‘The Walking Dead’: The end of the line

The Walking Dead
March 30, 2014

We open the season finale with a walk down memory lane, way back to a time when everyone still lived in the prison and Hershel was still walking around offering unsolicited advice. When Rick, Maggie and Glenn return from a supply run, Hersh and the others greet the group, and it’s clear that the gears are turning in his head as he watches Rick relieve Carol from Stabbing the Fence Walkers in the Face duty.

The next morning, Hershel wakes Rick up, asking for help with a project. When Rick asks what time it is, BECAUSE WHY ARE YOU WAKING ME UP, OLD MAN, Hershel replies that he never knows what time it is ever since he gave Glenn his Chekov’s pocket watch. Every moment is Right Now to Zen Master Hersh.

When Rick grabs his holster, Hershel insists that he won’t need it for what they are doing, but since they ARE LIVING IN A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, Rick decides to go ahead and bring his gun along. Just in case.

Hersh leads Rick out to the prison yard and suggests that they catch some of the feral hogs and horses running around out in the woods (because that’d be easy), plant some seeds and get to the business of farming since they are going to be staying at the prison for a while. Skeptical Rick is skeptical, but Hershel assures him that the war is over, and that what Carl needs now is a father, one who will show him the way out of the violence and into a better life. Rick reminds Hershel that things might have changed inside the prison walls, but they haven’t changed outside of them, but SiddHershtha insists that here, today, now is a good time to start changing things.

When Rick returns inside the prison, he happens to pass that kid, Patrick the Shower Walker (pre-Pig Flu) who is busily playing with some Legos that were intended for Carl, but which Carl is not interested in — not when he has a gun to clean. Rick urges his son to come with him, he needs his help with something. When Carl goes to grab his gun, Rick insists he doesn’t need it, and to emphasize this point, he takes off his own holster and leaves it behind.

And then everyone farms and everything is happy and they are all together: Rick and Carl and The Baby and Hershel and Sister and no one has caught Pig Flu or been set on fire or had their heads cut off and it will stay that way forever and ever and ever.

Until it doesn’t.

In the present, Rick, Michonne and Carl are making their way towards Terminus, and complaining about how hungry they are. SO HUNGRY. So hungry! Carl wonders what they will tell the people at Terminus about themselves: will they tell them the truth? Will they tell them about the stuff and thangs that they have done? Rick assures Carl they will “tell them who we are,” but that proves unsatisfactory to Carl who wonders how, exactly, they would put that? Who are they? And just then a walker shuffles towards them, which Michonne dispatches with barely a glance because that’s who they are.

The group checks on a snare trap that Rick set up in the woods to catch some foreshadowing rabbits, and explains to Carl that the trail cut into the ground leads the prey right into the slip knot of the trap, but I don’t think the writers are talking about bunnies, you guys.

That’s when they hear a man screaming for help and Carl goes tearing into the woods to help, like a dummy. Michonne and Rick follow, but by the time they arrive, the victim has had his face mostly nommed. “Oh well,” they say, “not much to do here, guess we’ll be on our way, kbai.” But they don’t leave unnoticed, and soon the walkers are stumbling after them down the tracks, which are blocked by another group of snacking walkers. Fight fight kill fight.

That evening, they find a burnt-out SUV that they decide to use for camp, letting Carl sleep inside while Rick and Michonne chat over charred rabbit bits about what they’ll find at Terminus. And that’s when the Claimers finally catch up with them, having walked some 500 miles and some 500 more just to be the men to walk 1000 miles to rape Carl and Michonne and kill Rick.

Putting a gun to his head, Len explains to Rick that it is his day of reckoning, of restitution, a balancing of the universe. But instead of just getting on with it already, Len begins a countdown, giving Daryl just enough time to arrive and demand that Len stop. Len explains that Rick is the man they’ve been hunting, the one that killed their friend. And Daryl understands, man, he gets it! Len wants blood! But instead of taking it from these good people, how about Len take it from him instead. Len counter-offers with a beating to death for Daryl for being lippy, and still killing and raping Daryl’s buddies.

One of the Claimers plucks Carl from the SUV and begins wrestling him to the ground to Deliverance him, which is when Rick headbutts Len in the gut. Fight fight fight, but Len has the advantage on Rick and manages to pin Rick’s arms behind him. So Rick tears Len’s throat out with his teeth.

You know, as you do.

SPURT SPURT DIE SPURT. Michonne uses the element of surprise to kill a couple of the Claimers (including one from Houston in real life) and Daryl gets the upper hand against the ones previously using him as a punching bag. And with that, everyone is dead but for Deliverance, whom Rick, ironically enough, claims. And as Carl and Michonne and Daryl watch in horror, Rick guts Deliverance from belly to throat. Squeal like a pig, indeed.

The next morning, as Michonne and Carl don’t sleep in the SUV, Daryl brings Rick some water to remove ALL OF THE GORE EVERYWHERE, because geez, Rick, you should see yourself, dude. Daryl explains to Rick that he had been with Beth after the prison. When Rick asks if she’s dead, Daryl can only say that she’s “just gone.” Daryl then beats himself up for hanging with the Claimers in the first place, but Rick is all, “naw man, it’s good.” Rick then tells Daryl that the important thing is that they are together again, and that Daryl is his brother. Aww.

Daryl tries to assure Rick that anyone would have done what Rick did the night before, and that it’s not him, but Rick shrugs it off. Whatever. As long as Carl stays safe, that’s all that matters.

Literally back on track to Terminus, Michonne asks Rick if he’s OK. When he tells her that he is, she answers that she knows, because she is too.

And then they are at Terminus, but instead of marching through the front gate like a bunch of rubes, Rick, Michonne, Daryl and Carl scope out the place from the other side of the fence. Carl shies away from Rick, choosing to go with Michonne so that she can deliver a big speech about how her son died in a camp while she was out on a run, and her boyfriend and his friend were getting high. The boyfriend and friend had been bit, so she turned them into her armless and jawless pets to punish herself. But the joke was on her, because they ended up working as a zombie shield, and when the walkers saw her, they only saw another monster. Later, Andrea and Rick, they brought Michonne back, and that’s her happy ending. Michonne promises Carl that he doesn’t have to be afraid of Rick, but Carl explains that he isn’t afraid of his father, he’s afraid that Rick will know what goes through his mind and realize that he’s just another monster, too. Awww! (But not as big a monster as Lizzie!) (Let’s hope!)

While Michonne and Carl are having this moment, Rick and Daryl bury a stash of gun just outside the fence just in case, you know, Terminus is actually a cannibal cult or something. Or maybe to grow a gun tree. Hard to say.

So the group climbs over the fence to sneak into Terminus, where they surprise a group of Terminalites? Terminites? Terminals? in a large map room, one of whom is broadcasting a message over a radio: “All those who arrive survive. Follow the tracks. Sanctuary for all. Community for all. Being cannibalized for some. Etc and so on.” Rick explains to the remarkably calm Terminites that they are not there to rob them, they just wanted to get a look at them first. This makes sense, the leader of the Terminites — whose name is Gareth, apparently — agrees, but he explains that before they can give them the sanctuary that was promised, Rick and his team need to put down their weapons and allow themselves to be searched. Which they do. After being pat down, the Terminites allow them to take up their weapons again with a warning to not try anything stupid, thereby virtually guaranteeing that something stupid will be tried.

One of the Terminites, Alex, leads Rick and the rest outside to Mary, explaining that Terminus has been there since the beginning, since the camps became overrun. And yet, there’s no one around? Except this Mary lady who apparently is constantly manning the barbecue? And a couple other folks? Just as Mary offers them a plate of food, Rick notices … something … actually, a few things like Hershel’s pocket watch on that one guy! and Daryl’s poncho on that other woman! and the riot gear over there! So Rick takes Alex hostage and demands to know from a very bored Mary and Gareth where their people are. Instead of answering, Mary accidentally shoots Alex in the face, and that’s when the roof snipers start sniping. Shooting at Rick’s feet, shooting at Michonne’s feet, shooting at Daryl’s feet, shooting at Carl’s feet, so much shooting at the feet.

The foot shooting sends the group looking for shelter, running past a bunch of bodies (!!!) before hiding in a room filled with lit candles, names painted on the floor and the words “NEVER TRUST — NEVER AGAIN — WE FIRST ALWAYS” painted in big black letters on the wall. Well then!

The Terminalites chase them out of that room and into an outside yard where they find themselves surrounded. Gareth demands that they drop their weapons, FOR REALS THIS TIME, before ordering Rick, or “Ringleader” as Gareth calls him, to go into a nearby train car. “Archer” is to follow, and then “Samurai.” Rick demands that Carl come with them, and after a long pause, Gareth agrees.

So, with a long hard glare, Rick and his group go into the boxcar where they discover they aren’t alone, but have been locked up with Glenn! and Maggie! and Bob! and Sasha! and some other people that they don’t know! Maggie explains that Abraham and the others, including that one girl who looks awfully familiar to Rick, helped save them.

When Abraham discouragingly says something about not being there for long, Rick declares flatly, “NO,” before announcing that the Terminites are going to feel pretty stupid when they find out that they are screwing with the wrong people.

Let me begin this by saying that I had a number of concerns and complaints when The Walking Dead changed showrunners for the third time last season, replacing Glenn Mazzara, whom I thought had done a terrific job on season three, with Scott Gimple. And for the first half of the season, my irritation felt warranted. The whole Down with the Sickness plotline grew tedious, and the return of The Governor might have been one of the most boring episodes of the series.

But in the second half, the writers did something revolutionary for the series by separating the characters. This not only fueled the plot, forcing our heroes to do what it took to survive without the support of others, but it also gave the writers a new form that allowed them to more intimately explore individual characters. Most* of the time this worked: Daryl and Beth’s episode was one of the most genuine of the series, and helped give shape to Beth, finally; and of course, “The Grove” will go down as one of the most memorable episodes possibly in television — not just for the shock factor, but also because it gave such depth to Carol as a character, and developed her relationship with Tyrese.

Up to this point it had been difficult to care too much about any of the characters: why get emotionally invested when the chances of someone being eaten by a zombie in any one episode are astronomically high? As a result, when other major characters have died — Lori, Andrea, Shane, whomever — it was shocking perhaps, but never really sad, exactly. This has changed under Gimple’s direction. By spending more time one-on-one with each of our major characters, by getting to know them as people with real pasts — pasts beyond the zombie apocalypse — we grow more involved with them, and their deaths are felt more profoundly. Hershel is a perfect example of this: he had a grand heroic episode, we were shown just what kind of man Hersh was. So when The Governor sliced off his head, it was a gut punch unlike any other. And so while we managed to get through the finale without any major characters dying, Gimple has raised the stakes for next season by allowing us to grow close to them and really care about them as people.

What’s interesting about this episode is that though it was a character-focused episode, it wasn’t setting out to make us care more about its protagonist. Instead, it was the culmination of Rick’s dark season-long hero’s journey. The season began in the realm of the ordinary — or as ordinary as any place is going to be in the post-apocalyptic world. As we saw in this episode, it was Hershel’s idea to bring a little domesticity and normality to the prison, an idea that Rick wholeheartedly embraced. Team Prison created a slice of the old world, a tiny bit of the familiar, the safe — and it couldn’t possibly last. And so, when the new world, this other violent world, pushed its way back in again with the assistance of the Pig Flu and the intrusion of The Governor, Rick was forced out of the familiar and thrust onto the metaphorical and literal road of trials. There, he was challenged and pushed, and as he followed it ever further, it eventually led him to his black apotheosis, the transformative moment in this episode where he became the hero this violent world requires.

I can’t take credit for this, Someone on reddit noticed it, but it’s nice symbolism of Rick’s journey.

In my estimation, one of the most important moments in this episode occurs after everything has happened, after Rick has torn a man’s throat out with his teeth and then gutted another man in front of his child. Daryl tries to reassure him that Rick acted under duress, those weren’t the acts of the real Rick. But Rick flat out rejects this. It was him. That is what he has always been capable of, and this is who he has to be now, and he accepts it. As Hershel points out repeatedly in the flashback, what matters is the here and now. This particular Here and this particular Now requires this particular Rick: a blood-soaked hero for a blood-soaked time.

As for what is in store for next season, how our heroes will escape the boxcar, who these Terminus people are and what they are really up to? Are they cannibals or do they just have some serious trust issues? Who knows. There’s a lot of speculation that Tyrese and Carol will come to our friends’ rescue — that perhaps they were close enough to Terminus when the firefight broke out that they saw what happened from the safety of the other side of the fence. Or maybe they were the barbecue Mary was trying to serve to Rick and the rest when things went south. It’s hard to say, really. All that we can safely know is that whatever happens next season, it’s going to be dark — and Dark Rick will be ready.

Alright! I’m going to leave it there lest I bore you with blah blah blah. Good(ish) season, guys! See you in October!

*Carl and the pudding were, of course, the exception to the rule.

This post originally appeared on the Hearst site Tubular.

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