Sunday, March 30, 2014

TV Review: 'The Walking Dead'-4.16-"A"

Despite numerous issues, general ups and downs, and an overall lack of consistency, one thing AMC’s The WalkingDead has always managed to do well is end a season. Explosions, mass chaos, and major character deaths have all played into season finales. Not perfect, and a definite tale of two halves, “A,” the 16th and final episode of season four, is a fitting and worthy addition to this family.

Overall, season four has been the strongest yet, and with the second half of the season, I might even say the show has gotten good, which is weird for me to say considering the rocky relationship I’ve always had with the program. It’s finally coming close to living up to the potential of Robert Kirkman’s comic books. The stories are different enough that it stands as its own entity, but still capture the feel and tone of the source material. I’ll get into this at a later date when we revisit the season as a whole, so for now, let’s talk about “A.” Just know that there are some serious SPOILERS on the horizon.

“A” really tells two stories. One is a glimpse of what could have been, shown in flashbacks to the survivor’s life at the prison. The other presents the harsh realities that they have to face on a daily basis that stand in direct contrast to the idyllic picture that Hershel (Scott Wilson) thinks they can achieve. The episode revisits this moment sporadically, and the overriding point is really to get Rick to consider what he is going to teach his son Carl (Chandler Riggs), to think about what he is showing the boy. The thematic core of the episode is the relationship between the father and son, and just let me say, this week Rick shows the kid some shit.

The foreground action picks up with Rick, Carl, and Michonne (Danai Gurira) on the way to Terminus and what they hope is a safe haven. They encounter a man being eaten by zombies, but are too late to help, even though Carl jumps to the rescue. He’s never as far gone as you, and he, think he may be. But they don’t have much time to dwell on this moment because they finally meet up with an old friend in the form of Daryl (Norman Reedus).

This isn’t a joyous, tearful, everybody hug kind of reunion, however. You may remember from last week that the sketchy outlaw biker types that Daryl has fallen in with have a particular hankering to find Rick. They have a bone to pick for what he did to their buddy, strangling him on the crapper as he did a few episodes back. When Daryl steps up to have Rick and company’s back, he gets the living shit kicked out of him, and their leader, Joe (Jeff Kober), makes a choice that has rather disastrous repercussions. You don’t threaten to kill a guy’s best friend, rape his other friend, rape his son, and then kill him and not expect something to break.

And that’s exactly what happens. Rick snaps and absolutely loses his mind. Up to this point, Rick has been one of my least favorite parts of season four. Much of why I’ve enjoyed the second half so much is because he’s largely been absent. That said, in this one moment he totally redeems himself in my eyes. In a scene that is shockingly brutal, he tears out a dude’s throat with his teeth—better floss after that—and stabs the guy who was going to rape Carl you don’t even know how many times. It just sort of keeps going in the background for a while. You hear the sickening squish long after the camera has moved on.

This is where the episode peaks in my opinion, both action wise and emotionally. Daryl and Rick share a bonding moment, reasserting their mutual best bro status. Daryl tries to reassure Rick about his actions, but Rick has no illusions; he knows that’s who he is, not all of him, but certainly a part, citing what he did to Tyreese earlier as further evidence. He’s come to a place where he accepts this, and even, when necessary, embraces this part of himself. It kept him and his alive tonight. This is the Rick that fans of the comics have been waiting to see on the show—who can be both kind and brutal, grounded and unhinged—and we’re finally getting to hang out with him.

Carl, obviously, is rather affected by this turn of events as well, but not necessarily how you expect. He’s worried what his father thinks of him, or more accurately what he would think of him if he knew the thoughts inside his head. His father has a monstrous side, but so does he, and he worries that if he shows that part of himself, Rick will think badly of him and be disappointed.

Over the course of this half of season four, Carl and Michonne have developed an authentic relationship that has quickly become a highlight of The Walking Dead. Their dynamic is based on mutual respect, humor, and even a deep love and affection. She reassures the boy that he’s not the only one carrying darkness inside of him, and offers an illuminating glimpse into her own past.

She was at a refugee camp, and though things were bad, she never gave up. Coming back from a supply run, she discover that the camp has been overrun, that her boyfriend and their buddy, who were both high at the time, were bitten, and her child was dead. That’s where her pets came from, she let these acquaintances change and makes grisly use of them. She didn’t keep them as camouflage, not at first—that was a byproduct—but as a reminder, as a penance. After time she realized that they kept her hidden, made her appear as what she was, just another monster in a sea of them.

Coming back isn’t an option anymore. Living with what they’ve done, and continuing to survive, is all they can do.

From this point, “A” unfolds in predictable fashion, and is something of a let down. This isn’t to say the episode is bad, but the first half is the stronger section to be sure. They get to Terminus, check it out, and sneak in through the back door, so, as Rick says, they can see before being seen. Everything seems okay at first, but as any viewer of The Walking Dead knows full well that if something looks too good to be true, it is—see Woodbury and the Governor fiasco for evidence.

The situation goes all to hell when Rick recognizes Glenn’s (Steven Yeun) pocket watch, a gift from Hershel, and his riot gear. The guns come out, bullets start flying, and the crew makes a break for it, but something isn’t right. Armed guards on the roof aren’t trying to kill their targets. It appears that they’re steering them down a series of continually narrowing paths, leading them somewhere specific.

In their mad dash you catch a glimpse of something that indicates the true nature of the people at Terminus. Many viewers, myself included, have suspected that cannibalism was going to come into play before the end, and that the supposed sanctuary is actually an elaborate trap. At this point in the comics, the survivors encounter a group of people eaters called the Hunters, and last week, when Glenn, Maggie (Lauren Cohan), and the others arrived at Terminus, you saw what appeared to be a great deal of meat on the barbeque. Maybe they’re really good hunters, or maybe they raise livestock like they did with those pigs at the prison for a while, but in a time when food is scarce, this abundance is suspect.

If you pay close attention there’s another hint. Rick, Daryl, Carl, and Michonne run by a chain link paddock full of what appears to be human skulls, spines, and ribcages, among other bones and body parts. Blink too fast and you’ll miss it, but seriously, it looks like Predator has been hanging out there skinning folks. Glossed over quickly, and never mentioned again, but it definitely sets the stage for some gruesome events in the coming season.

The episode, and hence season four, comes to a close with Rick, Carl, Daryl, and Michonne herded into an isolated train car. There they find their last surprise of the day: Glenn, Maggie, and the crew they were travelling with, still very much alive, and glad to see their friends are as well, despite their harsh circumstances.

They may be trapped, unarmed, and generally fucked, but that doesn’t appear to faze Rick in the slightest. As he says, these people are about to learn who they’re screwing with, and if history is any indicator, the citizens of Terminus are going to regret the choices that have led them to imprison this particular cadre.

That’s how the season ends, with our heroes in dire straits, hints of cannibalism thrown into the mix, and a huge conflict about to blow the top off. “A” answers a few questions, but leaves many more loose ends dangling. For instance, where are Tyreese, Carol, baby Judith, and Beth? At least three of them are on their way to Terminus. There is a lot to think about and consider over the offseason, and numerous ways for events to shake out. No one is out of harm’s way, and there is a very real possibility that season five of The Walking Dead will kick off with characters we’ve known for years dying in a violent, graphic manner, which is just fine with me.

What do you think of “A”? Is it a fitting end? Do you like the resolution of this season/set up for next season? Sound off below in the comments.

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