carl is strong, but he doesn’t want him to end up on the same path as him. Rick wants to keep his people safe, yet like Carl said, he knows that he can’t protect everyone. Soon, Rick will look to strike a balance between his human side and the darker side that helps with making the tough decisions.
Speaking of being a cop, very smart on Rick to notice items like the riot gear, Maggie’s poncho and Hershel’s watch when in Terminus. It was brief, but you could see in Rick’s eyes that something was amiss when he noticed those items. Granted, taking someone else’s items isn’t exactly foreign in the zombie apocalypse. Rick’s group has done it. When the Governor first found Andrea and Michonne, his explanation for taking their weapons was simple: the people of Woodbury didn’t know them, so he did it to protect them. The same could be said of the people at Terminus.
I also didn’t mind the way in which the marauders scene was changed. In the comic, it’s Rick, Carl and Abraham who are assaulted.
The scene plays out pretty much the same, with Rick biting one of his captors and then knifing the attempted rapist while Carl watches.
Although the comic goes a bit darker, as Rick apparently held up the man’s guts after killing him. Actions like that, Abraham says, you can’t come back from, though Rick says you can fake it. While the show touches upon this a bit, I wish it delved deeper into Rick’s psyche like the comic does.
There’s much to say about this episode and season as a whole, but that’s for an expert to do, so I’ll just get some nitpicks out of the way.
My biggest problem with the episode was the use of flashbacks. Flashbacks should be used to expand upon characters or scenes that we know about. They should teach us something new. Here, however, the flashbacks felt wholly unnecessary, if only just to give the audience another chance to see Hershel and Beth on-screen.
People have said that the flashbacks showed the growth of Rick’s personal struggle, but here’s the thing: since this apocalypse broke out, Rick has been saddled with making the tough decisions that make him question his humanity. Like Rick told Daryl, he beat the living hell out of Tyreese in retaliation for Tyreese punching him after finding Karen and David’s bodies. Rick took it upon himself to shoot Sophia after discovering she had turned. He talked to Lori on a disconnected phone despite knowing that she was long dead. More than that, he tried to negotiate with someone as evil as the Governor, knowing that he could still be screwed over.
The audience fully knows well enough by now about Rick’s personal struggles. Having flashbacks to try and emphasize his attempts to maintain his humanity juxtaposed to him brutally murdering two men felt overdone. The episode would have been much stronger without them, in my opinion. We know that both Hershel and Dale represented people trying to maintain some semblance of order and humanity. For the writers to try and reinforce that point seemed like a way to just pad out the episode. There’s no need to beat viewers over the head with a message they’re smart enough to figure out already on their own.
The other thing I never felt the group was in any sort of real danger. Throughout the second half of this season, we’ve lost…who, Lizzie and Mika? Two newcomers who were already unhinged? Oh, and some random extras from the prison that nobody cares about? Even as far back as the Governor’s second assault, the only major character we lost was Hershel. I’ve never felt the group could lose anyone at anytime the way the comic book seems to leave you guessing as to who will die next. I’m not saying main characters should be killed off every episode, but come on, I don’t exactly feel like most of these people won’t make it out of Terminus alive. It’s like the reveal that Judith was, to no one’s surprise, still alive. The Walking Dead is not Game of Thrones. Right now, they’re not going to take that giant leap by suddenly killing off beloved characters we’ve come to appreciate. Right now, anyway.
This is very minor, but I’ve heard that some folks aren’t fans of the fact that Rick said that the folks at Terminus don’t know who they’re screwing with, in sharp contrast to comic book Rick telling Abraham and the others that the Hunters don’t know who they’re fucking with. Its small potatoes and I personally don’t see it as that big of a deal. Could The Walking Dead benefit from the occasional F-bomb per season, the way that Breaking Bad did? Probably, but I don’t see it changing the show all that much.
And while I’m upset to see Joe go, as he did have some great dialogue and delivery, he’s not so smart for allowing his captives to live instead of just shooting them and being done with it. Also, a little too television convenient that the people wearing items belonging to the group just happened to be mingling around at the exact time that Rick and the others arrived.
There’s a lot to like about this season finale. We saw more of Rick’s inner struggle and his decision to settle on being the man that he needs to be when the time comes, rather than waver on indecision. We witnessed Carl acknowledge his shortcomings, as well as the continuing journeys for Daryl and Michonne to become more human and accepted amongst the group as opposed to just drifting through life. With most of the group reunited and now trapped, as well as the whereabouts of Tyreese, Carol, Judith and the still missing Beth still a mystery, there is much to keep viewers interested for Season 5. Again, the flashbacks were unnecessary and kept this somewhat messy episode from being as good as it could have been, but for what we got, I’m not upset.