Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Walking Dead S4 Finale: 4.16 "A"

Dear Josh,
Well, Rick survived the finale, thank goodness, as did all our heroes (the villains, on the other hand, didn't fare so well). Actually, upon further reflection, let me rephrase that: Rick survived the finale physically, but he had to leave part of his mind and hard-fought humanity behind to do so. But increasingly, humanity is something that's difficult to find in this new world. 

My husband thought I was being pessimistic about Terminus. He said, "Can't there be ONE PLACE in this show that is good? I'm getting sick and tired of everything being so damned hopeless. I think this place is going to be positive, where people are genuinely helpful and good."

Before I continue, though, I'd like to say that overall I was disappointed with how this episode ended. I felt like all season we'd been leading up to bringing all of the characters together in Terminus, and we're still missing Carol/Tyreese/Judith in here. This felt like the penultimate episode of the season, and that we should be getting one more so that season 5 could begin anew. But I see now that the writers weren't focusing on the overall action, but were keeping Rick's transformation for the big ending instead. Still, we end season 4 with it feeling unfinished to me. 

ANYway…. I'd like to focus on Rick and say that THIS was the episode I'd been waiting for, as far as his character is concerned. All season long we've seen the growth and development of so many: Beth coming out of her shell; Daryl realizing that it's okay to want and need to be with other people; Michonne opening up to Carl about her past; Carl getting all the anger he holds against his father off his chest before realizing how much he still needs Rick; Carol telling Tyreese the truth; Tyreese coming to terms with the reality of this world and how we have to live in it; Maggie becoming the leader that we all knew she's always been capable of becoming; Glenn stepping up and being a leader, too, and showing he's just as tough as his wife; even Tara trying to reconcile that in the fight at the prison, she was officially the "bad guy." But Rick was unconscious during Carl's catharsis, absent during the moments of connection between Carl and Michonne, and I didn't factor into any of the other stories. There's been no growth of his character, which I read as making him expendable. Luckily, I was wrong, and they were saving the character growth to this season. 

With a couple of wonderful flashbacks to Hershel (reminding me how much I miss him as a character, and how much he's truly needed as that voice of reason and positivity), we see what happened to Rick during the six months that the show didn't record; you know, that way The Walking Dead has of skipping over all the positive, happy moments, and bringing us back into the action the moment it all turns to shit again. Hershel was the one who took Rick outside and showed him that he could be a farmer rather than a hunter/warrior. That there is peace and happiness in creating, much more so than in destroying. As he says to Rick, after giving Glenn his watch, he no longer keeps track of time; the only time he knows is "now." Hershel's peaceful "live in the moment" existence is the one he thinks we need to survive in this apocalypse. He tells Rick that this is the way of the future, that it can always be like this and it never has to be bad again. 

Apparently, as long as there are bloodsuckers around (in the case of Terminus, that noun appears to be literal), there is no peace. Rick pushed down the warrior inside him, and now that it's back, he's snapped. 

And thank god for that. 

What did you think of this episode, Josh? 

Nikki –
So much for the warm reunion, huh?

Though far from the bloodbath we were expecting, season four nonetheless ends with most everyone we love in the direst of straits, held captive in a train car by maniacs and waiting to be succulently barbecued by Tasha Yar. And yet, I find that I'm not so worried. Rick's confidence must be contagious.

We certainly got a healthy dose of it, too. This episode was the first to focus on the sheriff since things fell apart at the prison, and as such, it served to nicely bookend his struggles from the first half of the season as he attempted to find balance between the calm, kind, thoughtful man he wants to serve as an ideal for his young son and the cold, hard, ruthless man he needs to survive. Rick seems to have finally accepted the idea that this grave new world will require him to be both, just as it will require his son and daughter to be the same, and he to raise them up as such. Sometimes you cultivate peas, and sometimes you bite out some lunatic's jugular. Different skill sets for different jobs, but all of them necessary.

It's one of the reasons that the last line of the episode so surprised me. In an early conversation between he and Carl, as they were talking about how things would be when they arrived at Terminus, Carl asks him what they would tell the people there about all the things that had happened to them, all the things they had done.

“We're gonna tell 'em who we are,” Rick answers.

“You say that,” Carl says, “but... who are we?”

This talk occurred before that fateful night at the wreck of the Suburban, when Rick slit Carl's would-be rapist open from belly to beard like he was gutting a fish. Instead of breaking him, however, I got the impression that the experience served to flush away whatever remained of his doubt, reconciling any vestiges of moral conflict within him and crystalizing his resolve once and for all. It proved that who he truly is – down at his core, beyond any more subjective criteria of estimation – is someone who would do whatever it takes to protect those he cares about. He knows this now. Embraces it, even. And he will never be the same again.

Which, again, is why I found that last line surprising, because it set him up so perfectly to revisit that early conversation.

“They're gonna feel pretty stupid when they find out,” he says, as they all stand there in the dark. They're wondering what happens now, but Rick already knows.

“Find out what?” Abraham asks.

And despite the weaker, clichéd action-movie line he offers instead, what I heard was: “Who we are.”
So much of the season has been about these big questions of identity, about the way we grow and develop as people and how our experiences influence that development, filtered through the cracked lens of a post-apocalyptic realm. This coda did a remarkable job of adding a dark, dramatic flourish to that line of inquiry, while also setting us up for a reinvigorated Rick when we return in the fall. I, for one, can't wait to see the reckoning that will descend upon these fools come October.

In the meantime, we know that Carol and Tyreese are still out there somewhere. Terminus is just the kind of scam that Carol is going to see right through, hopefully enough that she recognizes there will be people there that need help. I don't have any special insight into how it will all play out, but I'm confident it will be equal parts unpleasant and totally badass. As is their wont on this crazy show.

Before I sign off, I would like to address one more outstanding issue. Looking around at some of the other recaps and analyses of the episode on the web this afternoon, I have been amazed by how many people are still wondering about Beth and the fact that the mystery of her disappearance wasn't brought up again before the season ended. However, the scene when Rick puts together the watch chain/riot gear equation and takes his brief hostage clearly showed one Terminite wearing Daryl's old Clint Eastwood poncho. Was Beth not wearing that when she was taken? I'd have to go back and review to be certain, but my guess is she's already there with them somewhere. I just hope all her limbs are still intact.
- j

It's so funny that you mentioned the poncho, because as soon as I saw the Terminite wearing it, it reminded me of something I forgot to mention in last week's write-up. Maggie is actually the one wearing it when they enter Terminus, and when she walked in wearing it, I thought, "Wait… isn't that Daryl's poncho?" He used to wear it constantly while riding his bike. I'm not sure how Maggie ended up with it, unless he threw it onto the bus in advance or something? But it's definitely Maggie who had it on, not Beth. That said, it doesn't mean Beth's not there. A friend of mine filled me in on Beth's fate in the comics, and I think my jaw hit the ground as I thought, "oh my god they wouldn't do that on the show, would they?" But, um, I'm assuming the comic readers thought the same of Lizzie and Mika. Eep. I shall say nothing more, other than to once again vow to read the comics. ;) 

It's funny, too, because last week I also thought that grill looked massive. I joked with my husband at the time that they could BBQ a whole person on that thing, and then we made a bunch of soylent green jokes and left it at that. Gulp. We need to stop joking about such things. 

And I totally agree with you on that final line. "They're messin' with the wrong people" is something you could absolutely hear Clint Eastwood say as he holds an Old Port between his teeth… wearing Daryl's poncho. Your line was so much better. But it was one huge misstep in an otherwise well crafted episode. That scene early in the episode of Rick excitedly telling Michonne and Carl how to hunt for a rabbit resonated back through the entire season. You just create a funnel, he says (like, say… a railroad track?) and make it so the animal will follow that funnel all the way to the end (um… maybe, oh, put up a few signs telling them something wonderful awaits them at the end?) and then when they get to the end of the funnel, there's a huge noose waiting for them, ready to snatch them up. So far all of our survivors have followed the funnel. Maggie and Glenn and company followed it straight into the trap, optimistic and bright-eyed and hoping they'd finally found the sanctuary they'd longed for. (I guess I'm a little surprised that my husband, the perpetually glass-half-empty guy, would have been in this group.)

Rick, on the other hand, goes around to the side of the place, scoping it out from the bushes. He buries a dufflebag full of weaponry, "just in case," he says. His overly cautious behaviour not only belies the monster the he thinks he's become, but just might save everyone's lives. (Of course, seeing all those Terminus folk sitting on the other side of the fence worried me a little that someone may have already been out there watching him, but let's hope not.) Yet, despite that caution, Rick, Michonne, Daryl, and Carl still manage to walk straight into the trap. Now, as you say, Carol and Tyreese will be more cautious, but they have Judith with them, and babies are never quiet when you want them to be. Will they be able to get in there? Or, she says with a gleeful glint in her eye… is it possible they're already there, observing from the trees? Because THAT would be an amazing twist. Imagine if Carol is the one to save them, by doing what is necessary, making Rick not only eat his words and regret the exile, but have a new respect for her and allow her to be the decision-maker alongside him? 

The scene with Daryl's marauders was a tense one, and the one pig unzipping his pants while straddling Carl was shocking — it wouldn't have been shocking on a show like Game of Thrones, but on one like The Walking Dead, which goes for all-out graphic violence but no nudity that I can think of at any time, it was utterly unexpected. My husband and I both thought that Rick's big moment of letting go and turning into the monster himself, ripping out Kober's jugular with his own teeth exactly the way a zombie would, was slightly undercut by the thought of, "um… considering what that guy was supposed to do to his son, how would this ever be considered the wrong thing to do?" I wish there'd been a wee bit more of a moral quandary, but as a parent, you hurt my kid, and I'll hurt you. Most parents wish they had the nerve to gut like a fish anyone who would harm our children in such a way. I thought the following scenes, with Rick working through his guilt as Daryl worked through his, their discussion, Carl's talk with Michonne and her response, telling him all about Mike and Terry and how she'd become a monster herself, was near-perfect. Wonderful writing, wonderful acting, set off with the sun shining behind them and Bear McCreary's gorgeous score heightening the emotional upheaval. 

While I'll reiterate that I'm not sure this was the best way to end the season, I will say that I am now on pins and needles waiting to see how the Ringleader, Archer, Samurai, and Son will carry out the battle against the Terminites. 

Any final thoughts, Josh? 
All the best,

Dear Miss Stafford -

Oh, these last exchanges of a season are always bittersweet. I think both of us have struggled harder this year to keep the schedule for these discussions than ever before, and while it's something of a relief to know I'll have the extra room in my work week, I hate the idea of losing this constant excuse to jaw endlessly to you and our wonderful group of readers. My wife still won't watch the show (too stressful, too upsetting), and I think the guy who works at the convenience store down the street is tired of hearing my theories ("Now, which one is Daryl again? The cop or the vet?"), so maybe I'll start a diary over the summer or something.

No, wait - TWD fanfic! We could set up a special entry and have our readers leave story suggestions in the comments, and then each of us could pick one idea every two weeks. Just think of the possibilities! 

I shall start refining my slash skills, says Nikki.

A chronicle of the initial outbreak, as told by Dale from the pilot's seat of his Winnebago... The untold tale of Merle between that fateful rooftop and the quaint little town of Woodbury... The time Michonne and Andrea came upon a monastery outside Conyers... We could even write the secret backstory of Daryl's Clint Eastwood parka, following its journey across the States from southern California to Georgia, survivor to survivor, until it finally ends up with -

Maggie. Of course you're right; it was Maggie that had the parka, not Beth. Crap. Thought I had something there.

You know, our analysis of the 'Alone' episode was one of those that ended up being combined with another for publication, and I don't remember discussing at any length what we thought might have happened to her. Even my notes for the episode are absent hypotheses, but not for lack of consideration. The situation at the Little Funeral Home on the Prairie screamed 'suspect' just like Terminus, with both Beth and Daryl commenting on it a number of times, pointing out how clean the place was, how odd that it was stocked with food but absent any further signs of occupation, et cetera. Then there was the nature of how they were run out, with first that scraggly dog showing up on the porch, and then a sizable pack of walkers just suddenly appearing right at the front door, seemingly out of nowhere. And finally, though he was only in the house fighting them off for a few moments, there had apparently been a car in exactly the right place, just waiting for someone to run past, almost as if the house's occupants had been deliberately flushed out of a specific exit, just like Rick's rabbit snare. All of this combined to make me think the whole scene had been a setup, and the two of them just walked right into the trap.

Which begs the question: what kind of maniac does something like that? Or, more appropriately, what kind of maniacs? I would guess there was one person to do the grabbing and another to do the driving, and then... what? Every scenario I can imagine is more horrible than the last, and the more I think about it, the more certain I am why I thought so little about it back when it happened. Yeesh. Hang in there, Beth.

Well, I can't think of any way to prolong this further, and I should really be working anyway, so I suppose I'll wrap it up here. Overall, I was incredibly happy with the way season four came out. It was strange, to be sure, and more than a little shaggy in places, but at the end of it all, I feel more invested in the show and its band of warrior riffraff than I've ever felt. Whatever dark corners of the human psyche that it chooses to usher us into come October, I'm ready to follow, a flashlight in one hand and something sharp and/or heavy in the other.

I'm leaning toward Maggie's 'No Parking' sign battle axe - what about you?

- j

PS - If this year proves to be the one when I finally make it down south of Atlanta to check out some filming locations, I'll be sure to take lots of notes and pictures and give you and the gang a full report. In fact, I suppose I ought to let you know before I go, as well, just in case I don't make it back...

PPS - Thanks so much, as always, for choosing to do this with me. One of these days, we should really get together and talk about this stuff in person. You and the kids should come down for the location tour! We'll pack a picnic to eat in the lovely little clearing where that guy got his face chewed off.

All the best, ma'am.

Dear Josh,
And all the best to you! Thank you so much for being on this journey with me once again through another season, and to all of you for reading, even when we were posting our ramblings on Sunday afternoons immediately preceding the new episode. Next year we’ll try to get our act in gear. Wait… I said that last year.

In any case, I thought season 4 was stellar, the best season yet on The Walking Dead, especially the second half. I’ve always said this show is less about the zombies and more about how human beings survive under such dire circumstances. And the second half of the season, where the writers split up the survivors and turned them into individual human stories of courage, bravery, weakness, and sadness, really drove that point home. This is generally seen as an action show full of blood and gore, but it’s in the quiet moments where the series truly shines.

We shall see you all again when The Walking Dead returns in the fall. In the meantime, yes, let’s make some cow-brain sandwiches and do that picnic, Josh. Sounds like fun!

All the best to you all,



Rebecca T. said...

It's been so great reading and chatting about this show with other people as invested in it as I am. The only person in my life who watches it just watches it. She didn't even get really affected by Mika/Lizzie so I have waited anxiously for your posts to go up every week :)

You both touched on most of the things I wanted to say. I too thought that it felt more like a penultimate episode than a finale, but it does leave us at an interesting point for season 5.

I had 3 favorite moments from this episode of which only 1 was really touched on in your discussion, so I'll add them here.
The first (and the one Nikki touched on) was Carl's confession to Michonne that he CAN'T be the boy his father wants him to be. The world has changed to much and he is, essentially, a monster and has to be in order to survive. The heartbreak in his voice and face was so heart-wrenching and as it faded back to Rick watching on, but too far away to hear, his expression was perfect as well - a blend of relief that Carl is being able to talk to someone about what he's going through, but pain that Carl doesn't feel that he can talk to Rick about these things.

The second came when the people at Terminus note Daryl's face and Rick says that they wouldn't like to see the "other guy." When they ask if the other guy deserved it I loved Carl's unequivocal and resounding "yes." In a lot of ways it seemed to be his way of letting Rick know that he is not ashamed or afraid, but grateful for what his father did to protect him.

The third is actually the first chronologically. When Daryl stepped into the middle of the Claimed gang and says he'll take Rick's place I felt like it was the ultimate proof of his complete faith and belief in this group of people and in Rick as a leader specifically. He has realized that being on your own or with the wrong group cannot compare with being in a group of people that supports each other. He is no longer a loner and he is one of them completely. We've seen him act selflessly before, but that was such a resounding turning point for his character to me.

Can't believe the season is over. I will miss it over the summer hiatus!

Suzan P said...

Nikki I have been faithful fan of yours ever since I discovered your write ups on Lost many years back. Each week I would look forward to closely reading and analyzing everything you wrote. I also began watching Breaking Bad based on your reviews, and thank goodness I did! (Best show ever! ….Shhh! Don’t tell Lost I said that)!

With that being said, it’s obvious I am huge fan, and usually look your way for suggestions on great television. Unfortunately I just can’t follow you on this one. I want so badly to like The Walking Dead, it initially had so much potential. However, I just can’t, I just don’t get it. I’m not into any of the characters, so many of the storylines move slow and really don’t get me to care at all (sorry, the whole Lizzie/Carol situation, really didn’t faze me), and there are SO many unanswered questions! Seriously what was the sickness at the beginning of season 4?! I’m guessing we will never know? Yes, I am a Lost fan that has a problem with unanswered questions. Not sure how I can say that…maybe because Lost touched me in so many other ways, that The Walking Dead just hasn’t. To this day, I STILL miss my Losties; yet I’m in the trenches with The Walking Dead and couldn’t care less about any of them. (except Hershel, of course).

In any event, while this season finale may have solidified so many to commit to season 5, it has ultimately done the opposite for me, and was a HUGE let down. I couldn’t wait for them to get to Terminus, after each episode, I thought, okay, maybe next episode, then finally, maybe the season finale. But they fooled me again! Nope, just a teeny, tiny tidbit of Terminus and now we must wait for next season! While I am VERY interested in Terminus, I just can’t handle going into another season of all build up and no climax.

As they say - fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. I feel the shame and will not allow them to fool me a third time.

R.P. McMurphy said...

Thanks for your recaps! The viewing experience isn't over until I've read them. I loved how the Terminite said words to the effect of, "when you join us, you become a part of us, and we grow stronger." Thought that was the cannibal's nice way of saying, "Get in my belly and make me stronger!" Did you hear the woman's voice calling for help from another rail car as they were being herded through Terminus? They may have a whole bunch of food in storage. Thanks again!

Penny Porter said...

I loved this episode and am a fan of the comics as well as the books. I wasn't a fan of the slow Daryl/Beth episode but thought that this ramped it right up. On top of another layer of Kirkman's mesmerising post-apocalyptic America, I thought this had a dash of The Prisoner, a twist of The Wicker Man and a great big splash of Lost (ooh, new mysterious Others!) and went to great lengths to avoid all spoilers and it was hugely worth it. Brilliant, and I always love your analysis, Nikki.

Efthymia said...

I'm usually the first person to say that what is great about zombie films (and this series) is that they show that humans can be (and usually are) worse than zombies, but maybe they're taking this too far? How can it be that every other organised group in the show but our own is full of psycho creeps? It's not that I was optimistic about Terminus (far from it, it actually proved to be pretty much what I expected), I'm just wondering.

I would have gutted the rapist bastard as well, and I'm only a mother to my cat.

I found Rick telling Daryl he's his brother very touching. They both had brothers (Daryl a biological one; Rick a metaphorical one) they did so many things for but who proved less than and who made their lives worse (Merle pre-apocalypse; Shane post) and whom they had to kill (in one way or another), and now they've found in each other their true brother, the one who loves you and who is there for you and who will protect you whatever it takes. *sniffling* (Also, a lot of 'and's in this paragraph.)

So Michonne's boyfriend and his friend were high instead of taking care of a baby amidst the zombie apocalypse? If I had the tiniest suspicion that being a perpetually hungry zombie is torturous, I would have done what Michonne did and I wouldn't even feel bad about it.

Is it just me or did Gareth project some serious Ethan-y vibes?

I'm glad that Rick discovered his inner badassery (I've been feeling he was expendable since Season 3), but what exactly is he planning to do locked inside a train car surrounded by a bunch of armed people?

After "Alone" I said that I hoped we would find out what had happened to Beth soon, because my mind was going to super-creepy and disturbing places; now I have, like, half a year to dwell on these thoughts so whatever happens probably won't faze me. Thanks, Walking Dead.

I'll be as impatiently awaiting your recaps as the episodes themselves. :)

Suzanne said...

Thanks for the great reviews as always! Sometimes I enjoyed them more than the show. I am a half-hearted fan of this show unlike many of the other shows that you write about. However, I have to say that I loved this finale. I can see why many of you are saying it felt like a penultimate episode, but when I was watching it, I didn't feel that way. I just viewed it as a cliffhanger. I enjoyed the emotional aspects and the suspense a lot and much more than I have many of the previous episodes of this show lately. This is the first time I have cared about Rick in awhile.

My one complaint is that Maggie didn't say one word about Beth. How does she go from leaving her sick husband in the bus to go find Beth at mid season to never even mentioning Beth in any of these back half episodes. It doesn't make sense. Inconsistencies like these are the reasons that I feel so half-hearted about this show.

Lastly, I love your theory here about Carol and Tyrese and how they might enter the Terminus picture. Watch out, Tasha Yar! You are no match for Carol.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

We see an hour (closer to 45 minutes) of a group of people's lives at any given time, and just because we didn't hear Maggie mention Beth, doesn't mean she's not thinking of her.

From the beginning of the episode it reminded me of the format of one of Breaking Bad, which makes sense when you see that Michelle McLaren (Canadian-whoot!) directed it. If you've never seen her directoral debut, the X-Files' episode John Doe, look it up.

David Morrissey, Michael Rooker, Chandler Riggs and Danai Gurera are scheduled for Fan Expo in Toronto this Labour Day weekend. Yes, I already have a ticket. :)

Colleen/redeem147 said...

Oh, and biting Jeff Kober in the neck is payback for him being a vampire on Buffy.