The much anticipated season finale of The Walking Dead brings us the most action-packed, tightly paced, nail-biting episode of the season. So how was Rick (Andrew Lincoln) ‘irrevocably changed’?
Let’s bitch it out…
A ton happened in The Walking Dead‘s fourth season finale, delivering what is easily the most enjoyable episode all season. Not only do we get some questions about Terminus answered (while many others arise), we also see the reunion of almost everyone from the old prison gang, some heartwarming flashbacks and a very satisfying disposal of the ‘Claimed’ crew. As much as I’ve enjoyed some of the episodes that favoured character development and more nuanced storytelling, it sure was nice to be on the edge of my seat and groaning during every annoying commercial break.
Much of the press surrounding the finale focused on how Rick would be forever changed going forward, pushed to places that he’s never gone before. The natural inclination is to assume someone major would die in the most tragic of ways, spiraling Rick into a tailspin of despair. The cold open further reinforces this as we see a solitary Rick drenched in blood, wistfully thinking back to happier times in the prison with Hershel (Scott Wilson).
But it’s just smoke and mirrors. I stand up and applaud The Walking Dead for not only cultivating but subverting this expectation – all of it rings true, but rather than getting an introverted, unhinged Rick (been there, done that), we get a Rick that’s decidedly forceful, commanding and controlled. It’s as if Rick Grimes has turned into the apocalypse’s answer to Jack Bauer.
And the change comes when he almost single-handedly takes out the ‘Claimed’ crew as they ambush Rick, Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Carl (Chandler Riggs) in the middle of the night. With the cards severely stack against him, seconds away from a bullet to the head, Rick does the unthinkable. Motivated by saving Carl from reenacting that infamous moment from Deliverance, Rick goes straight to the jugular (literally) and bites a nice chunk out of Joe’s (Jeff Kober) neck, killing him in the process. A very ‘walker-like’ way to go. The other ‘Claimed’ thugs are temporarily paralyzed in shock just as the audience is, allowing our heroes to turn the tide.
We’ve all seen our fair share of human flesh being chomped off, heck, the episode takes pains to show it to us right before the Claimers attack – remember the poor loner with glasses that Rick deemed ‘unsaveable’ to Carl? It was no accident that we’re witness to such a gruesome display right before Rick himself bites off some face. We barely grimace as the poor guy gets eaten by a bunch of walkers, but when Rick does it, we most certainly gasp. A human willfully taking on attributes of the walkers? And our hero nonetheless? It’s always shocking (ala Cape Fear – Warning: a very disturbing scene) but it’s all about protecting Carl, and that’s a motivation we can get behind. Rick’s act is transformed from monstrous to welcome thanks to the brilliant way the whole sequence plays out. It’s wonderfully written, shot and acted, and quite frankly – I didn’t even care about the Terminus business after that moment.
But it’s important to see Rick ‘transform’ and come into his own with what needs to be done in order to protect Carl (i.e. be the rightful front man of the entire Walking Dead franchise). Rick guts Carl’s attacker not out of sadistic delight; he’s doing what needs to be done to protect his family while enacting some understandable vengeance. It’s a cheer-worthy moment for the audience because this is indeed a Rick Grimes that is ‘irrevocably changed’ and thus, reinvents the entire series going forward (or at least until it’s next reinvention). It’s moments like this that helps the show avoids categorizations such as “too depressing,” “too bleak,” and “too hopeless” (which I’m sure we’ll get our fair share of in the near future). Instead these primal acts whet our appetites as we eagerly await what’s to come.
As if the showdown between the Claimers isn’t enough, we still get a good glimpse into Terminus – ie: what we’ve been waiting for all this time. It hasn’t been confirmed, but it’s very likely that the ‘end of the line’ is indeed a group of cannibals based on these facts:
- For a sanctuary there are very few people kicking around. If everyone and their mother are ‘welcome’, this place would certainly be packed to the brim with survivors.
- The strong visual presence of the grill out front and its endless supply of juicy meat.
- “Never again.” “Never trust.” “We first, always.” is scrawled on the walls of the candle-filled shrine room of what I’m assuming to be the Termites’ fallen brethren. No doubt a way to justify the luring, killing and consumption of everyone outside of their group.
- As I said last week, cannibals are an absolute staple in any post-apocalyptic narrative (and so are rapists – so check and CHECK in this episode).
- The pile of human bones that the Rick & Co. run by while escaping the Termites’ onslaught of bullets is a dead giveaway that they be eating people.
But not to worry. It’s important that we’re privy to Rick’s newfound confidence going into Terminus because we know our group, with this Rick leading, is going to a-okay. Rick’s confident final words, despite being locked up, unarmed, in a shipping container, waiting to be eaten, hammers that home. I would be hard-pressed to imagine anyone who didn’t come away from the finale feeling just as energized and riled up as Rick is, despite the dire circumstances.
I can’t say that this season was the best of the series, but this latter batch of episodes on the whole have provided some incredible television. I’m excited about what awaits us in season five.
- The moment when Rick and Daryl (Norman Reedus) properly reunite is incredibly touching. Since we didn’t get a heartwarming reunion when Rick & Co. found Glenn (Steven Yeun) & Co. in the shipping container (and rightfully so, because any warm and fuzzy moments would have diluted the bad-assery of Rick’s final line), it’s nice to get some emotional resonance somewhere in this episode as the group comes back together.
- It was very intentional that just before Rick takes his bite outta Joe that we hear the same deafening ringing as The Governor (David Morrissey) heard just before he decided to take out his whining Woodbury army in last season’s finale, and prior to beheading Hershel in the mid-season finale. I’m aware that ringing is just the result of Rick having just head-butted Joe/gunshot narrowly missing his head, but it’s also drawing a significant parallel. Both Rick and The Governor commit significant acts that cross that ‘boundary or decorum’ just after the ringing (there is decency when you murder someone; these instances are outsides those lines). The difference between Rick and The Governor is the intentionality. The ringing shows us that at face value: Rick does something just as deplorable as The Governor did, but The Governor he is not.
- Speaking of The Governor, it’s a wonder why his Woodbury group never came across these Terminus signs, as it would surely be a place that he’d want to overtake. This (in addition to the backstage Termites painting new signs when Rick & Co. enter through the back) tells me that Terminus is likely a new-ish operation.
- The callout to Captain Obvious was a little too loud when Rick’s gives a lesson to Carl about ‘setting a trap’. Train tracks to Terminus anyone?
- It’s nice to have Hershel back in this episode even if it is just in flashback. It successfully washes away that horrible image of his zombified head the last time we saw him.
- Michonne finally reveals the story behind her pets, and I gotta say, it doesn’t seem as tragic as I had envisioned. Of course, hacking up your baby-daddy couldn’t have been an easy thing to do, but I thought those pets represented more of a punishment for them rather than a way for Michonne to retreat further into numbness.
- Is it me or does it seem like the roof-shooters at Terminus were intentionally missing Rick & Co? Was it simply to lead them to the shipping container marked with the titular “A” or is there some other reason? I can’t believe so many of them would be such terrible shots…
- Rabbits have sure been mistreated this season haven’t they?
What did you think viewers? Was this episode the best of the season? What did you think of Gareth (Andrew J. West)? Do you think he’s the leader? Is he going to be as sadistic as The Governor? What do you think happened to Beth (Emily Kinney)? Will Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) and Carol (Melissa McBride) save the day when they arrive? If they arrive? Were you upset that there were no major character deaths? Does that mean we can expect one early in the fifth season? How will Rick & Co. overtake the Termites? Give us your thoughts in the comments below.
A gentle reminder that we adhere to a SPOILER FREE zone here, so please keep any plot points from the graphic novels to yourself.
The Walking Dead has now concluded season four. No official premiere date has been set, but it’s safe to assume a return in the fall on AMC.