‘A’ was a solid finale to an uneven season, but it didn’t really feel like one. It felt more like just another The Walking Dead episode, ending with a cliffhanger and lacking any major changes to the status quo. ‘A’ focused on Rick, Carl and Michonne in the present, intercut with flashbacks from Rick’s prison life, in the context of The Walking Dead a place of peace and promise. Once again it was a powerful juxtaposition, even though it was very similar to the opening of ‘After’ and it didn’t cover any new ground thematically. ‘A’ itself opened with a little flashforward of Rick sitting against a car with blood on his hands and face, which raised questions and tension right of the bat.
So, what happened? Well, The Claimers caught up to Rick, Carl and Michonne when the trio had just finished their evening meal, a small rabbit Rick had caught using a snare trap. Group leader Joe held Rick at gunpoint, Michonne had a gun put to her head too, but Carl was on the verge of being raped and killed by one of Joe’s cronies. Daryl tried to intervene, telling Joe these were “good people” which, by Joe’s twisted rules, was a lie: how could someone that had killed one of their own be a good person? Because The Claimers have a strict anti-liar policy he gave the order to his men to beat Daryl to death. Seeing everything went sideways Rick fought back: he headbutted Joe but lost the fight that followed, leaving him unarmed and held by Joe. Then Rick did the unthinkable: he ripped out Joe’s throat with his teeth, which shocked The Claimers and let Michonne and Daryl turn the tables on them. The rapist pleaded for his life, but Rick gut him like a pig and proceeded to stab him and didn’t stop until the show cut to the next scene. It was viscious, a violent act that showed us that Rick does not only protect Carl at all costs, but that he will also go to great lengths to make everyone who hurts his son sorry. We’ve seen violent Rick before and, in the context, it made sense, up to a point. With the endless stabbing the show went a bit overboard, the gutting itself clearly already a significant act to inflict pain and vent rage. Making Joe into a complete lunatic lacked subtlety too: last week he seemed like quite a calm and sensible guy who really saw something in Daryl. Now he just tossed Dixon aside and his sense of justice present in ‘Us’ was swapped with vengeance, sadism and cruelty. Shades of gray make for much more interesting characters, a concept the writers of The Walking Dead still don’t seem to have much of a grasp on when it comes to supporting characters. Instead they make characters flip-flop at will to push the plot along.
Rick’s act led to some interesting moments though: Michonne and Carl talked about what it means to be a good person, and how there’s darkness in everybody. Carl was clearly burdened by his dad’s desire to have a good son, something he feels he doesn’t and can’t live up to. Michonne then told him that it’s a part you have to accept and she finally revealed what had happened to her boy: the camp she was staying at at the time was attacked by walkers and because her boyfriend and his friend were high, her son got killed. Out of rage she let them turn, cut off their arms and lower jaws and put chains on them. When she found out her pets protected her from walkers, she saw it as proof that she had become a monster too and she told Carl that Andrea, Rick and he brought her old self back. It was a nice and well-written moment that presented Carl with some hope: he has a choice in what kind of man he becomes, and he’s not on his own. To a lesser extent Rick said the same to Daryl, who told Rick he didn’t know what kind of men The Claimers were. Rick then called Daryl his brother, to let him know he has a family. These were some nice character-building moments it was good to see the family unit grow by one.
Then it was Terminus. As a precaution Rick buried a bag with guns and ammo outside the fence and to be safe the group snuck in via the back door, catching whoever ran the place off guard. Inside the Terminus building they were welcomed and searched before being offered a plate of food. As we all suspected Terminus turned out to be too good to be true though: Rick noticed some of the Terminites were wearing clothes that belonged to Maggie and Glenn, and he saw one of the strangers carry Glenn’s watch that used to belong to Hershel. This led to a standoff after which Rick’s group tried to escape the Terminus grounds, passing a fenced-off area with human remains and a cult-like circle with candles, creepy writing and memorabilia. Much like Rick’s snare trap from the beginning of the episode the group was funneled into an ambush, which resulted in their capture. Rick, Daryl, Michonne and Carl were locked up in a train car, where they met Glenn, Maggie, Bob, Sasha, Tara, Abraham, Rosita and Eugene. What we were left with is a supergroup and a determined Rick. “They’re screwing with the wrong people,” he said before the episode cut to black and ended. Ever since The Walking Dead‘s first episode Andrew Lincoln has been knocking it out of the park and he did so again this season finale. His character’s evolution is one of the show’s best aspects and it will be interesting to see where Rick goes next season.
‘A’ did a solid job of ending The Walking Dead‘s fourth season, but it failed to give us anything monumental or surprising. 7/10