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!
- “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.