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Ahhhh, Terminus, a sanctuary by any other name would be much safer. In the most surprising twist of all, The Walking Dead's finale featured no deaths from anyone the audience actually cared about – usually they kill off at least one ancillary character in the finale – and instead opted for some unneeded flashbacks and a reminder that Hershel already died. And the tease of cannibals.
“A” began with a flashback to a time right before the fourth season starts. At first it almost seemed like a glimpse of heaven as everyone, including Hershel, was present but it was soon revealed Hershel had a plan for Rick – grow crops and domesticate wild boars. Rick’s new role as farmer in chief was what the few episodes were about until the Governor really mucked up the works. Mainly the flashbacks were used to remind the audience of just how good everything was at the beginning of the season, just how terrible everything is now, and that Rick has nearly lost all of that non-violent side. The flashbacks weren’t terribly interesting or insightful and were more of a time waster for a show that did not want to reveal the fates of Maggie, Glenn, and their gang until the very end.
After Rick had found some sort of peace on the road with Michonne and Carl, teaching them to set snares and keeping Carl out of harm’s way, the three of them found an abandoned SUV to stay the night. Unfortunately that’s when Joe and his gang finally caught up with Rick. When Daryl comes out to vouch for Rick, what amounts to a lie in Joe’s eyes, things could not have seemed more dire. Daryl is being beaten to a pulp by some of Joe’s men while Michonne is being held at gunpoint and Carl at knifepoint.
Rick’s initial attack does little until Joe holds him close and then the clearest parallel between a survivor and walker is drawn as Rick saves himself by tearing Joe’s jugular out with his teeth. Joe’s gang is then quickly dispatched of and everyone has to live with the fact that Rick just raged out and killed someone on biting him. This affects Carl the most, especially after he overhears Rick saying that keeping Carl safe is all that matters, which causes Carl to tell Michonne he feels he is a monster. Michonne then gives us the backstory of what exactly happened to her husband, friend, and child, which the audience saw earlier in the season in a dream but this adds little to the episode.
The four scale the walls of Terminus and walk right into a building where there are survivors. After being patted down Gareth allows the gang to have their weapons back, hoping that each party will trust the other. But then Rick sees Terminus survivors with items he recognizes from the prison/Glenn and Maggie and holds someone up at gunpoint in order to force some answers from the Terminus survivors. A shoot out breaks out but the Terminus people aren’t exactly trying to kill Rick and the gang, they are merely trying to herd them to exactly the spot where they want them to go.
While traversing Terminus the gang come across a weird shrine/burial ground where it is clear Terminus only cares about their own people and pass a pile of dismembered human skeletons. Then they reach the end of the line, cornered with more than 20 guns pointed at them, Gareth forces each member to go to a train car, one by one. The train car “A” is where the title of the episode is derived. Once Rick and his gang enter and the door is closed Glenn, Maggie, and their entire group come out of the shadows. Rick retakes his leadership role and then rallies the troops with the ridiculous line after an even more ridiculous pause that “they’re [Terminus] are screwing with the wrong people.”
That’s how the episode ends.
There was clearly something off when Glenn and Maggie arrived at Terminus in the penultimate episode and so now the audience knows that Terminus was all a ruse to lure people to their settlement to eat them. The fact that no one of consequence died, either between episodes or during this episode, is fairly disappointing – especially when all the signs pointed to Glenn and Maggie last week after reuniting. They still could die, of course, but not until the Fall.
“A” also left some important questions unanswered, foremost being where the heck is Beth? After being kidnapped with the car speeding away from Daryl there has been nary a hint of what is going on with Beth. It probably isn’t good but you would expect at least some sort of scene showing she’s alive. Curiously absent from the train car were Tyreese and Carol as well. It seemed like the two were shuffling off to Terminus after everything that went down with the kids but their story was left without update as well. They will, most likely, factor into the escape of everyone in that train car but a scene after Rick and the group were captured of Tyreese and Carol going towards Terminus would have added a little more intrigue. Of course the two could also stumble upon Beth.
The season finale marked the end of an episode run starting at midseason that was marred by many questionable decisions by the prison survivors. It took until midway through “A” for someone to really seriously consider the question of Terminus actually being as good as advertised. None of the mini-arcs for really offered a serious alternative for the characters – everyone knew Glenn was going to find Maggie and that Daryl wouldn’t actually take to Joe and his code.
In the end, Season 4 will go down as the season in which The Walking Dead refused to take a chance on the idea of a viable settlement at the prison by trying to right the wrongs of Season 3’s finale. Instead the audience was given two episodes of “What is the Governor up to?” before unnecessarily destroying the prison and forcing everyone back on the road with the only action of consequence being Beth’s disappearance. Sure, everyone has now been introduced to Abraham and Dr. Eugene but what good are they when they are trapped in the can with nearly everyone else?