Prior to this season, The Walking Dead was a good show but it seemed to be shambling along from one point to another with no particular destination, much like the corpses littering the landscape.
But somewhere along the line, The Walking Dead turned into one of the most thoughtful character studies on television by giving us insight into the minds of our protagonists. It was the first time (especially during the latter half of season 4) that we actually began to care about everyone, and that caring is what drives a good epic story, especially one that hopes to last for years.
In ‘A’, the fourth season’s finale, the show finally comes back to Rick who’s been conspicuously absent for most of the last 8 episodes. We learn in flashbacks that Hershel attempted to transform Rick into a peaceful man, not only for his own sake, but also for Carl’s sake. Hershel tells Rick that Carl “needs his father to show him the way” and asks “What way are you going to show him?”
Rick tries to teach Carl about catching food and instructs him on how to arrange a trap whereby the prey is directed in a particular manner to ensure its capture. He shows him how the rabbit they caught had been forced to run down a particular path, with the terrain funneled to lead it toward its inevitable doom. Thematically, it’s a beautiful foreshadowing of a later scene (more on that in a bit).
When Joe and his gang happen upon Rick, Carl, and Michonne in the woods, they plan to kill them until Daryl intervenes. Joe and the others want revenge as Rick killed one of their group a while back. Daryl’s actions cause him to get beaten by a few members of the gang and when it appears Carl will be violated by another gang member, Rick leaps into action, head butting Joe. When it appears Joe has the upper hand with Rick in a bear hug, Rick does the unthinkable. He has nothing left to lose in order to protect those he loves so he bites down on Joe’s neck, tearing his flesh and killing him. The four then proceed to brutally murder the rest of the gang.
Earlier in the episode, when Rick and Carl are talking about arriving at Terminus, Carl wants to know what they’ll tell those in the settlement.
Rick: “We’re going to tell them who we are.”
Carl: “Who are we?”
It’s evident that these people are vastly different than the ones who tried to make the prison an idyllic place of peace. In fact, the flashbacks (which have been used to great effect this season, and in ‘A’ in particular) show us how Rick attempted to throw away his weapons and come to terms with who he is. However, as Hershel points out, it’s always “right now” to him and that’s always what it will be to everyone from now on.
So what’s best for right now?
Rick, Daryl, Michonne, and Carl sneak into Terminus through the back but not before Rick buries a stash of weapons in the woods just outside the gate. It dawns on Rick that something is wrong with the place. He sees residents holding familiar possessions–an orange backpack, a poncho, riot gear, and Hershel’s watch (the one that he gave Glenn).
Rick pulls out his gun and holds a member of the group hostage, demanding to know why they have these things. Snipers appear on the roof and open fire. Instead of killing them, however, they fire at them with a purpose–to push them in a certain direction just like rabbits into a trap. They’re driven through the streets of Terminus, past a cage filled with bones and fresh meat, through a room with candles which look like a shrine.
And finally to a doorway marked only with an A.
Out in the open, they’re outnumbered and forced to drop their weapons. They’re instructed to board the car of a train one by one with Carl entering last.
Inside the car, they’re reunited with the other members of the group (save for Carol, Tyreese, Judith, and Beth) and meet the new additions. Abraham points out that they may not make it out but Rick tells him and the others in no uncertain terms that the residents of Terminus have “screwed with the wrong people”.
Way back in my review of season 4′s first episode, ‘30 Days Without An Accident‘, I mentioned that this was the Walking Dead I’d been waiting for. ‘A’ gives us the Rick Grimes we’d all been waiting for.
Andrew Lincoln does some of his best work on the series with material he can really sink his teeth into (pun completely intended) and evolves into a man who has bridged the gap between a man who tries to be the best father he can while teaching his son to survive in the new world with the monster he has to become to protect everyone.
Showrunner Scott Gimple has done wonders with this series, molding it into something with a clear direction and purpose. The writing has also improved dramatically, seamlessly weaving in backstory that’s informative without simply being exposition. In ‘A’, we discover who Michonne’s walker companions were when she first appeared (her boyfriend and a friend) as well as why Rick was preoccupied with farming rather than being the strong leader everyone needed.
The theme of the latter half of The Walking Dead season 4 focused on who these characters were and what they were becoming. When the series returns in October, it will be really interesting to see where they’re headed.
If the last 8 episodes are any indication, it’s definitely in the right direction.
The Walking Dead ‘A’ grade: A+
The Walking Dead season 4 grade: A-
Bye. See you in October!