Rick and his survivors face another threat before even making it to Terminus but what kind of evil actually lurks behind those walls?
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
The second half of The Walking Dead really became an exposition in character development as each episode really magnified on one or two sets of people following The Governor’s attack on the prison. It was here that we learned a little bit more about Daryl’s hell raising, shit kicking roots, a timid and quiet Beth was really just waiting for her moment to rage, and that Michonne wasn’t the Terminator dressed up in dreads with a sword, but really a mother who lost her baby in the first days of the zombie apocalypse. As I noted in my recap from a couple of weeks back, each individual episode failed to move me in terms of the show gaining some kind of steam towards an actual story that was being developed, but once the second half of the season was watched in binge form, I felt like it would all make sense.
The season finale on Sunday night simply titled ‘A’ followed the same path as the previous seven before it, this time once again focusing in on Rick, Carl and Michonne, although a reunion was finally in the works (sort of) as the group made its way towards Terminus. Anyone in their right mind didn’t believe Terminus was the salvation the survivors wanted it to be, but still it was a glimmer of hope and in this world, that spark is all you need sometimes to pick up a backpack, strap on your boots and walk another dozen miles or so.
So with that let’s get into The Walking Dead recap to see the final miles to Terminus and if our survivors finally found a safe haven or another hell on Earth.
The Monster Inside
Through a series of flashbacks set to the time when the prison was a place of peace and solitude, we find Hershel’s first steps at turning Rick the gun toting, undead killing, fearless leader shift into Old McDonald, the farmer with the heart of gold that we first met earlier this season. Hershel’s plan was to teach what he knew about farming and raising animals to Rick, who could in turn teach this to Carl. At the time, it was all a really good idea — with the imminent threats pushed far outside the high fences wrapped with barbed wire and stakes outside keeping the walkers at bay, this was the way to raise food and start to find some sense of normalcy in a world clearly gone insane.
In the hear and now, however, Rick is on a road to Terminus with his son and Michonne, trying to find a home again after the prison was ransacked and destroyed and the make shift house they used ever so briefly was overrun by a scavenging band of psychopaths. Rick is trying his best to be a father to Carl, but more and more as the savagery of this world increases, he’s realizing his influence may not be the best thing for a near teenager he wants to grow into a man and not a lunatic.
Michonne also takes the time to really reveal to Carl what led her to becoming what she’s had to be in these last few months. Michonne, her baby Andre along with her boyfriend and friend (that we met in a flashback a few episodes ago) end up at a refugee camp just after the undead plague washed across America. While Michonne was out on a supply run, a herd hit the refugee camp and her boyfriend and friend were both high at the time, which prevented them from fighting back and saving Andre. It’s a lesson kids — don’t do drugs, especially in the zombie apocalypse! So with her baby gone and her friends bitten, she lopped off their arms and jaws and used them to protect her like they failed to do when Andre needed them most. Michonne was lost, but Andrea helped bring her back the same way that she was gone again after The Governor, but Rick and Carl have also helped her find a new way once again.
Food is scarce, but luckily a snare trap that Bear Grylls would probably tear apart in terms of authenticity manages to capture a small rabbit that gets cooked up for dinner. But as we’ve seen so many times before, the second you leave your guard down on the open road, bad things tend to happen.
Enter Joe and the ‘claimers’.
They’ve been tracking Rick and his group for a day now and now that the night is calm and weapons have been holstered, this is the time to strike. Joe points out that Rick is the one who strangled their ‘friend’ to death back at that house, and now he has to pay for his transgression. Rick will die after his ‘claimers’ have raped both Michonne and Carl in front of him, and then he can go. Luckily Daryl pops in and stands up for his friends, telling Joe that they are good people and if he wants to kill someone take him instead.
Loyalty only goes so far with Joe and he knows Rick isn’t somebody worth saving, so he instructs his boys to teach Daryl a lesson ‘all the way’ meaning beat him to death the same way Len met his end last week after an attempted framing for rabbit-napping occurred. The survivors’ future looks bleak, but it’s here when Rick shifts from man to monster and realizes his only way out is to become the very thing he’s come to fear during each and every waking moment of the day.
In a scene ripped straight from the pages of Robert Kirkman’s source material, Rick bites into Joe’s flesh, and rips his neck apart with his teeth. As Joe’s flailing body flops to the ground in horror that he’s just been bitten by someone very much alive, Rick spits out the bloody chunk, maybe in a moment of both horror and satisfaction at what he’s just done. Michonne, Carl and Daryl get the upper hand on their captors, and a moment later Joe and the claimers are dead, and at least some small part of the prison survivors are back together again.
Following Joe’s group being dealt with in the harshest way possible, Rick and Daryl sit down for a little chat while Michonne and Carl catch some sleep in an abandoned truck. Rick is glad to have his No. 2 back as his right hand, and he even tells Daryl something that I suspected he’s needed ever since Merle died during the final episodes of season three — while they may not be blood, they are brothers. As tough as Daryl appears on the outside, he’s still a man in search of family and with Merle gone, he needs those kinds of people around. While a lot of people were theorizing that Daryl and Beth were cozying up in a ‘rob the cradle’ kind of romance, maybe in reality he was protecting her like a little sister. Either way, Daryl’s found his ‘family’ again and now it’s time to find a new home.
Before they head off to Terminus, Rick exhales one last gasp from the gruesome way he just killed Joe and reveals to Daryl that as much as farming and living in the prison tamped down whatever darkness hides inside of him, one threat against his people turned him back into the real survivor who will do anything to make sure his kid sees tomorrow. The good part about this version of Rick is that he is the leader needed to make it in this world, but the downside is this isn’t the father that Carl needs as an example growing up. In reality, Rick needs to let go of this idea that Carl is going to grow up and one day go to college, and settle down with a wife and kids of his own. Instead, the things he’s doing while brutal and animalistic are really the way all of them need to react when bad things happen and survival instinct has to kick in.
Rick is happy that Carl has bonded so closely to Michonne because he’s not sure he can be a father to him anymore, but unfortunately as hushed as he tries to be, his son still overhears the conversation and yet another piece of his fragile childhood washes away in an instant.
What Is Terminus?
The first half of the finale of The Walking Dead reunited Rick, Carl and Michonne with Daryl, and the second half focused in on their journey to Terminus — the mythical city where all who arrive, survive. Unlike Glenn, Maggie, Abraham and their group, Rick is a bit more cautious so after burying a bag full of guns outside of the Terminus walls, they climb the fences and head through a back door where they find a woman on a radio repeated the same message we heard several episodes ago — urging people to go to Terminus as a way to survive.
Once Rick and his co-horts are spotted, a brief standoff occurs but only for a few seconds as we meet Gareth for the first time. Gareth was a newly casted character teased earlier this season, but only now do we see his real function as the leader of Terminus. He’s sweet as apple pie welcoming Rick and the group into town, and even after a brief frisk to see if they are concealing any weapons, they are all handed back their guns, swords and crossbows and led out into the main area where a barbecue grill and some fresh food awaits them.
It all looks too good to be true, right? Well you know what they say in these situations — if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
The Ringleader, the Archer and the Samurai
While Mary fills some plates with an unknown meat and vegetables for the group to chow down on, Rick spots a chain hanging from their tour guide Alex’s pants — it leads to the watch that Hershel gave to Glenn some time ago as a token of friendship and fatherhood since he was now courting Maggie. Rick snaps, pulls his gun and as he turns he notices another person in Terminus is wearing a poncho and another is wearing riot gear — the same poncho that Maggie was wearing inside the prison and clearly Glenn’s riot gear outfit. Alex and the others lie, saying they pulled these items off of some dead people but Rick knows where these game from and he’s not believing a word they’re saying.
With snipers popping out on rooftops all over Terminus, Rick and his people are outmanned and outgunned, but they aren’t going without a fight. So Alex gets sacrificed, and they are off and running to try and escape this new town full of horrors, but the machine guns firing down at them aren’t hitting anybody, but instead leading them exactly where they are meant to go. Rick and his team pass through a room filled with chopped up body parts, bones and mangled flesh as well as a train car with people screaming ‘help us’, before entering another room lit with dozens of candles, and a very telling message scribbled on the wall.
The circle of candles is surrounded by names, which I have to assume are the people who once inhabited Terminus but were killed for one reason or another, which has led to this ‘us or them’ mentality being harbored by the people inside. This new religion or cult or whatever you want to call it certainly has a creepy vibe, but there’s no time to waste to investigate, because freedom lies outside the walls, not inside.
But just as they exit the weird temple room, Rick and his group are surrounded by a slew of gunmen and snipers bearing down on them. Gareth’s instructions leave very little room for interpretation — one by one they will file into the train car marked ‘A’ (thus the title of the episode) and if they don’t comply, Carl will be the first one executed. First the Ringleader (Rick) goes, then the Archer (Daryl) followed by the Samurai (Michonne) and then Carl, who doesn’t get a fun nickname like ‘My So-Called Life’ or ‘Dashboard Confessional’, much to my disappointment. Also reading the names back in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions — the ringleader, the archer, and the samurai — did anyone else hear this in Anthony Michael Hall’s voice like something out of The Breakfast Club? Just me? Okay on we go.
Inside the train car, Rick and his group finally lock eyes with the other captives in train car ‘A’ — Glenn, Maggie, Abraham, Eugene, Rosita, Sasha, Bob and Tara are all inside, undergoing the same kind of torture as the new arrivals. Maggie quickly vouches for Abraham, before Rick’s steely glaze looks back out at the brief shimmer of light sneaking into the train car. It’s here we once again get an iconic image from the famous comic series of the same name, although slightly toned down for a PG-13 audience.
I’ve been going over this episode and this entire season in my mind for the past couple of hours trying to decide how I truly felt about this finale. One part of me is so extremely happy to see more legendary pieces of the comics come to life, that I’m joyful that we’re finally experiencing more of those moments brought to life the way that ‘Game of Thrones’ has given flesh and bone to characters like Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen. Then again there is an element of surprise that works well in the TV show of The Walking Dead when you don’t always know what’s coming next.
Nobody died this episode and honestly that was a bit of a surprise. The Walking Dead has never really used a shocking death to close a season previously and the trappings and machinations of other shows have never really fallen on this serialized drama, which is one reason it’s always stood out amongst the crowd when it comes to originality. At the same time, given the peril that our survivors have faced since the prison ended, it felt like there was some real dread and gloom hanging overhead before the final scene went to black. Everyone survived at least for the time being, although we don’t know the final whereabouts of Beth, Carol, Tyreese or Judith. My guess is if any of them are the chopped remains in the other room, it’s Beth but then again the citizens of Terminus don’t tend to hunt their food as much as wait for them to show up and present themselves as dinner. I’m still riding that fact that Terminus is filled with cannibals, so it will be interesting to see how this picks up in season five.
The episode was split into two parts for me — the first half, powerful and chilling, and a real look into the psyche of the places Rick Grimes is capable of going to and maybe where he’s scared he’ll stay if he’s not dragged out of the muck every now and again. It was good to see at least some part of the survivors reunited more than just in the fleeting moments of the episode. The second half was tense and finally revealed what was lurking behind the walls of Terminus, and throwing in the cultish aspect of these people adds another layer that was never really explored in the five-issue comic book storyline I’m assuming this is based upon. Still, as great as it was to see Rick’s final line echoed much like The Governor uttering ‘kill them all’ earlier this season, there was still a feeling like something was missing.
We didn’t find out anything regarding Beth, much less where Carol and Tyreese have wandered off to at this point. As ominous as Terminus appears and as much as I can personally theorize that they have resorted to cannibalism as a way to survive, there’s still no proof that it’s actually valid. This ending, to me, felt like a mid-season finale — a cliffhanger that we’d only have to hold onto for two months not the seven we have awaiting us until The Walking Dead returns. A solid build towards what comes next, a bold proclamation from the new Rick Grimes, and a formidable opponent to stand opposite our survivors, but still somewhat anti-climactic from what should be expected in a season finale.
The Walking Dead will return in October 2014 for season five so stay tuned for our recaps then, and make sure to come back for an entire season four review later this week on NerdcoreMovement.com.