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 The Walking Dead S04E16: "A"

There's no telling how long The Walking Dead will last as a television show (the comic it's based on has been billed as an endless zombie story), but you can bet AMC wants it to be around for as long as possible, for better or for worse. So it makes sense that we'll get seasons like Season 4B, which amounted to an eight-episode jaunt to a commune full of candle aficionados as AMC milks the show's monster ratings for as long as it can. At times, Season 4B sparkled thanks to a few standout character episodes, and at other times, it dragged, but it had one clear goal in mind: Get everyone to Terminus. 

And it's too bad that it was so singularly focused, because the Season 4 finale had the chance to be something great; instead, "A" was an okay middle-of-the-season installment but a pretty crummy season-ender. I guess The Walking Dead's producers felt that getting everyone to Terminus was a compelling-enough story to fill eight episodes, but the problem with the arc—aside from it being rather unambitious and boring as a reward for viewers—is that getting everyone to Terminus was obviously going to happen, so we all moved onto the next question. Namely, "What the eff is Terminus!?!?" "A" provided a few answers, but was it a satisfying season finale? Ehhhhhh... not really. It would have been a kickass penultimate episode, however!


After The Walking Dead ignored Rick for most of the half-season to follow other characters, "A" was all about Mr. Grimes. The episode explored the man Rick wants to be and the man Rick can't help but be, which is nothing new for the character; did anyone really expect him to just chew on a piece of wheat and grow tomatoes all last season? Farmer Rick was an impossible dream (as the flashbacks in "A" reiterated), and we all knew that. So watching Rick come to that realization while Joe's rape crew threatened various cavities of his traveling companions felt like something we'd seen before. In fact, we made a big deal out of it in Season 2's "Nebraska," when he shot Dave (Michael Raymond James) in the head and made it clear that killing humans is okay when the time calls for it. The guy's just an unstable and indecisive dude, I suppose.

If Rick's turn to farming had yielded bigger rewards—grand prize at the Georgia State Fair for biggest pumpkin or some killer gazpacho, let's say—then seeing Rick transform into the "monster" that bit out Joe's throat (yep, that was cool) would have meant a lot more. But Rick spent so much time avoiding the necessary evils that are crucial to survival in this world by hiding behind a hoe, and I don't mean Rosita and her short shorts. Rick's farmer persona was never going to stick, and that hurt the efficacy of his return to being the Rick he should be. Besides, does it really make you a monster if you're willing to do everything you possiblly can to save your kid from being raped by a man who smells like a compost bucket? 

"A" clearly wanted Rick's transition back into his "survivor by any means necessary" mode to carry some weight, and pointed a camera at his bloody body propped up by a Jeep to drill that home. But it wasn't really an organic character arc. One of The Walking Dead's prominent themes—and one that it will continue to repeat without hesitation—is the urge to find some normalcy in this crazy hellhole of a world, and because Rick is the main character, the search is going to lead right through him more often than not. That's a problem for a show that isn't particularly dynamic in terms of what it can do. Maybe Rick needs to go on a beer run with Beth to get some perspective.

The most exciting part of "A" came when Rick, Carl, Daryl, and Michonne arrived at Terminus and started snooping around, which led to their discovery of a call center for Terminus Radio with mindless drones spouting out nonsense about sanctuary and community. The last 15 minutes of the episode were what we'd been waiting for all season, and even though we all knew it was a trap, the scenes were played with enough mystery that we second-guessed ourselves. I even thought for a second that Monster Rick might accidentally go nuts on a bunch of innocent people, putting a new spin on the debate of whether you can trust strangers in the post-apocalypse.

But nope. The citizens of Terminus were horrible weirdos who stole stuff from others, as we learned when Rick went Shawn Spencer on everyone and scoped out the hidden details: Some guy had Sasha's poncho, another guy was wearing Glen's body armor, and somehow Rick determined that a chain leading to someone's pocket was connected to Hershel's watch. The standoff that ensued featured some of the trademark toughness that director Michelle MacLaren's trademark toughness (zooooom out from Carl's gun!) brought to Breaking Bad, but other than that, there was something clutzy about watching Rick and his pals try to run as a hail of bullets purposely missed them by several feet. I laughed a bit as the sparks shot up off the ground and random Terminites closed doors like the place was some carnival haunted house. Do these Terminus gunmen have unlimited ammo? Do they get a kick out of forcing people into train yards by shooting where they don't want people to go? Is it a handful of people's jobs to hang out on the roof and aim at people's shoes?

As weird as it was, we did get a tour of the grounds, and some clues to who these people are. And either they were recreating the video for The Police's "Wrapped Around Your Finger" or they have some disgusting rituals that involve a lot of candles. The theory de rigueur is that they're cannibals, and a pile of human skeletons in the yard did nothing to suggest otherwise. We have no reason not to wonder if Beth was in the chili that Mary was serving up. But it looks to me like the residents of Terminus are in some sort of cult that might be involved in human sacrifice. Or maybe they eat people and we're all right. 

The Cult of Terminus ran the group through the rat maze until they ended up near some train cars, and then they shuffled the group into a train car by threatening Carl's life. And who should already be in there but Glenn's group and Maggie's group! Hooray! So now we have Rick, Carl, Daryl, Michonne, Glenn, Maggie, Sasha, Bob, Eugene, Abraham, Rosita, and Tara all in an empty train car waiting to be sacrificed, or turned into a stew or whatever. But in the final seconds of the episode, Rick vowed, "They're going to feel pretty stupid when they find out ... they're screwing with the wrong people." Yep, Rick, you have them right where you want them! It wasn't exactly an instantly quotable moment, but given that Rick ate a man's throat earlier in the hour, I at least believe that he believed it.

Of course, as an ending for a half-season that was already in trouble, the final scene of "A" was just a guy shaking his fists and saying, "I'll show them!" instead of a burst of the finale fireworks we're always hoping The Walking Dead will provide. I don't know how much of Season 5 will concentrate on taking out Terminus, but The Walking Dead probably should've wrapped up the Terminus story in Season 4 by cutting back on the filler. Season 2A is not-so-fondly remembered as "the season on the farm," and Season 4B will be labeled "the season where they walked to Terminus."



NOTES

– The episode title referred to the "A" on the train car. 

– Thankfully Rick buried a bag of guns outside the compound! That'll come in handy in Season 5.

– Where's Beth?

– Oh, and Tyreese, Carol, and Judith—where are they, too, I guess? But seriously, where is Beth? Do the people of Terminus have cars? I think she was taken by someone else.

– I'm all for flashbacks to help bring the present alive, but I'm not sure I see the point of the flashbacks in "A," other than to reiterate what we already knew over and over and over again. And to show us that Patrick liked playing with Legos. 


Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 3/30/2014

A

Season 4 : Episode 16

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