The Walking Dead: Season 4, Episode 16 – A

“We gonna tell them? Everything that’s happened to us, everything we’ve done? We gonna tell them the truth?”

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(SPOILER WARNING!)

Well that went… about as well as expected. Let’s face it, if you’ve ever seen any post-apocalyptic drama on TV, you probably could have told Our Heroes that Terminus was not going to be the refuge they were hoping for. If nothing else, Woodbury last season was a pretty good indicator of that. And nothing good has ever come of anything called “Terminus”. But then, maybe these guys aren’t too genre savvy – perhaps they preferred reality shows.

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Actually, this was a pretty effective season finale, serving us up some good character development with the action, reuniting (most) of the disparate groups since the destruction of the prison community, and leaving enough unanswered so as to serve as a hook for the next season (thankfully confirmed by AMC). How well it serves as a capstone to a season that’s been, at best, wildly uneven… well, that depends on how much you’ve enjoyed what went before.

Structurally, this was interesting, taking the opportunity to juxtapose the desperate current situation of the characters with the previous, more hopeful situation between the end of the previous season and the beginning of this one. It was a clever structure from old hand scripters Scott Gimple and Angela Kang, who really know how this show works. Also, it gave us the opportunity to see Scott Wilson as Hershel in an unexpected cameo following his recent heart-rending death. Which was nice.

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The point being made was how far the gang have changed from the hopeful group trying to build a new community at the prison, to the ragtag bag of survivors prepared to do almost anything to stay alive. The point was made with breathtaking brutality fairly early on, with the not-unexpected convergence of Rick’s party with that of Daryl and his newfound gang of thugs.

In one sense, that was dealt with quicker than I was expecting. However, the manner in which it was dealt with was… well, I thought the horror of two weeks ago was hard to top. But if anything, this trumped that, as we saw Our Hero Rick solving the situation by the brutally simple manner of literally tearing out his opponent’s throat. With his teeth.

It was shocking, considering that Rick is our moral touchstone in the show – he’s now doing the sort of thing that would characterise the likes of Hannibal Lecter. Earlier on, we’d seen Rick and co leaving a screaming man to his fate at the hands (and teeth) of a gang of Walkers, with the dismissive statement, “we can’t help him”. That seemed pretty cold – on previous experience, Michonne’s proficiency with the katana, and Carl’s with firearms, indicated there was plenty they could have done. But expanding on the theme of this year, it was pretty clear that Rick wasn’t going to put his party at risk to help a stranger – a pretty clear echo of the Governor’s philosophy, and a cold indicator of how far the survivors have come from common human decency.

So when Rick dealt with the threat from Joe’s gang of thugs with the simple expedient of biting out his jugular vein, the point was hammered home (perhaps a little too obviously). As Rick comments in the comic at one point, “we ARE the walking dead”. Seeing him bite out a man’s throat – just as a Walker would do – served to underline the point. If we have descended to the same level as the unthinking dead, while still possessing our faculties, what does that say about humanity?

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It’s perfectly in keeping with the relentlessly bleak and nihilistic outlook of the show, which it has in common with its spiritual ancestors, George Romero’s original Living Dead movies – the zombies are a hazard, but what really screws everything up is the living – people are, basically, rubbish. It’s a cynical view, to be sure – but it was hard not to share in Carl’s very obvious shock at what his dad had descended to. Even though the gang were (as outrightly stated) going to rape both him and Michonne before killing the lot of them, Rick’s solution doesn’t give much hope for any optimistic view of humanity. Once again, I stand in awe of Chandler Riggs as a young actor – like Maisie Williams in Game of Thrones and Kiernan Shipka in Mad Men, he’s every bit the equal of the adults around him.

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As the show sometimes does, this was a set piece taken almost unchanged from the original comic, though given much more impact by the way it converged with the plotlines the TV show has put in place. It’s just a random encounter with a bunch of bandits in the comic; here it’s given so much more resonance by the fact that we have got to know these guys over the last few weeks. Like Daryl said, they had a code – a stupid one, but still…

The actual plot, after that scene, almost felt like an anticlimax. We’ve been here before; and in keeping with the show’s nihilistic view of humanity, Terminus proved not to be the refuge for which our heroes had hoped. I knew something was off last week, with Mary / Tasha Yar’s unsettlingly beatific smile. And while we still don’t know for sure exactly what their deal is, I’m betting I wasn’t far off with my suspicious view of all that steak she was barbecuing.

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The mysterious room “A”, the source of the episode’s title, gave further hints, along with those shots of what are obviously freshly cleaned human skeletons. Let’s face it viewers, we’re into Soylent Green territory here – and again, that’s a plot straight out of the comic. It’s probably a really good thing that events overtook the gang before they partook of that meat they were offered.

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To be fair, that’s just my interpretation. But I don’t think I’m far wrong. These people are nutjobs, with their memorial to those that have “come and gone”, and their shunting our heroes together into a rail car (Holocaust reference, anyone?). But at least most of the gang are together now, after a second half of the season that uncannily mirrored the frustrating separation of the main characters in the third season of the original BBC Survivors. Tyreese, Carol and Judith are very conspicuous by their absence – I wonder if they’ll turn out to be the saviours of everyone else. Or perhaps not; as Rick closed the season by saying, “they’re screwing with the wrong people”.

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Gore of the week

Well, I wasn’t expecting the most disturbing gore to come courtesy of Rick himself. But the moment when he used his own teeth to tear out Joe’s throat was pretty hard to beat. And who knows what exactly he did to the guy threatening to rape and kill Carl – that was (perhaps wisely) left to the viewers’ imaginations. It didn’t sound nice, though…

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And obviously, it was meant to mirror the earlier scene in which we saw a bunch of Walkers tear out the throat (and eyes) of a hapless survivor. With the living now a pretty scarce commodity, it’s been a while since we saw the undead tear apart an actual living victim. Here, we got to see that once again – and as ever, it wasn’t pretty.

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This was a fairly satisfying season finale – though the season preceding it has been wildly inconsistent. As I previously mentioned, the first half of the season was massively frontloaded with all the actual action; to the extent that it seemed overly frenetic and often lacking depth. When the show came back after the mid-season break, there was no shortage of depth, but at the expense of thrills and action.

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That made for a pretty unbalanced season overall. I’d say last year had it beat, except for the conspicuous lack of a final confrontation between Rick and the Governor; something we can now see was (rather artificially) postponed to halfway through this season. To be sure, it allowed us some great character moments (particularly for David Morrissey as the Governor), but as a narrative, it was a bit all over the place.

Still, while it’s been inconsistent, there’s been some standout eps along the way, and some great character development. To those who say this show has no ability to portray realistic, sympathetic characters, I say “Pah!”

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There was some truth in the criticism, last year, that Michonne was too much of a crudely drawn character (comic book style) to fit in with the more nuanced view taken by the TV show. But this year, Danai Gurira’s performance – and the lines she was given – have really fleshed out her character, more so even than several years in the comics. This week’s recounting of her boyfriend and son’s death, was truly heartbreaking, and worked superbly to both cement her relationship with Carl (as a replacement “mother”?) and deal with Carl’s own doubts and fears. This is not simplistic scripting we’re talking about here.

So Ok – a more uneven season than last year, but with many flashes of brilliance from the scripting, the acting, and the direction. And even when (in the second half) it was basically loads of people wandering about the woods exploring their angst, there was real, believable drama. The situation with Terminus (let’s face it, our guys are just “lunch”) leaves us with a good hook into the next season.

For all that I still enjoy and buy the comic, I have to say it’s never really recaptured the heights of drama from this point in the story. But the TV show seems (as yet) to have no sign of running out of ideas. Next year – bring on Carol and Tyreese. Well, mostly Carol, she’s badass. And just what has happened to Beth? Even outside of the immediate peril, there are plot threads dangling. And since (thankfully) AMC have resisted the urge to change the showrunner again, hopefully next year will give us some resolution.

1 thought on “The Walking Dead: Season 4, Episode 16 – A”

  1. What about all the terrible shooting, I can’t forgive the terrible terrible shooting, they should have all been dead so many times over!

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