Mar 31 2014 12:00pm

The Walking Dead, S4 E16 “A”

The Walking Dead

Well, weary travelers, this is the end of the line. Half of me is relieved to reach the season finale, and the other half is sorry to see it all end. But that mentality accurately sums up my whole attitude toward the show as a whole. It’s satisfying and disappointing, entertaining and insipid, provocative and asinine. I’m flummoxed to think of another show this chaotic and uneven that somehow manages to add viewers in such unprecedented quantities. I’m curious to know how much of the audience is made up of viewers like me with a staunchly ambivalent opinion who keep watching anyway and those who love it without abatement. I suspect the former to be the larger group, but clearly there are enough of the latter to keep this train moving. And I think that’s a good thing. Mostly.

Wait, so that’s it for Joe and his Creeper Gang? Geez, it’s like the Governor all over again. We spend several episodes getting to know what makes Joe and his crew tick only to have them abruptly dispatched. Granted, it was terrifying/gross/awesome watching Rick rip Joe’s throat out with his teeth, then stake about a million times the guy who was going to rape Carl. Seriously badass. True, Daryl reunited with Rick, Michonne, and Carl, as he was going to have to do so eventually or get cut from the show. And yes, Joe was a Big Bad who could only go so far, plot-wise. But, man, what a waste of a great actor and an antagonist with oodles of room to be an asshole.

Instead, we get the Big Battle at the beginning, and everyone spending the next 30 minutes talking about how it makes them feel. It’s like explaining why a joke is funny: it helps make the joke makes sense, but it also ruins what makes it funny in the first place. We’re smart enough to understand the ramifications of Rick’s actions. It’s not that complicated a situation, nor is it a new one. We’ve been down this road before with Rick and the other adults—heck, that’s the whole point of those flashbacks to the early days at the prison. The show has stretched out the “Rick the Leader/Rick the Farmer” debate for two seasons too many, and, fortunately, it looks like they’ve finally settled on “Leader.”

The flashbacks were coated in an aura of sorrow, for we all know that hope and hog farming got Hershel nothing but a beheading and Rick a heaping helping of pain. Rick’s actions against Joe and the rapist contrasted with his past desire to stop being the leader and reinforce his present acceptance of his monster-ness. He is who he is, as Michonne is who she is, but that doesn’t stop them from wanting Carl to be better (or for Daryl to aim for greater heights as long as he has Beth to guide him).Yet, all of that could’ve been portrayed without the flashbacks. As nice as it was to see old friends again, they didn’t add much to the proceedings that wasn’t already acknowledged elsewhere, and served as both filler and as a lazy way of giving weight to the present events. Rick has been wandering down Carol’s morally gray path for a long time now, but it took him until “A” to come to terms with that journey. He doesn’t have to like it, but he does need to embrace it. And if that closing scene in the railcar is any indication, he has.

What he’ll be leading remains to be seen. Rick is smarter than the crews led by Maggie and Glenn, in that he sneaks in the back way rather than waltzing through the front, for Terminus is not what it seems. Or, if you’re suspicious by nature, then it is exactly what it seems. There’s a reason the residents don’t feel the need to lock their gates or have a visible patrol unit. The signs on the train tracks, the seemingly welcoming community, it’s all the same as the trap Rick set for the rabbit. Once you’re on the trail, there’s no getting off it without a noose around your neck.

That whole sequence, from their arrival to their fleeing, was very well done (hat’s off to the amazing Michelle MacLaren for her fantastic direction). We spot the recognizable accoutrements the same time Rick does, and watching them run past the trash heap full of human bones was absolutely horrific. There are a lot of monsters in the End!verse, and they all justify their terrible behavior under the guise of survival. What makes the Terminus psychos anymore evil than Joe or Rick? At least Terminus and Joe are relatively honest with their monstrosities, something Rick is still dealing with.

I will never understand how this show can so routinely undercut a major storyline in favor of overstaying their welcome with a weaker one. Joe could’ve been a great way to close out the season, with scenes of Maggie et al. getting caught in the violence of Terminus to replace the flashbacks and stoking the overarching sense fear. Then, Joe catches up to Rick right at the gates of Terminus and we see him fight for his life and just barely win, only to walk out of the frying pan and into the fire that is the cannibal train stop. But, alas, what we get is more reserved and repetitive. The writers aren’t wasting any time with this plot, which is both a good and bad thing. By jumping the gun, it’s hard to see how they sustain this throughout the next season. In fact, I’m choosing to think of this whole finale as the first episode of season 5. It works better as a premiere than a finale. Actually, surprisingly, it works pretty well altogether. It drags a bit in the middle, but so does the whole show, for that matter. And if there are two things TWD is killer at, it’s beginnings and cliffhanger endings.

The first season was mostly good with a few low points. The second season was mostly meh with a few shining moments. The third season had ambitions higher than it could achieve and a showrunner unable to rectify his predecessor’s poor choices or establish his own better ones. And the fourth season has been all over the map.

It helps, I’ve found, to consider the fourth as two distinct mini seasons. 4A tied up the plot threads left dangling from season three, but it was mostly 8 episodes treading water. If anything, 4A was simply an extension of the previous season, both in tone and depictions. Scott Gimple tested the character development waters with the Governor and his new crew, but it was meaningless and unnecessary given his rapidly approaching death. 4B, on the other hand, has been, overall, aces above anything else the show has ever done. Gimple has focused almost singlemindedly on character development, to the detriment of the overarching plot, some might argue. While ultimately the plot doesn’t matter if we aren’t interested in those experiencing it, the plot still has to be interesting and complex enough to inspire investment. TWD isn’t there yet with either plot or character growth, but at least it’s moving in the right direction.

See y’all next fall, zombie fans!

Final Thoughts

  • “We let people in.” “Yeah, so did the Governor.” FORESHADOWING!
  • “I’m not what he thinks I am. I’m just another monster, too.”
  • I’ve had “Reunited” by Peaches & Herb stuck in my head all night.
  • I think it’s safe to assume Carol, Tyrese, and Li’l Asskicker haven’t gotten to Terminus yet.
  • No, Daryl, Beth isn’t “just gone.” She was kidnapped by unknown assailants who led a murder of zombies to your doorstep and drove off with her in a car with a cross painted on it, like some crazy-ass backwater preacher. I think you’re burying the lede there, buddy.
  • It’s good to know that we have Hershel to blame for Farmer Rick. Now I feel less sorry about his death, because holy crap did that plotline suck.
  • Interesting bit of revisionist history with Michonne and her pet walkers. I 100% buy her carting around her dead brother and boyfriend, but I hold much less conviction that she did it without realizing the camouflaging benefits. I get her guilt and self-punishment, but that’s a bit extreme, especially for what we know of Michonne. I don’t know if that’s something taken from the comics or made up for television, but I wish they hadn’t done it.
  • Best thing about season 4B was that not only did the writers flesh out their characters, but they learned how to write for the actors portraying them. They’ve sussed out Danai Gurira and Melissa McBride’s strengths and Andrew Lincoln and Emily Kinney’s weaknesses and learned to give them material they can handle.
  • The Hollywood Reporter has some intriguing guesses at who Gareth is, given that he’s a new character and isn’t in the comics. Seems like he’s inspired by at least two Kirkman characters. MASSIVE COMICS SPOILERS AHOY.

Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

Colin R
1. Colin R
Rick Grimes has to be the soggiest of television leads. His most dramatic moments are always covered in an interesting medley of sweat, blood, tears, mud, and spittle.

Anyway! I missed a little bit of the beginning, but I think you're underselling the confrontation between Rick and the Claimed Gang. That was tense, dreadful, horrifying stuff. It's exactly what the Walking Dead is actually very good at--suspense and tension followed by fast, bloody, sick action. I can't think of another show that would have us cheering for its 'hero' biting someone's throat out, then studiously stabbing someone repeatedly.

Of course, the rest of the episode is as you say. I can't help but feel that the preoccupation with flashbacks is not just a bit on the nose, it highlights how erratic the show is. We should have been hitting these beats throughout the whole season, not bludgeoning the audience with them at the end. I thought Michonne's speech to Carl was an interesting bit of revision though--more perspective on Season 3 Michonne than we ever got before. Maybe more words than she spoke in that season, too. Still, that was probably all the dwelling on the past that they needed.

I uh, also don't know if the Terminus people (they're cannibals, right? everything points to cannibals) count as being more honest about being monsters than Rick. They are, after all, luring people in with lies about sanctuary. As overwrought and damp as Rick's journey has been, there is something legitimately sad about this guy who unwillingly straddles the line between human and monster. Ultimately it's his family, real and adopted, that keeps asking him to be the monster that they need. And I believe it, which I never believed about the Governor--Rick's struggle seems real, while the Gov's seems like a lie he tells himself.

We didn't see any sign of Carol and Tyrese, but was I mistaken in seeing a bunch of baby formula boxes sitting outside the boxcar?
David Thomson
2. ZetaStriker
I don't know, sometimes I think the reflective moments in the show are some of its best. Without Abraham there for the end of Joe, a lot of the best character moments were lost, but Michonne taking his place did add at least some level of introspection to the aftermath of those events. It's funny how Daryl is the only one with nothing to add to those moments, with his only reaction being "I didn't know".

Anyway, I'm getting off topic. My point is, without those moments, the entire scene - especially the attempted rape of Carl and the threats of rape toward Michonne - would have existed for nothing but shock value. And that would've been a lot worse than having a few slow moments in the middle of the episode.
Bill Capossere
3. Billcap
This one, no surprise, didn’t do it for me (making me even more glad I skipped last week).

The flashbacks just didn’t seem to serve any purpose—as is often the case on this show, we spend so much time seeing/being told things we already know (and often have been told repeatedly). We know this character by now, we know his conflict by now, we know what was in the past. Couldn’t there have been better use for all that time?

The contrived scene with the guy mugged by the zombies in the field. How the hell does that even happen? “Hmm, there’s a group of zombies over there, think I’ll see what they’re all doing . . . “ Caught in a building, caught in the dark—I can see that. But caught in the daylight in an open field? All made even more egregious by how our folks magically escape by, well, jogging. Sometimes it seems the writers can’t be bothered to even mask their lack of respect for their audience. In that same vein, why the hell does Rick’s group bother getting into a fight with the slow-moving zombie trip in front of them? Are they playing the earlier game of whoever steps off the track “loses”? They couldn’t just sprint right past them? Why would you ever put yourself in that position when you don’t have to? Sigh.

Thank god they snuck in to Terminus, but that only highlights how utterly unbelievable it is that the others don’t. Especially given the Governor. Especially given some of their very personal experiences with the last “oasis”. But even sneaking in they do it so recklessly considering their past experience. No thought to, I don’t know, hanging out and watching for a while—seeing who comes and goes, what sort of weaponry, any pyscho eye-patched guys? And all those guys who stand up at the perimeter when Rick’s gang is finally stopped, but nobody is around when they sneak over the fence—one guy is on “perimeter”? Really? (And don’t get me started on how bullets are so easy to get nowadays that we can spray them indiscriminately merely to herd folks to where we want to put ‘em)

Liked Rick biting the guy’s neck (didn’t need the he’s a monster, it’s what we have to do, blah blah blah—give the audience some respect—we get it. We really, really do)

Liked the snare scene—for once not too heavily overplayed

What a waste of Joe’s group. Oh, how they could have livened things up. Joe’s death may have been the hardest hitting one in a long time for me in this show just because of what could have been. I wanted to go, “Noooooo!” But that’s the story of the show so far for me—wasted potential.
Colin R
4. Colin R
I suppose there was some potential for the Claimed jokers, but ultimately I'm satisfied with their ending. Given the show's track record, Daryl's dalliance with evil is probably better too short than too long. And his reconciliation with Rick may have been the only part of the episode that wasn't overplayed.

After seeing all of his self-doubt and lack of self-respect in the Daryl/Beth episodes, clearly he thought that falling in with these creeps was just what he deserved. Wrongly, he didn't think he was all that different from them. I thought it was kind of touching that he comes back into the fold with mumbled excuses about losing Beth and falling in with creeps, and Rick just says, "You're my brother," and leaves it at that. Without a flashback to hammer in the point even!

Poor Beth though, huh? It would be just recompense if, after two seasons of standing around holding a baby, a gunslinging Beth rescued the Boxcar crew. Not holding my breath though.
David Thomson
5. ZetaStriker
Maybe I just like the older sister/replacement mom relationship between Michonne and Carl then, since I seem to be the only one who liked the reflective moment there. I do agree that the flashbacks were awful, unnecessary, and long though.
Fake Name
6. ThePendragon
Oh god, the scene with the guy getting eaten by the walkers was beyond stupid. There were gaps in the ring sorrouding him a mile wide but he just stands there and pokes at them with a stick? Really? it just reinforces the fact that the zombie apocalypse as represented in this world is completely absurd.
Colin R
7. Fuzzy_Dunlop
Thanks for all the reviews this year Alex.
Dirk Walls
8. dirk
I’m curious to know how much of the audience is made up of viewers like me with a staunchly ambivalent opinion who keep watching anyway
Me. Everytime I finish watching an episode I wonder why I keep watching. I like the comics, so I guess that's what keeps me coming back.

And I agree with ThePendragon above, that early scene was so stupid. How that guy managed to live long enough to die in this late season of the show is beyond me.
Alex Brown
9. AlexBrown
@Colin R: I did like that sequence, just wish it was better used as a climax rather than just tossed aside. As far as the cannibals go, I guess I meant "honest" as in they don't outright lie about who they are. It's all half-truths, like Hannibal Lecter on NBC's Hannibal, in fact. He never outright says "I am not a cannibal," which would be a massive lie, but if you pay attention to his specific phrasing, he also doesn't deny it. The Terminus folks are the same way. They don't advertise their nomming tendencies, but also don't act aghast at the accusation. Rick is still half pretending to be someone he's not (a good guy), while the Terminus folks and Joe's gang are so completely comfortable in their monster-ness that they feel no need for major deception.

I don't remember baby formula, but powdered milk outside the boxcar, indicating others had been kept there.

@ZetaStriker: I'm all for reflective moments - Lord knows the show could use them to balance out the gore. What I dislike is how the show tends to stretch out those moments into endless stretches retreading the same territory we've already rehashed endless times before. And that's what the middle of "A" was. I think Colin R@4 has it best with them ending the reflection with "You're my brother" and moving on. That scene at the SUV was meaningful and heartfelt and got everything across that the flashbacks did.

As for Michonne's reflection, again, I didn't dislike the concept, just the message. What bothers me isn't that she had that heart-to-heart with Carl (one she's already had before in other, better ways), but that it retconned her past in a way I didn't care for. It was a backstory that should've been told under Mazzara's reign and wasn't, and at this point it was an unnecessary and unwarranted revision. She was already darkly complex, they didn't need to turn her into a reckless, guilt-plagued idiot as well.
Alex Brown
10. AlexBrown
@Billcap: I think the biggest thing that bothered me about Terminus is how wanton they were with their bullets. They must've gone through at bare minimum 100 bullets just to herd Rick, Carl, and Michonne into the boxcar. BULLETS ARE A FINITE RESOURCE. Why not just send your gang to encircle them rather than posing them all on the outside of the perimeter fence?

@Billcap, ThePendragon, dirk: Yeah, the scene with the dude getting cornered by zombies in the middle of an open field was so stupid I couldn't even be bothered to include it in my review. And Carl running off willy nilly after them? After all he's experienced? Really? And the rest of them just out-jogging them? Even though walkers can run? Really? *groan*

@Fuzzy_Dunlop: You're welcome!
Colin R
11. Oreo
I haven't read the comics, so I am coming to the story without any notion of what might happen or who one character or another might be. I'd like to start reading the books, but I'm afraid that might temper my enjoyment of the show. Most of this season has had me just as tense as the first, and that is a very good thing. How many of us thought that Carl was going to get a bullet anyway before he made it to the train car? *raises hand*

I did think that this episode ended kind of flat for a finale, but Rick has finally come to the most mentally balanced point in the series to date. He's getting much closer to the point that Carol is, so I think he has a more thorough understanding of how to live in this world. I thought it was a nice touch that everyone backed him without question when he made his move by the bbq pit.

@10 - Bullets aren't that finite. I'm sure they've managed to sucker quite a few people to replenish their stock, and they have electricity to broadcast, so it wouldn't be too much of a leap to think that they might have reloading capability. Nice catch on the snare analogy, though. I missed the correlation between it and Terminus.

I think this has been the best season since the first, and I am looking forward to Season 5.
Colin R
12. mikej
Here's a recap of EVERY episode up to last week: ____ and ____ (put two characters names here) walk along the tracks. insert long flashback - they see a structure. they go inside. a walker jumps out at them. They kill the walker, decide to move on. repeat with two different characters NEXT week. i have been an avid fan since the beginning, but the change in showrunners last year has been a disaster. the overall arc of the tale is going nowhere - there are only so many season this going on, are we going to see 3 or 4 mor eyears of them running through the woods? very disappointed, concerned about next season.
Colin R
13. rfresa
The most frustrating thing about this show is the show itself.
In order to preserve the essence of the show, they have to be constantly
up close and gory with the undead, whereas any sane person would do
everything they can to avoid these situations.

How do you keep pulling the same horror gags without making your characters (now experienced veterans of the war against zombies) seem incredibly dumb? Often, the day after watching this show, I find myself assessing various places in my town and neighborhood that would make great zombie-proof fortifications, mentally berating the characters for all the useful things they could be doing, how they should be getting to high ground (do zombies climb mountains? I don't think so) and creating a new, well-camouflaged society instead of bumbling around like idiots. Of course, if they did any of these things then it wouldn't be the same show anymore.

I guess the answer is to focus on the relationships between the characters (good), and constantly bring in even more insane living humans to destroy any attempt at a refuge and lure them into more violent situations, so we can have our weekly quota of graphic brain impaling.

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