Tonight's season finale for AMC's "The Walking Dead" managed to give a fairly satisfying conclusion to the season without actually wrapping up much of anything.
Rick still doesn't know that Judith is alive; the audience still has no idea what ever happened to Beth; Carol, Tyreese, Judith and Beth haven't reached Terminus ...
... heck, we don't even really know what the timeline is. Since the groups were broken up, each one has been traveling at a slightly different rate and we aren't totally sure where Carol and Tyreese are, relative to the others.
In any event, here are 15 highlights (and some other random thoughts, too) on the season 4 finale, titled, "A," which aired on Sunday, March 30, 2014. Warning, obviously: Spoilers ahead.
1. Hershel again
Since his death in the midseason finale, Hershel has been referenced in every episode; he's had more of an impact on the show than any member of the cast to be lost thus far. Here, we get to actually see him in the flesh -- alive, and seemingly content.
We see that what he did between seasons was to try and give Rick a way to live that was more as an example for his son. That's what led to "Farmer Rick" at the start of the season -- and then that version of Rick died at the prison when Hershel was killed.
2. Rick at peace with his decisions
In the previews, the music made it seem as though Rick was deeply regretful, or in shock, over whatever had led to that bloodied-up moment against the side of the truck. What we see in context is that he's fairly at ease with it. That's adrenaline, not genuine shock, that we're seeing.
3. More metaphors
Of course, toward the end of the episode, we see the group being led through a literal trap / maze ? but even before that, wasn't everyone watching Rick talk about how you set up hazards along the way and lead people down a path to a trap ... thinking, Terminus? I mean, all season long, people have been directed that way -- offered the piece of cheese at the end.
4. "Are we going to tell them?"
This is a very Rick mentality that Carl has, here. At the start of the season, Rick had the three questions that he would ask survivors hoping to join the community. The prison, of course, is the closest thing we've seen so far to a functional community without serious violence, so in Carl's mind, it makes perfect sense that Terminus (he doesn't seem particularly skeptical of it, at least at first) would have a similar screening process.
5. Guest stars galore
Vincent Martell of "Phineas & Ferb" and "Everybody Hates Chris" fame also returns this episode to reprise his role from the first couple of episodes. Wonder whether they shot the flashbacks at the beginning of the season to save money, or if doing so would have been too big a giveaway that Hershel was going to die, and they had to bring these handful of actors back again just for the finale.
Michonne never trusted Woodbury, and for good reason; she's skeptical of Terminus here earlier than anybody else. Rick comes around to her way of thinking only after his encounter with Daryl's band of marauders reminds him that most people are pretty terrible in this world.
7. "Teach him all the way"
In the noise last episode, I didn't catch that Joe said "teach him all the way" before his men beat Len to death. That's the same thing he tells them when they pounce on Daryl.
8. The Walking Dead #57
Fans of the comic books probably knew where THAT SCENE was going before it got too far in. In fact, it starts and ends exactly the same way.
While it was Abraham rather than Michonne who was with them in the comics, Carl and Rick faced a group of marauders who took Abraham at gunpoint while Rick and Carl were sleeping and Abe was on watch. They rousted the group and wanted to rob and possibly kill them, but only after having had their way with Carl.
The action sequence itself in Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard's "The Walking Dead" #57 plays out more or less exactly like it did here, complete with Rick tearing out one of the men's throats and then chasing down the final man as he begged for mercy.
The scene started with a marauder telling Abraham that he "done [expletive] up," cleaned up to "screwed up" by Joe for TV, and ended with Abraham cradling a traumatized Carl's head to his chest while Rick dispatched the last of the villains.
The experience was profoundly impactful on Carl, who brought it up fairly recently in the comics (we're up past #120 now, so you know there's been a lot more bad stuff since then).
It's entirely possible Kirkman felt that he hadn't sufficiently built up the threat of the Marauders (capitalized because that's how they're referred to in official materials, on fan Wikis and in conversation with Kirkman), and saw in the prison's split an opportunity to give the men some screen time and identities (in the comics, they are completely nameless and virtually impossible to tell apart ? they mostly evoke the inbred, radiation-poisoned antagonists of cheesy horror movies like "The Hills Have Eyes").
Recently, when a TV spot from New Zealand showed Dan (the chubby, balding Marauder who was the last to die tonight) making kissy-faces at Carl, fans of the comics realized what was coming and all week, fanboy websites have been alive with speculation as to just how they would do it on TV.
Of course, in the comics, they didn't have an "inside man" with the Marauders...
9. Brother over father
"You're my brother," Rick tells Daryl after they are reunited. Daryl is taken aback, but pleased.
Rick is the brother who, unlike Merle, stood up for him against their dad, represented here by the moonshine-making, chewing tobacco-using Joe. He, like Daryl and Merle's real dad, employed violence as a first resort on an uncooperative child (in this case Daryl, who pleaded for Rick's life and then put his own on the line to back up his pleas).
Daryl made quite a bit this season about how he's a follower, not a leader, but when it counted, he stepped up to Joe, and then when Rick helped him overcome the abusive father figure, it brought the two closer than ever.
10. The fallen Terminus sign
When Daryl and Michonne were out scouting before the prison fell, they apparently never came across signs for Terminus. Now, this episode, we finally come across one of the signs and it's face down on the ground.
It seems like these guys aren't really in it for the long haul; is it possible that whatever they're doing at Terminus is a plan for which they needed a certain number of people over a certain amount of time and that's really it?
That may be reading too much into the sign being down, but it certainly does seem odd that Rick's group are told Terminus has been up and running since the beginning of the outbreak.
11. Rick thinking ahead again
While Rick has never been the greatest leader on the TV show, his turn in "Claimed" helped to really make him a credible action hero/horror protagonist. He anticipates problems and seems almost a little genre-savvy, planning things out way ahead. The big example in "Claimed" was the moment when he decided to keep the door open to let the undead Lou serve as a distraction to Joe's group. Here, it's burying the guns in the woods.
You just KNEW he'd be back for that bag when he put his trusty Colt Python revolver -- the one he'd had since the start of the series ? in there and took a shabby automatic pistol with him instead.
The "genre-savvy" thing pops up again later when he's the only one to spot all the clues that these guys had robbed their friends recently.
12. Baby blues
Michonne's story, told to Carl, about her son's death closely mirrors the story of how she lost her family in the comics ? well, in Playboy magazine, where her origin was printed (in the comics, she never got one ? although the Playboy story was later reprinted in "The Walking Dead Michonnne Special" #1 back when she was introduced on TV).
Ironically, while alive, her loser boyfriend and his buddy couldn't protect her son from the walkers, but while undead, they protected her without even trying.
13. Hey, these guys seem nice!
When Rick and company disrupt Gareth and his group in the back room, they don't seem to be up to anything all that heinous. Painting signs and making their broadcast is pretty inane, really.
Do you think that was all part of the plan? There were a lot of people on the tree line. You figure Rick's group was probably spotted (regardless of what Gareth says about the guy watching the perimeter) on the way in and this is a secondary plan they have to keep people off-guard in the same way they did when people came in the front.
And yes -- we all saw that suspicious-looking, meat-like substance on the ground along the "A" route, too.
That hunger is a recurring theme in this episode is likely no accident; most fans believe that Terminus will be a modified version of either The Hunters from the comics (cannibals), the St. John Dairy Farm from the Telltale Games video game series (also cannibals) or a combination of the two, which is what seems most likely at this point.
The Hunters were cunning, stayed hidden and only came out when they had a clear advantage, but they were more or less always hostile. The St. John family were outwardly kind and offered people shelter and food before killing them, but ultimately weren't THAT clever.
It's probably no coincidence that Rick, Carl and Michonne were having a hard time finding any food as they got closer to Terminus, and that here you've got a large group of fairly well-fed people.
15. Where's Andrea when you need her?
In the comics, Andrea is far from the fan-unfavorite she was on TV. A key part of the group and widely regarded as one of the strongest female protagonists in American comic books, the character was key to getting Rick and company out of a situation much like this one. Surrounded by gunmen and outmanned by The Hunters, Rick was able to stay calm knowing that Andrea (as well as Abraham and some others) were hiding just out of frame, ready to take the bad guys out.
Of course, Andrea never really lived up to her comics counterpart in the show. Maybe that's a job for Tyreese or Carol?
...Or Beth? Heck, she was being trained by Daryl toward the end.
Some idle musings
- This Rick is closer to the comic book version of the character than we've ever had in the TV series before; he's a bit tortured at times, yes, and he's had mental breaks in the comics like on the show ? but since the comics are monthly stories that have taken place over a decade now, the uncertain, weak, sometimes annoying Rick has never really been a dominant theme in the books the way he is on TV. This guy? That's Rick Grimes.
- Is it only me who heard Rick say, "He's mine" and thought it was an echo of the "claimed" calls that this group of miscreants did since their introduction? He said the same thing in the comics, so it seems likely the writers were building the "claiming" concept in just to up the ante in that already-insanely-heightened scene.
- So ... Rick asks about Beth, but the season's over, most of the group is back together and Maggie still hasn't? Seems like a healthy sibling relationship.
- Fans can see a lot of things coming. The whole idea of the riot gear, the watch, the poncho and the bag they picked up from that dead hitchhiker being items Rick would recognize and key in on was a major part of a number of fake summaries of the episode released online by fans hoping they could figure the whole thing out this week.
- Those who have done "The Walking Dead Escape," a zombie-themed obstacle course officially sanctioned by Skybound Entertainment (the publisher of "The Walking Dead") may recognize Terminus's obstacle course as oddly reminiscent of that. One has to wonder whether the Escape will be modified at Comic-Con this year to include Terminus announcements overhead instead of the fake newscasts used up until now.
What GRADE would you give the "Walking Dead" season 4 finale? Vote in our poll and also watch a video showing the cast and production crew talking about the characters' changes and season 5, which is set to premiere in the fall. Actress Lauren Cohan, who plays Maggie Greene, says there will be an "explosive beginning."