Sunday night marked the final episode of the fourth season of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” Not since the season two finale have I been so psyched and eager for the show to return as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, I, and every other fan of the gory drama- have to wait until October for the season five premiere.
Like the seasons before it, the fourth season of “The Walking Dead” had it’s fair share of strengths and weaknesses in terms of it’s writing, story execution, and character development, which I’ll delve into momentarily. There was no shortage of heartbreak, horror, and action these past few months. In fact, there was so much of it that I’d dare say season four may be one of the most traumatic to even the most mentally and emotionally prepared of viewers. It was, in one word: gruesome.
On the plus side, however, fans of the comic were treated to quite a few “ripped straight from the pages” moments this season: both with certain shocking, jaw-dropping scenes, as well as with the introduction of a few familiar (and fan-favorite) characters. Again, I’ll get into that shortly.
I’m putting my spoiler-heavy summary under the safety of a “READ MORE” tab. If you have not yet caught up with “The Walking Dead,” or otherwise don’t want to be spoiled- I implore you to avoid clicking the tab and reading the rest of this post.
AGAIN, ALL SORTS OF SPOILERS UNDER THE “READ MORE” TAB. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.
A year ago today, I wrote my review of the third season of “The Walking Dead.” In it, I had said how the season had started off INSANE (Hershel getting his leg cut off set the pace for the brutality of the season,) but had ended relatively tame- with Rick and Co. taking in the residents who were left in Woodbury after the Governor’s failed attack on the prison and subsequent slaughter of his mini-army and retreat in the hopes of clearing his conscience and restoring Carl’s humanity.
Season four began in the opposite way. Starting up in what I can only assume is months after the season three finale, the prison was presented as having become as close to an idyllic place that one could hope to be in a zombie apocalypse over the indeterminable amount of time. The group has more than doubled in size. Judith is no longer a teeny-tiny newborn. They have crops- tended by Rick, who has resigned as the leader (the decision-making now being decided by a council comprised of Hershel, Carol, Daryl, Glenn, and Sasha,) and Carl- who has given up his gun and doesn’t seem to mind the farming lifestyle too much. They have water, more defenses around the perimeters of the prison, children who engage in a daily “story time” in the library, and a few of the characters have even developed promising romances. The only character who doesn’t seem too keen on sticking around for long periods of time is Michonne, who continually goes out on the road to try and find the Governor to exact revenge- only coming back to the prison to bring supplies (or comic books for Carl, who she has developed a close bond with.)
It was within the first half hour of the very first episode of the season that we were not only given a brief synopsis of the changes that had taken place for the survivors we’ve been watching all this time, but we met a few key newcomers as well. There’s Bob Stookey (Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.) a former army medic and struggling alcoholic. We’d often been told of Hershel’s pre-apocalyptic triumph over alcoholism throughout seasons two and three, and Merle Dixon’s drug addiction was only hinted at for a few minutes all the way back in season one- so to see someone still struggling with a disease during an already challenging and dangerous time was really interesting, and Gilliard Jr. rose above and beyond the difficult task of having to make it convincing.
There were also sisters Lizzie Samuels (Brighton Sharbino) and Mika Samuels (Kyla Kenedy) who play a crucial role in the character development of Carol after the girls are orphaned and taken under her wing. Kenedy is too cute for words as the sweet, innocent Mika- whose harmless personality is so similar to Carol’s lost daughter, Sophia- while Sharbino’s talent shines through with her portrayal of the increasingly unhinged Lizzie.
Of course, as peaceful as the season started- happiness and tranquility doesn’t last for long on this show, and shortly after establishing what has been going on within the prison, all hell breaks loose- first with a supply run gone awry, to an aggressive flu strand that wipes out more than half of the prison (mostly throwaway characters we never get to know and extras,) over the span of four episodes while the core group of survivors we’re familiar with attempt to stop it. While I thought this was a brilliant way for the writers to thin out the herd to leave us with just enough people to focus on without getting confused, it’s what they did with the characterization of Carol in the midst of this story arc that kind of irked me.
Carol, who had finally come into her own in season three, who had become a respected and valued member of the group- and who was teaching the smaller children (in secret) how to defend themselves in the case of an emergency without losing her compassion for others or her sharp sense of humor- is revealed to have killed two members of the group (Karen- the Woodbury massacre survivor and Tyreese’s girlfriend- and David, respectively) in cold blood in an attempt to stop the sickness from spreading as they were the first to begin showing symptoms during the early stages of the flu outbreak. Carol’s complete lack of remorse when Rick figures out what she’s done and confronts her was so out of character, and frankly, uncomfortable to watch- especially considering how good things had been in the prison up until that point. To see Carol go from lovable badass to overly hardened monster for no real reason at all was really confusing as a fan of the character and the show- and I can’t say I was initially all that bothered when Rick kicks her out of the group while the two are on a supply run.
On the flip side, Scott Wilson shined as Hershel during the flu-arc. The episode “Internment,” which focused mainly on Hershel’s determination as he stayed with and took care of the sick- refusing to give up on them or allowing them to give up on themselves as they waited for Daryl, Tyreese, Michonne, and Bob to come back with antibiotics and medical supplies- may have been one of my favorites of the season. Hershel had come so far from season two, and had really become the heart and voice of reason within the group in the wake of Dale’s untimely death in season two. This is, of course, because of fantastic writing- but also because Scott Wilson played the character so, so well.
I say “played,” past tense, because you can’t have a season of “The Walking Dead” without a devastating loss (or many, like in seasons two or three.) Sadly, the most traumatic death since Sophia stumbled out of the barn came in the form of Hershel being captured, and then horrifically decapitated in front of his daughters and friends by The Governor (David Morrissey) who made his fateful return after two episodes detailing his time on the road post-killing his Woodbury group and being abandoned by his former cronies Martinez and Shumpert. Within those two episodes, we see Philip go from nearly losing the will to carry on, to meeting a family, including Tara (Alanna Masterson) that instill a bit of goodness and hope in him, to hitting the road with them to find a better place, to reuniting with (and then murdering) Martinez- to taking over Martinez’s group- and raising yet another army to bring to the prison’s gates to give Rick the ultimatum to leave the prison to the Governor and his new group of people to live in, or refuse and be slaughtered.
I know quite a few people HATED The Governor-centric episodes, but I personally enjoyed them. Everyone knew he’d be back eventually, and I thought it was really interesting to see his rise to power, again- because it gave a pretty good glimpse of how he’d managed to get Woodbury up and running in the first place using nothing but charisma and unmerciful tactics that scared any potential adversaries or challengers to his authority into silent obedience.
Hershel’s death came in the mid-season finale, as did the Governor’s demise at the hands of Michonne (I never cheered louder at my TV than I did at that moment,) and Lilly- Tara’s sister- who I referred to as “Andrea 2.0” considering how useless and utterly pathetic she was in the two episodes we saw her in, and the fact that she was banging Philip despite all the warning signs and red flags that he wasn’t a good guy being right there in front of her. The only credible thing she did was shoot The Governor in the head after Michonne drove her sword through him, thus preventing him from popping up anywhere again and ruining our lives even more than he already had.
The mid-season finale also saw the fall of the prison, as the gates and walls are destroyed during the firefight between the prison group and the Governor’s group- who have the advantage of a goddamned TANK on their side (until Daryl destroys it with a grenade.) The noise attracts a massive swarm of walkers, and our survivors become separated as they flee the danger- having no other options and nowhere to go. Rick and Carl go to find Judith- only to discover an empty, blood-soaked baby carrier in the prison’s courtyard. Cue the tears.
With the group divided, the episodes in the second half of the season focused on one or two groups of characters at a time as they came to terms with the loss of their home, and of Hershel- and tried to figure out their next move. All of the episodes intertwined with each other in small ways, which was both fun and frustrating as time wore on and you just wanted people to reunite- but the episodes also gave some really touching, often tragic, and otherwise unknown insight into the characters and their back-stories. It’s revealed that Michonne had a son who died after the world had gone to hell- a result of her boyfriend (and the toddler’s father’s) negligence when the refugee camp they’d been staying in had been overrun. It’s also revealed that Daryl did nothing more than bum around with Merle before the apocalypse, putting to rest all the theories that he was a cop, or an ex-con, or a hair stylist (which I’m still not convinced isn’t true because his bangs always look a little too styled.)
Back-stories aside, the separation also forced the characters to grow and make difficult decisions. Carl, resentful of his father’s inability to protect the prison or kill The Governor back when he had the chance- eventually realizes he can’t do things alone. Sasha, separated from Tyreese and not having much hope- eventually realizes that she is afraid and has to face her fears and whatever is coming next. Michonne, prior to reuniting with Rick and Carl, and thus creating the most adorable family dynamic I’ve ever seen- eventually realizes she doesn’t want to walk among the dead by herself the way she did prior to meeting Andrea and goes to find her missing friends rather than just give up.
The only character that, surprisingly, made some really awful choices in the second half of the season- was Daryl Dixon. Prior to the season finale, I had taken to Tumblr to vent (see: bitch and moan) about the unusual turn the writers had Daryl taking that nearly eradicated three seasons of near perfect character development. The Tumblr post is linked, but if you want the minimal notes: Daryl escapes the prison with Beth. Daryl gets drunk with Beth on moonshine at her insistence. Beth and Daryl burn down a cabin in the middle of the night and go off into the woods- still drunk. Beth and Daryl find an obvious trap in the form of an immaculately kept and well-stocked funeral parlor but stay there anyway. Beth and Daryl have a weird, uncomfortable, “out of left field” tender moment with possible romantic implications (despite having barely spoken three words to each other since season two.) Daryl opens a door that CLEARLY has walkers on the other side of it without his crossbow in hand. Goddamn it, Daryl- get it the fuck together.
The second half of the season brought three other new characters, and comic-favorites to the screen. Glenn, separated from Maggie and joined by Tara- who bailed on the Governor and Woodbury II in fear and remorse shortly after Hershel was killed, and vows to help Glenn find his wife as a means to make up for her poor character judgment- are found by and eventually team up with Sgt. Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz,) Rosita Espinosa (Christian Serratos,) and Eugene Porter (Josh McDermitt,) who are en route to Washington D.C. before they encounter issues with their ride- namely- Eugene accidentally shooting and destroying the fuel line while trying to take out a group of descending walkers.
By far, the best episode, the “Internment” of the second half of the fourth season, was “The Grove,” which focused on Lizzie, Mika, Tyreese (with baby Judith in tow! Cue the tears- but the happy ones this time!) and Carol, who came back to the prison just in time to see it fall to the walkers and followed the girls she had promised to look after into the woods. Tyreese has no idea Carol is the one responsible for Karen’s death earlier in the season, but there is hardly any time to discuss it as Lizzie- who has some obvious issues with killing walkers, who she views as still people- just different- begins to slip further and further into some sort of post-traumatic level of psychosis. She is killing animals for fun. She attempts to smother Judith when the baby’s cries start attracting walkers. She has a full-blown meltdown when Carol kills a walker as she’s playing a game of “catch me” with it- and it finally escalates to her stabbing poor, sweet Mika to death specifically to bring her back as a walker and show Carol that it’s still Mika- just a different version. Comic fans will recognize Lizzie’s explanation of “it’s okay, I didn’t hurt her brain,” as a slightly altered version of Ben and Billy’s story. Equally terrifying.
Lizzie goes on to explain that she was going to do the same to Judith, and after a tearful discussion with Tyreese- Carol ultimately decides that Lizzie cannot function in the post-apocalyptic world. She is too much of a danger to herself and others. Bringing Lizzie out to a field, Carol shoots her- before confessing to Tyreese what she had done to Karen and David. Tyreese, one of my favorites, forgives her- before the two bury the bodies of the sisters and press on. The entire episode was shocking and heartbreaking- and Melissa McBride deserves every award possible for her performance in it. She was fantastic.
While each group of characters had their own individual turning points going on, one thing was the glue binding all of their stories together: Terminus. The supposed safe zone, briefly introduced in an episode earlier in the season when Daryl, Michonne, Tyreese, and Bob overhear a static-y radio broadcast while driving to retrieve meds for those afflicted with the flu back in the prison, re-appears in the form of signs along a strip of railroad tracks that the different groups of survivors all encounter eventually. With promises of “Community For All,” and “Those Who Arrive – Survive,” everyone began to head in that direction as the season finale drew near- sans Daryl- who after losing Beth in a still-unexplained kidnapping of some sort, is scooped up by a band of violent, redneck, pedo-creeper thugs who are, unbeknownst to him, tracking Rick after encountering him a few episodes earlier, where Rick killed one of their group in self-defense in order to escape a house they’d gone into and had been unaware he, Carl, and Michonne were hiding out in.
In the episode before the finale, we get our first glimpse of Terminus- which looks too unscathed, TOO perfect, to actually be good news. Maggie and Glenn, reuniting earlier in the episode, arrive with Bob, Sasha, Tara, Abraham, Rosita, and Eugene- and are greeted by a cheery and well-fed looking woman named Mary who is cooking a meat I AM STILL SUSPECT ABOUT and offers to make them a plate.
The season finale, which may surpass season two as the most badass ending to date, saw the reunion of Daryl and Rick after Daryl’s new group tracked down Grimes and Co. and things took a turn for the downright scary. Out-manned, outgunned, and watching helplessly as one pedo-fuck tried to feel up Carl, another had a gun to Michonne’s head, and others were beating Daryl to a bloody pulp after he came to Rick’s defense- The leader of the Sons of Anarchy guys, Joe (played by Jeff Kober, who is just so phenomenal in everything he does,) meets his demise when show-Rick goes into comic-Rick mode and BITES HIS THROAT OUT before he, Michonne, and Daryl, get the upper-hand and slaughter the rest of the gang in the most satisfying way possible. If watching the Governor get a sword through his heart wasn’t good enough for you- then this scene definitely is.
From there, it’s on to Terminus. Rick, Michonne, Carl, and Daryl opt to sneak in, rather than use the way previously taken by Glenn, Maggie, and the others. They quickly make their presence known, are greeted by a gangly and CLEARLY untrustworthy guy named Gareth, and are brought out to Mary who is still cooking questionable meat. While Michonne and Daryl are asking questions, Rick notices that some of the others sitting around and eating or talking have some familiar looking items with them. One woman is wearing Daryl’s poncho, last seen on Maggie. Another has Glenn’s pocket watch. Another has riot gear from the prison on (FOR WHATEVER REASON. YOU DON’T NEED RIOT GEAR TO EAT LUNCH-) and it doesn’t take long for Rick, and then the others, to draw their weapons and start demanding answers and/or the location of the rest of their people.
This results in a shootout, however the Terminus snipers don’t seem to be aiming for kill shots- instead firing bullets at our band of survivors’ feet- ultimately sending them into a trap. We do catch a glimpse of some of the rest of Terminus, however- and all instincts seem to be right. The place is BAD. FUCKING. NEWS.
Cornered and with sights set on them: Rick, Daryl, Michonne, and Carl reluctantly surrender- and are ordered into a rail cart by Gareth’s scrawny ass. It’s there we have our final reunion of the season. Glenn, Maggie, Bob, Sasha, Tara, Abraham, Rosita, AND Eugene are all in there- and they’re all alive. The season ends with the ultimate call to arms as Rick, possibly running high on the (literal) taste of blood- delivers the best closing line to a season since “this isn’t a democracy anymore.”
Boom. End scene. There it is.
Overall, with the exception of some strange choices in the direction of some of the characters- I was absolutely ecstatic with season four. It was gripping, it was gory, there was plenty of action and even more emotion. While seasons two and three had us losing major characters left and right, season four had one devastating blow (Hershel.) Three if you count Lizzie and Mika. Four if you count the Governor. Five if you think Beth is dead, wherever she is. Forty-seven if you count the cell blocks that were wiped out by the flu, so on and so forth.
I think what made the finale stand out the most to me is that everyone- including myself- was expecting another major death from within the core group of the show, so to instead have everyone (hopefully) be alright for the time being (you know it won’t last long,) and Rick Grimes stepping up to be the bad ass boss we all know he is- I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect finale. It was unexpected in the best way possible, and set the tone for what I’m sure is going to be an AWESOME fifth season.
What is Terminus? It can be a lot of things- none of them good. Judging by some of the things I saw while Rick & Co. were attempting to escape the snipers shooting at them, my best guess is cannibals. I think Terminus is just a bunch of creepy, crazy cannibals.
Where is Beth?: Singing somewhere, I’m sure. Just kidding. I have no idea. Beth could be perfectly fine. Beth could be dead. Beth could be that mystery meat Mary was grilling up. I’m sure we’ll find out eventually!
What about Carol, Tyreese, and Judith?: I’m really hoping they aren’t trapped somewhere else in Terminus. I’m rooting for Carol to save the day somehow, and I’m rooting even harder for her and Rick to reconcile now that she has Judith. That’s going to be such a sweet reunion (if it happens) that I’m really looking forward to- if only to see Carl be happy again. I feel so bad for that kid.
Favorite character this season?: Daryl’s bangs, clearly.