The Walking Dead – “A” Review: A Strong End to an Uneven Season
Well, the body count was certainly much lower than many people expected it would be for the season finale of The Walking Dead
, but I have to say that I enjoyed this set up for season five much more than I thought I would- especially considering the long and often dull road we took to make it to this point.
After being missing in action (or relegated to the background) for several of the past weeks, "A" is, at its heart, a Rick episode. During the time we have spent traversing the countryside outside of the prison, we have learned about several of the show's supporting characters. But Rick was never the focus of our flashbacks and journey's into backstory. And remember how the season picked up several months after the first great prison battle and we all wondered what had happened, but never were given any clue? Well, "A" fills in some of those blanks surprisingly well while giving us some more context for Rick's grand season four arc.
During the peace-filled prison months (before the epic plague and the return of the Governor), Rick became a changed man. And he did it largely for Carl's benefit. Farmer Rick- urged into this position by Hershel, who just wanted everyone to find a calm home- took steps to separate Carl from the violent path he was heading down. It's awfully telling that a 16 year old Patrick (patient zero in the plague, in case you've forgotten) is totally up for a round of Legos, while preteen Carl would rather clean and assemble a gun. The flashbacks to this more idyllic time, when Carl and Rick could operate as a father and son not damaged by threat of imminent death, are placed well throughout the episode, undercutting the violent imagery of the present with reminders that mere months ago, things were pretty darn great.
But the violent and vengeful Rick returns in a big way this episode. And, frankly, I'm glad to have him back. Having Rick continue to waffle between the peaceful farmer afraid to lead and the dynamic leader who gets things done has been one of the larger drags on the show's momentum this season. I'm thrilled Rick appears to have finally chosen his path. Moreover, I certainly don't blame him for what he does to Joe and his gang. In yet another scene ripped from the comics (albeit with a slightly different cast), Rick proves once again that Carl is his Achilles heal. He will do anything and everything to keep Carl safe. His attack on Joe may be overly violent, but considering the alternative, not undeserved. And the man who attempts to rape Carl? He gets off easy in my book.
After the subtle manner in which Rick's first encounter with this gang was handled (during the cat and mouse game in the house), the sheer visceral nature of the violence here can't simply be dismissed solely as Rick breaking. He still is the patient man from Hershel's farming lessons- he is still willing to wait for what he wants. In the fight with Joe, he doesn't go off half cocked and get his family killed. Rather, taking Hershel's lesson of patience to heart, he bides his time for an opening and strikes. .Joe's gang are more concerned with being loud and deadly without any preamble. Rick escaped them the first time by biding his time. He does so again here, only forced to act quickly to neutralize the immediate threat. I'm willing to bet his patience and planning will once again help the prison gang in their new dire straights at Terminus.
Oh Terminus. We knew you were too good to be true. As for what you actually are, I'm not 100% certain. There are plenty of fan theories regarding Terminus, and I'm sure there will be plenty more before the long wait for season five is done. All we know for certain is that the Terminus gang is very well armed, well stocked (particularly with meat- which, along with some comments by Terminus characters, lends credence to the top fan theory that Terminus is actually a haven for cannibals), and consists of a lot more people than we originally knew. And there also appear to be more people trapped within the train station. I have to say I was really happy to see most of the group together again (even Glenn and Maggie)- although Tyreese, Carol, and Beth are still MIA.
Unlike last season, where things ended on a hopeful note, things are not looking great. I can't see the whole group making it out of this alive (and, I'm kind of hoping they won't, as the cast is once again swelling to a rather large number). But, as Rick says, Terminus has messed with the wrong group of people. Old Rick is back, and he'll do anything to protect his son.
-- After some poorly constructed episodes, "A" is one of season four's better constructed episodes. Rick's lesson on trapping animals? That really came back to haunt him in Terminus. And I can't say how happy I was to see Hershel back. He's truly Rick's conscience- which might help explain his fall off the mass killing wagon.
-- Michonne's backstory wasn't all that necessary, since it turns out we really pretty much inferred it all already. But, I'm glad it helped Carl see he wasn't a monster.
-- So . . . Where are Carol, Tyreese, and Beth? I'm starting to worry about them.
-- Well, that's all for this season. It's been fun, and sometimes frustrating, reviewing the show. But, I'm far too interested to see how the gang gets out of this pickle to turn back now. Hope to see you in the fall.