After a half season full of twists, turns, raw emotion and shocking deaths, AMC’s “The Walking Dead” concluded it’s brutal fourth season on Sunday night in the best possible manner.
Following seven of the best episodes in the show’s entire run, the season finale served as not only a near-perfect conclusion to this season’s storyline, but as a perfect springboard for the type of insanity audience members want.
“A” (written by executive producer Scott M. Gimple and Angela Kang) intercuts flashbacks of life for the group at the prison, showing what the group did between the third and fourth seasons and beautifully explaining how Rick came to be, as withdrawn from violence as he was, when we met up with the gang back in October. We learn that Hershel played a pivotal role in helping Rick plant the garden in the prison yard as well as corral the pigs and horses that were formerly there, as well as how the sudden change impacted Rick’s relationship with Carl.
Beautifully juxtaposed with this is the meat and potatoes of the season finale.
The episode begins with Carl, Michonne, and Rick still making their way towards Terminus, which as we learned last week when Glenn, Maggie, Abraham, and the rest of their group arrived that all may not be as it seems. As they meander, screams are heard in the distance, and when the three rush to see what’s happening, they find a man being swarmed by walkers, crying for help. Carl attempts to rush to the man’s rescue, but Rick holds him back, saying there’s nothing that can be done. As night falls, Rick, Michonne and Carl find themselves attacked by Joe and the Claimers, who are still seeking revenge for Rick’s murdering of their friend earlier this half season. What ensues is a brutal battle, which unleashes a Rick the like of which we haven’t seen before. Rather than being the broken, closed off man he was at the beginning of the season, he goes full-walker and bites Joe in the jugular, leaving him to bleed out in a moment that beautifully blurs the line in asking who truly are the Walking Dead? Is it the undead? Or is it actually the living?
Thankfully, Daryl arrives in the nick of time and attacks his temporary group to protect those he loves. When the group finally arrives at Terminus, they too discover that something’s wrong. Very wrong. Rick notices Hershel’s watch he gave Glenn dangling in the pocket of a guard, and then realizes the prison riot gear Glenn was last seen wearing as well as Maggie’s fashionable blanket-poncho get-up are all there, but there’s no sign of Glenn or Maggie themselves, who we know made it to the so-called “sanctuary” last week. Rick snaps once again, this time guns blazing, and demands to know where the others are, and in one of the best action scenes of the season, Daryl, Michonne, Rick and Carl find themselves on the run toward an exit.
Little did they know they were being lead to an ambush.
The season concludes with the four being herded into a railway car, only to find Glenn, Maggie, Abraham, Rosita, Eugene, Tara, Sasha and Bob. The reunion is short and sweet, and the season ends with an excellent throwback to the comics with a cleaned-up version of one of the source material’s best lines, with Rick swearing that whoever the people running Terminus are, they “messed with the wrong people.”
What more could one ask for in a season finale?
Gimple and Kang wrote an excellent episode, capping off what has been a string of phenomenally written episodes on an absolute high note. On a story basis, they’ve perfectly managed to tie a bow on this half-season’s arc as well as kicking the door wide open for what next season will have in store. This manages to create a cliff hanger of sorts despite the fantastic amount of closure they gave to many of this half-season’s major story lines. Where are Carol, Tyrese, and baby Judith? Will they make it to Terminus? And above all, who kidnapped Beth, and is she even still alive? I look forward to seeing what happens with those loose ends next season.
Despite being an action packed episode, “A” contained some of the heaviest, most philosophical themes the series has seen in a long time, possibly ever, asking the question of how far is it acceptable go and how much of a monster must one become to ensure their survival in the apocalypse. Rick, who just a few months ago strayed away from a life of violence and savagery, has now become the biggest savage of all, being driven to his breaking point and then over the edge. After killing Joe and the Claimers, something in him snapped, and he realized that it’s a kill-or-be-killed world. One must become a savage to survive, and I think seeing Carl in danger made him realize that it’s his responsibility to be as hardened as he can to ensure not just his safety, but that of his son.
“A” also acted as a beautiful parallel to the moment earlier this season in which Carl attempts to defy Rick because he feels abandoned. As the episode goes on, Carl realizes that he needs to be a hardened man for his father, and vise versa. The father/son relationship is one of the most intriguing on the entire show, and I look forward to seeing how this develops and continues to grow as both characters do next season.
Above all, “A” was, in my opinion, the absolute best conclusion possible for what was one of the strongest eight episode arcs in the show’s entire four-year run. Gimple certainly knows what he’s doing and has proven that he’s a more than capable producer for one of cable’s best shows. I anxiously await where he takes the show next. Simply put, October can’t get here fast enough.
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