Well season 4 of The Walking Dead has now come to a close and while there were plenty of bangs, “A” honestly felt like a bit of a whimper in its final moments. While there was plenty of excitement to be found in the confrontation with Joe and the chase through Terminus was certainly creative, tense, and thrilling all at once, making this episode a story that focuses yet again on the struggles of Rick’s station in his current life just does not interest me. The second half of this season has focused entirely on its ensemble cast and while they have certainly been shaded a bit, the return to this “Rick the farmer” arc really proves to me how little complexity there is in this series.
This could sound like the beginning of a rant, but it really isn’t. For the most part, “A” is an effective hour of television, given the strength of the performances on display (which includes the return of Scott Wilson as Hershel), the quality of this series’ production design and other technical merits (which are always topnotch), and the general excitement that came from the two ‘big’ scenes in this episode. Even while taking issue with Rick’s storyline, that really comes as a fundamental disagreement with the idea of his arc for this season, rather than a criticism of this episode, so with that said, I did like what Andrew Lincoln was putting forward in “A” and how he essentially let his actions speak for what should be a character I will be much happier to follow along with in season 5.
To backtrack a bit, this episode starts off simple enough, with Rick, Carl, and Michonne closing in on Terminus. As they make their way to what is hopefully a safe haven, Carl asks what they should say about who they are. It is the kind of line that feels very scripted, but it makes me wonder what a longer conversation could have been like, as opposed to a series of flashbacks that never quite clicked for me. Of course, this conversation was interrupted by some random guy, too crowded by walkers to save himself. Speaking of the flashbacks though, they at least had a fitting conclusion, given the portrayal of a type of peace that Rick has given up on at this point, in favor of simply being strong enough for Carl.
It was nice to see Scott Wilson again, given how horrific his exit from the show was, from a contextual standpoint. Hershel certainly found his footing in this series, once it came time for him to be handing out sage wisdom in a way that never felt annoying or cloying. In a series with many problems surrounding its characters, Hershel was certainly on the good side of this, so it was nice to have him continuing to deliver, even if that meant dealing with what we have already seen. I understand that the show set up an arc for Rick’s character this season and it needed to close it off, but it really felt tiring to see the origins of “Rick the farmer”. I mentioned this back in the episode “Claimed”, but I find Rick to be at his best when he is dealing with conflict through his physical actions. Rather than trying to negotiate or reason his way out, the show (which I would be happier to admire as a character piece) simply knows how to construct “Rick in action” scenarios a whole lot better, which is a shame given the standout dramatic moments he occasionally has.
Look at the whole confrontation with Joe, which serves as a mini-climax for the episode. Rick has very little to do, aside from react with strong violence. It helps that he was fueled by pure devotion of keeping Carl safe, but seeing him gain the upper hand in an impossible scenario is the kind of thing that really emphasizes what Andrew Lincoln can really sell best on this series. Going back to early this season when he sacrificed some pigs, or further back to when he took out zombie Sophia, or even to the very opening of this series, it is clear; Rick is the one who can handle the tough jobs in an effort to keep people safe. Even if the show thinks this is an interesting avenue to explore, it has never seemed unclear to me, which is why it is bothersome to see so much time devoted to it.
Fortunately, even with the (understandable) decision to keep the focus on Rick, his storyline leads to some solid sequences leading up to the chaos at Terminus. Following the graphic execution of Joe and his band of dirty idiots, Rick and Daryl share a moment, which always seems to lead to some nice interplay. Daryl explaining where his head is at, which includes acknowledging the stupid code those other guys were following, is a fine way to keep him on our radar as a character who has evolved, while also allowing for an unexpectedly sweet moment. In this world where half the internet is waging war over whether Daryl will get with Carol or Beth, hearing Rick say, “your my brother,” was such a fine moment between the two that clearly means a lot to Daryl and works in the kind of way where the bluntness of a statement actually benefits the series and the work it has done to keep us updated on who really counts in this show.
Another nice scene is held between Michonne and Carl. Given that this is a season finale, it is nice to see this scene bringing something of a close, for now, to this relationship, which has really proven to strengthen these two characters. Carl, troublesome actions aside, is actually pretty likable at this point. Michonne has gone from glowering to sharing, which includes an expected, but well-delivered monologue about her son and her former “pets”. The idea that this conversation is about expressing how Rick is doing what he can to keep Carl safe and Michonne is all about providing that safety as well strangely works, despite purposefully keeping Carl away from his father.
Putting the characters aside, heading into Terminus was a very well done sequence. While I was plenty annoyed by how it chose to break apart the action, given the placement of commercials, there was plenty of tension in the way it chose to introduce this foreign territory and keep the audience guessing as to how things would play out. I noted last week that I was always suspicious of this so-called “Safe Haven” and myself along with plenty others were keen on the idea that Terminus would actually be filled with cannibals. The fact that this revelation pretty much came true was not a let-down in terms of predictability though, as the direction was just solid.
“A” was directed by Michelle MacLaren, who has been responsible for directing many of the more action-heavy episodes of series like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. Being presented with suspicious characters with welcoming dialogue and cryptic conversations is one thing, but an elaborately staged sequence where Rick and the gang are running through what looks like some sort of nightmare in a world that already is a nightmare is truly something to see, and the show definitely delivered in that regard. While I may not know how far things will go in the next season, as far as exploring this place goes (chances are we will see as much as we need to), the tease was quite effective.
With all of this said though, I still cannot help but feel disheartened by the final moments. Yes, the setup is pretty great as far as seeing a tension filled sequence where Rick and his people are locked up with plenty of people wondering whether or not Carl was going to be shot, given the building of Bear McReary’s effectively unrelenting score, but for all the joy that may be had in seeing almost everyone back together again, with a fairly hopeful notion of this gang likely figuring a way out, Rick’s closing line really sucked. It honestly felt hollow to me. Riffing on what tough action stars say, while being limited by TV censors and coming as an extension of what a character’s (dissatisfying) arc has been, “screwing with the wrong group,” did not leave me with the feeling of needing more right, it just sat there.
And I just sat there. The finale was fine overall. It has strong work from the actors involved, a truly vicious and intense confrontation with Joe and his boys, and an ending chase that firmly grabbed onto me, as I watched people run through an apocalyptic funhouse. But I still just sat there thinking about how little I care for the flashabacks and Rick’s plight as a man who is grappling with issues that I have seen him grapple with for this entire series already. While designing a lead character and keeping a focus on what makes him tick is important, Rick really isn’t that interesting compared to the likes of Walter White or Don Draper. Not that The Walking Dead needs to be compared to these shows in particular or any show really, but it does become clear that certain elements work a lot better than others. As much as I like to say this is a show about people that happen to be surrounded by zombies, maybe I should start switching my words around, so I am less astounded by The Walking Dead’s average attempts to hit those dramatic beats. Either way, if Rick is now set on being the guy who is not conflicted about what he is capable of, then the show can really make some progress for the better or at least find more creative ways to dig into the other, more interesting characters.
- Zombie Kill of the Week: I mean, it may not have been a zombie, but Rick taking a bit out of Joe was pretty crazy.
- I can’t say I’ll miss Joe, given his implication that Carl would be handled in ways I don’t want to think about, but Jeff Kober did fine work in the role.
- Carol and Tyrese are going to have a real awkward reunion with the team, unless they do better planning ahead of time.
- Daryl, I don’t care what you think nuance means, saying Beth is just gone is a ridiculous way to phrase what is on your mind.
- Everything about Terminus was creepy, which included everyone all of the sudden wearing our heroes’ clothing, a room full of candles and scribblings, and, y’know, the pile of human bones that these cannibals finished sucking on.
- “Ringleader, Archer, Samurai” – Words to put on any resume
- I have really enjoyed re-capping this second of this season of The Walking Dead and look forward to picking things up in the fall. Thanks for reading and feel free to hear what myself and a few other fans of the show have to say about the series on the The Walking Dead TV Podcast.