Plot: All roads lead to Terminus. After several days of travel, Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Michonne (Danai Gurira), and Carl (Chandler Riggs) are almost at their destination. What awaits them in this supposed sanctuary? Will they even survive the final stretch?
Back when I was in middle school and my comedic tastes were improving, I discovered the sheer genius of Jerry Seinfeld. His patented style of observational humor was both easy to understand and very relatable at times. One particular joke of his that still sticks in my mind was his take on television cliffhangers. As this comedic legend himself stated, there is nothing worse than realizing that a certain story absolutely cannot conclude with the allotted time left. He expertly detailed the journey one goes through from enjoying what they’re watching to the crushing discovery that an ending actually wasn’t coming. I bring this up because I experienced this exact journey last night. With only about 10 minutes left in the Season 4 finale “A”, it fully dawned upon me that the journey to Terminus wasn’t ending as expected. Slowly but surely I realized that I will have to wait until October and possibly beyond to finally witness the end of a story that began in this second half. It was, to put it mildly, a disappointing ending to an episode that really was exciting and enjoyable.
Let’s start this review off with what worked last night: Rick Grimes fully transitioning into a ruthless warrior. There’s no going back from the shit he had to do in order to save his son. “A” conveys this development beautifully with a series of flashbacks that detail Hershel (welcome back Scott Wilson!) teaching Rick how to farm. This occurred between Seasons 3 and 4, right when the Woodbury survivors moved in, and it was motivated by Hershel’s desire to save both Rick and Carl from themselves. Carl had gone too far by willingly executing a young boy and Hershel wanted to make sure things like that never happened again. Farming ended up being that solution as it kept Rick and Carl away from situations that required them to sacrifice what made them human. Each flashback brought with it a sense of happiness from a simpler time.
Now that sense of happiness is gone forever. While it came to a jarring halt when The Governor (David Morrissey) tore the Prison fences down, it really came to an end for Rick and Carl last night. This happened right about when a fat guy was assaulting Carl on the ground. Witnessing his son in life threatening danger brought a sea change in Rick’s mind, and his actions that followed were a combination of pure rage and paternal duty. This reached a pinnacle when Rick, with no other option left, took a bite out of Joe’s (Jeff Kober) jugular like a walker. I knew Joe was going to die last night, but to see him go in such a manner was shocking. To further accentuate his change, Rick completely eviscerated the man attacking Carl. The time when being a farmer meant survival is over. Now the only way to survive is to be a monster, something that Rick is more than willing to accept but Carl is not. It was easily one of the most powerful moments ever presented in this series.
This of course fits right into their arrival at Terminus. While Gareth (Andrew J. West) and his companions seem friendly at first, it doesn’t take long before everything goes to shit. “A” ended with Rick, Michonne, Carl, and Daryl (Norman Reedus) being corralled into a train car that also contained Glenn (Steven Yeun) and his group. It was a nice bit of symbolism that drew more than one parallel to how Rick caught a rabbit early on in the episode. The people of Terminus are the hunters lead by Gareth and Rick’s group are the hunted. But perhaps the most tantalizing part came at the end when Rick proclaims that Gareth is screwing with the wrong people. After watching what Rick did last night, it’s easy to get excited at what he might do to the people of Terminus. It is officially the wrong idea to cross Rick Grimes now and Terminus crossed him in a BIG way. If anything, I’m most looking forward to seeing what horrible shit Rick will do in Season 5 to survive.
The theory of Terminus being a community of cannibals was all but confirmed last night too. While not directly stated, the actions of Gareth and his crew point to this being the expected answer. Corralling living humans into train cars (you could hear people begging for help as Rick and his group were running), intentionally not killing anyone, the yard of bones the group passed, and the creepy room filled with candles were dead giveaways. It rapidly became clear that everyone in Terminus just weren’t terrible at shooting guns. Rick, Michonne, Carl, and Daryl could have died ten times over last night. They were kept alive because, as disgusting as this sounds, they’re food to the citizens of Terminus and the food will go bad if they become walkers. Watching how this unfolds is bound to be absolutely insane so expect some really hardcore things to come next season.
The biggest complaint I have for this finale has nothing to do with what was presented on screen. Everything was enjoyable for their own reasons, Rick fighting Joe’s group the definitive highlight. What really rubbed me the wrong way was how this was the Season 4 finale. Not only did it lack the final punch that a season-ender is expected to have, the story presented in the latter half of Season 4 didn’t explicitly get resolved. Tyreese (Chad Coleman), Carol (Melissa McBride), Beth (Emily Kinney), and Judith are all unaccounted for. Beth even only got a half-assed mention by Daryl. Does anyone care if she’s alive or not? When the show comes back in October, it’s not even going to feel like a fifth season. It’s going to feel like an extension of the fourth season story, not entirely unlike the first half of Season 4. The more I thought about it, having “A” as the second to last episode or even an hour and a half finale would have made more sense. Instead we got a finale that was primarily conclusive in name only.
Regardless of how the episode ended, “A” was still great. The flashbacks were a nice call back to a better time, Rick’s Hulk-like rage against Joe’s group was amazing, and the subtle revelation of Terminus’s dark side brings a great twist to the series. For about 95% of this episode I was having a great time. The stage is set though for some pure insanity too despite the ending. The Rick we saw at the end of “A” is an entirely new person on this show. This goes beyond the No Shit Rick we saw back in Season 3. This is a new Rick that has fully embraced the darkness around him to the point where he’s even scaring his son. Yet when you’re back is against the wall, when your child’s life is in danger or you’re surrounded by aggressive cannibals, what else can you do? Farming just won’t cut it anymore.