Through the prison outbreak, the Governor’s evil scheming, Hershel’s tragic death, Lizzy’s psychosis, and the fractured survivors’ journeys to Terminus, Season four of The Walking Dead led us to this episode. The finale was tense, violent, and nostalgic all at once. And the end of it confirmed (though we already knew it) that surviving in this dangerous landscape requires humanity to undergo a profound metamorphosis.
We open with a flashback to the prison – and most of our major players are there, including – Hershel! I love Scott Wilson, and seeing the beacon of hope that Hershel embodied for the entire prison group – even if only in the past – was simultaneously poignant and comforting. The moment of nostalgia is abruptly cut short, though, when we flash present to Rick sitting alone against a car, his hands and face covered in blood.
Before we learn what happened, we first see Rick, Michonne and Carl traveling in the woods, about a day out from Terminus and looking for food. While going to check the animal snares with Rick, Carl asks his dad the question of the episode: Will they let people know everything that happened to them and all the things they did on their journey? Rick says they will tell the others who they are. And Carl, in his wisdom, asks “who are we?” The show, of course, has asked this question from the beginning of the series, but has explored it on a much deeper level this season.
More flashbacks are interwoven throughout the episode, and we see that it was Hershel’s intention to get Rick involved in something productive (farming) in order to give Rick some respite from the stress of losing Lori, and also to bring Carl back from the brink (he had just shot an unarmed kid). Rick could teach Carl how to farm, and in doing so, also show him a more peaceful side to life.
In the present, while Carl sleeps in a car the trio came across, Rick and Michonne discuss what Terminus might be like. Rick comments if Terminus people are letting others in, they have to be strong and have a system. Their speculating is interrupted by Joe and his gang, who, with weapons drawn, surround Rick and Michonne. It was a bit surprising that this showdown took place at the beginning of the episode. It seemed more likely that everyone would arrive at Terminus before it happened. But the writers knew what they were doing. They needed Rick to reach a turning point before he arrived there.
Daryl emerges from the bushes (much to Rick’s surprise) and tries to talk Joe out of killing Rick, saying he and Michonne are good people. Joe sees that as a lie and enforcing his crazy code, gives the infamous order to his henchmen to teach Daryl a lesson “all the way.” Joe tells Rick first they will violate Carl and Michonne, then they will execute Rick. Seeing his son in grave danger and desperate to do something, Rick head-butts Joe, startling him. Joe momentarily gets the upper hand and grabs Rick, but then, as primitively as a walker (only faster and with intense rage), Rick bites clear through Joe’s neck, right down to his carotid artery. This stuns the rest of the marauders long enough that Michonne and Daryl gain the advantage over them, ultimately killing them. The disgusting guy who started to assault Carl was left, but Rick wants to take care of him. And he does, gutting the guy practically in half, as Daryl, Michonne, and Carl look on in surprise. The tension in this brutal scene was at an all-time high, and once again, just like they did all season, the show demonstrates they don’t need walkers to have effecting action sequences. The scene was made even more powerful because it’s the moment Rick undergoes a final transformation into a fierce fighting machine. From this point forward, Rick, without hesitation – perhaps for the first time since the apocalypse – will do what needs to be done.
When dawn breaks and with Carl resting safely in Michonne’s lap, Daryl explains to Rick how he met up with Joe and his gang after Beth disappeared. Daryl didn’t realize how bad they were, he says, and it’s obvious he feels guilty. But Rick absolves Daryl of any guilt, telling him instead how much it means to have Daryl back. “You’re my brother,” he declares.
This bromantic moment seemed an appropriate juxtaposition to the marauders massacre. Rick holds other people besides his children close to his heart (plus, Norman Reedus and Andrew Lincoln sold this scene with their easy chemistry together). Rick is affirming to Daryl that they are family, and will be one unit moving forward. Daryl assures Rick that what Rick did the previous night anybody would have done, but Rick challenges that notion, proclaiming, “Not that.” He’s finally accepted that the guy who butchered Joe and his gang is part of who he is now. He needs to protect his loved ones, so he’s ok with the part of himself who will do that at any cost. Daryl and Michonne let Rick know they’re also ok with this extreme side of him. But what about Carl?
The group finally gets to Terminus, but they scout the place out first, leery of what they might find. While Carl and Michonne are searching around, Michonne reveals what she did at a refugee camp after finding her son, boyfriend and friend dead. She let Mike and Terry turn, leading them around on leashes as her personal pets and later, as her protectors. She was that far gone. But it was her connection with people – Andrea, Rick, and most certainly Carl, that brought her back from the abyss of monstrosity. Carl needn’t be afraid she tells him, of either her or Rick. Carl tells Michonne that after all this time, he finally realizes what his dad wanted for him. Rick wanted him to retain all of his humanity – to be a good person. Though Rick told Carl he’s proud of him, Carl feels that he’s just like his dad and Michonne. He’s not afraid of them, he’s one of them – another monster.
Ready to go into Terminus, Rick hides a bag of guns and ammo, “just in case.” The group sneaks through the back, and they see the behind-the-scenes workings of Terminus. We’re introduced to Gareth and Alex, who seem nice enough, returning the weapons to our gang after initially searching them. It’s also during this search that we get Carl’s ultimate reaction to his dad’s actions against the marauders. When Alex sees Daryl’s bruised face and comments about not wanting to see the other guy, Rick almost threateningly tells him “you wouldn’t.” When Alex asks if they deserved it, it’s Carl who adamantly tells him yes. Carl knows, just like the audience does, those guys had it coming.
They go outside to fix Rick’s group some of those mysterious “plates,” and Rick immediately notices other people wearing Hershel’s watch, Glenn’s riot gear, and Maggie’s poncho – letting him know something sinister is afoot.
A standoff ensues, but first we see one of the last flashbacks at the prison. In it, Rick walks by Patrick (remember him?) as he is playing with Legos, in sharp contrast to Carl (the original recipient of the Legos), who is cleaning his gun. Rick enlists Carl’s help with the farm, with the hopes of showing him a more peaceful side to their existence at the prison.
Back in the present, Rick is questioning Alex – with a gun to his head – about the familiar items. Rick demands to know where his people are, and things go from bad to worse. Gareth gives the sign, and his people fire on Rick and his group. It seems, though, the shots are way off on purpose, intended to lead them somewhere rather than kill them (which Rick and Michonne later suggest). Our gang keeps running, and at one point goes past a cage filled with what looks like human remains, (suggesting certain things might be in those plates Terminus people are so eager to fix) and later enter a candle-filled room memorializing the previously fallen victims of the place.
Rick’s group gets trapped at the fences, and surrendering their weapons, get herded into a train car one by one: The “Ringleader,” the “Archer,” the “Samurai,” and lastly, the “Kid.” Initially, when Carl took his agonizingly slow walk to the train car, it seemed like a potential set-up to have him get shot. Luckily, though, the whole group makes it inside, where they are quietly greeted by the rest of the prison survivors. It was a bit disappointing they we didn’t get more of a reunion, but the sentiment of the restrained scene was that Rick is finally with his people (and new friends, as Daryl confirms after Maggie vouches for Abraham and his crew). And that means our “ringleader” has never been stronger.
We get a final flashback (and our last reflective look at Hershel), when Rick, Carl, Hershel, Beth (and Judith) were at the prison’s farmyard together, sharing a laugh. And we see the last shot of a content, peaceful Rick. Back in the present, that Rick is long gone, but in his place stands a warrior. The last moments of the finale showcase a determined Rick, with individual shots (which made the scene very effective) of each of his allies. The moment is a call to arms, when he tells his people that the Terminus group will feel stupid when they find out “They’re screwing with the wrong people.” And we’re right there with him – Go Rick!
This finale had very little walker action, but instead chose to focus on Rick’s final transformation into the powerful force inside the train car. Farmer Rick, while a nice dream, is no more. Rick the killing machine, lives. Andrew Lincoln, along with all the actors, including the children, gave remarkable performances in this episode, and all season long. Also, the use of score during the entire season effectively enhanced all the key moments: From the claustrophobic fear during the prison outbreak, to Hershel, Lizzy and Mika’s deaths, to major confessions made by characters in quiet moments, and even to Rick’s proclamation in the train car.
Season four of The Walking Dead had all of our characters painfully learn their personal life lessons: For Maggie and Glenn, it was to hang onto the hope that love provides; For Bob and Sasha, it was letting go of fear – of being alone for Bob and of the vulnerability of hopefulness for Sasha; For Tyreese, it was to shoulder the revelation of truth; For Michonne and Daryl, it was escaping their pasts and claiming their humanity; For Beth, it was to rely on her inner strength; For Lizzie and Mika, it was the failure to learn to adapt to their circumstances that resulted in their succumbing to them; For Hershel it was staying true to who he was, right to the very end; And for Carol and Rick, it was acceptance of doing what needs to be done in order to survive and protect the group.
This season was a departure from previous seasons. Having an internal threat was unique, as was showcasing survivors in small groups for entire episodes. Despite some infrequent missteps, The Walking Dead continues to reinvent itself every year. It’s exciting to think what Season five will bring. For now, some questions go unanswered, like the whereabouts of Carole, Tyreese, Judith (they may be instrumental in helping Rick and his gang escape) and Beth. We also need to delve more deeply into just how bad Terminus is, and why. And it would be great to explore the whole Washington D.C. scenario further.
So, until then, we’re left with a walker-less spring and summer. I’m already eagerly anticipating the time when we can return to our favorite zombie apocalypse survivors and see what they encounter next. For now, let me say that watching and writing about this season on TVFTROU has been a true pleasure. Thanks for reading.