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‘The Walking Dead’ Season 4 Recap, Episode 16: ‘A’ [Spoilers]

Season four of The Walking Dead, AMC’s television adaptation of the Eisner Award-winning Image Comics series launched by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore and now drawn by Charlie Adlard, has finally reached its end. ComicsAlliance’s John Parker has been following along the whole time to see who lives, who dies, and all the other stuff that fills out a 1,500-2,000 word post that needs to be written in roughly two hours for sixteen weeks.

It’s the Season Finale, and journeys come to ends, important questions are answered and every main character is killed in the opening scene because that’s clearly what one picture was foreshadowing.

Who am I? It’s a big question we all have to face someday, and a big question for each of The Remains throughout Season 4 of The Walking Dead. Was Carl a kid or a psychopath-in-training? Was Daryl a community leader or a scumbag not worth saving? Was Carol a murderer, or just a pragmatic? And the biggest question of the season – can Rick be a farmer? Or must he remain the gunslinger?

That question was reiterated again in tonight’s Season Finale, the enigmatically-titled “A.” After a heap of speculation built up around the episode, with fans queued to believe that several main characters were suddenly going to die off because of some non-descript promo photos, we got through “A” without any major deaths, which might be a first for a Walking Dead Season Finale. Despite the lack of catastrophic events, “A” was nonetheless a very important episode, very well put-together structurally and a nice cap to the season. One that didn’t leave you pondering the meaninglessness of life.

Using a series of flashbacks, “A” took us back to the time before the season began, to remind us how different things were just a year ago, and to explore the changes that Rick and Carl have undergone in the time since. It begins with a flashback, back to the prison. A Dodge commercial rolls into the front gate, and Hershel is there to greet them, noting that Maggie is a sight for sore eyes. No, dude, you are; you are the sight for sore eyes, you pony-tailed Yoda of the Wasteland. Clearly, this flashback takes place before Season 4 began, so it’s not hard to guess what Hershel is thinking as he watches Carl with his sad, knowing eyes: you killed that boy for no reason, Carl.

After that short trip down memory lane, we’re shoved forward in time, to see Rick sitting against a blue truck, his hands and face covered in blood, near-catatonic. Like “The Grove,” we’re left to speculate at the circumstances. See, that’s why everybody was in a tizzy over a couple of photos – they love to make you think of the worst possible scenario with little slices like this. All we know for certain is that it’s going to be an important moment, and we have to watch for it.

Once TWD are done screwing with us, we see that Rick, Carl, and Michonne are still on the road to Terminus, and getting close. Carl, knowing that they will carry their past lives with them wherever they go, asks Rick if they’re going to tell whoever’s running Terminus about everything they’ve been through. Rick responds that they’re going to tell them who they are, and Carl brings up that question that’s been nagging everybody all season: Who are we?

Rick doesn’t get a chance to answer, because we’re supposed to wait until the end of the episode to find out. Instead, the trio inspect a trap for food, when Carl hears somebody in the distance shouting for help. Before Rick can say boo, Carl takes off after the sound. They find a lone survivor surrounded by a roundtable of walkers, and Carl raises his gun to help, but Rick stops him. Rick has often had to stop Carl from doing something stupid in the field, but this feels like the first time he’s directly stopped Carl from helping someone. It may seem small, but it’s important.

Another flashback to the prison. If you couldn’t tell this came before the season began by the weather outside, they have Hershel straight up tell you: he’s not using a prosthetic leg, and he mentions giving Glenn his watch. Also, Rick puts his gunbelt on without thinking about it, and he did a lot of thinking about it this year.

AMC

Back in the present, Rick, Michonne and Carl come across an abandoned truck on the road; the same one from the opening. Camping there for the night, Rick and Michonne barely have time to wonder if Terminus is really the haven it’s advertised to be before Joe and Team Sex Offender sneak in from the periphery and point a ****-ton of guns at their heads. And that twitch that Andrew Lincoln gives right before the commercial break? That’s his way of telling you the beast is about to come out. It’s an oldie, but it’s a goodie.

While Joe explains that they’ve been following Rick since Lou was strangled (and oh yeah, last week I forgot that happened), Daryl walks in and stops them, ready to sacrifice himself so they can go free. I had hoped that Daryl’s journey into the darkness would stretch into the next season, and would normally chide them for resolving it so quickly. In this case, it’s absolutely worth it for this adrenaline-churning scene.

Joe tells the boys to beat Daryl down, and an especially creepy lump of fat holds a knife up to Carl’s throat. With a gun at Rick’s head, Joe explains that they’re going to beat Daryl to death, rape Michonne, rape Carl, and then kill Rick. Rick tries to tell Joe that he shouldn’t make him angry, but his heartbeat accelerates, his eyes turn green, and he goes all Rick Smash.

This is why Rick has to keep asking himself who he is: he occasionally Hulks out and does some really insane stuff. Snapping back, Rick head-butts Joe, who fires his gun right next to Rick’s ear. After Joe kicks him around for a few, Rick just cuts through the all the bull**** and rips Joe’s throat out with his teeth. You know, like a wild animal?! For a moment, he almost seems to relish the taste of it, too, holding it in his mouth to savor it before he spits it out.

Rick’s brilliant strategic maneuver helps turn the tide, as all of Team Sex Offender freeze in their tracks, going immediately insane at the brutality they’ve just witnessed. Michonne, Rick, and Daryl make quick work of the rest of them, but Warren Haynes still has a knife up to Carl’s throat, continues to make threats.

Rick, with Joe’s blood smeared around his mouth, just says “He’s mine.” As Rick approaches, the guy lets go of Carl and tries to give himself up, but Rick’s still feeling the berserker rage. He stabs the electric slide master over and over and over again, straight into commercial break, Carl intently watching the whole time.

So the next morning, it’s right around the scene that was foreshadowed in the cold opening, and everybody’s kind of going through some stuff. Carl and Michonne’s relationship takes another important step – after witnessing what Rick did, they seem to have formed an even tighter, more meaningful bond. After being friends, and distracting each other from the monsters they’re harboring inside, they’ve now become each other’s surrogate. Carl sleeps on Michonne’s lap as she strokes his hair, an adoptive mother and child. That’s good, because they’re apparently going to need it.

Rick and Daryl reach a new level in their relationship as well. After Daryl explains Beth’s disappearance, his connection with Team Sex Offender and his own internal struggle,  Rick becomes a surrogate as well. Taking the place of Merle, he says he’s Daryl’s brother. That brings them close enough for Daryl to say that anybody would have done what Rick did last night, but even Rick knows it’s not true.

And it’s in this moment that Rick is totally at peace with himself. Daryl tries to convince him that Rick wasn’t being himself, but Rick leans into the curve and accepts his own savagery. It’s the most important character beat in Rick’s season, and a sign that we’re going to be seeing a more focused Rick in the future.

Throughout the flashbacks, we keep going back to Hershel trying to get Rick to hang up his guns, for Carl’s sake. And even though we want to believe that Hershel was right, we know that he wasn’t. Though Hershel makes some very good points – after all, Carl did kill a kid when he didn’t really have to. And Rick does get to see a stark dichotomy between his son and a kid his own age, when Patrick plays with Legos while Carl cleans his gun. But ultimately, Hershel is mistaken when he says that Rick’s war is over. Rick’s war is never over. That half-year in the prison was just a cease-fire. Rick will always be at war. The point is that he can’t be at war with himself, and by the end of “A,” we know that’s not going to be a problem for a while.

Still, Carl doesn’t exactly think everything’s cool, and doesn’t want to spend time with Rick, so he goes with his new mom, and it gets heavy. Michonne tells Carl something that she’s never told anyone before, not even Andrea. She explains that her old community was overrun with walkers, her baby Andre taken while her boyfriend and friend were high. Even though they had been bitten, she wouldn’t put them out their misery. She let them turn, and chained them up to punish both them and herself. She thinks she’s a monster, and she and Carl have a lot in common. Though Rick seems more at peace with himself than ever, Carl and Michonne are struggling, trying their best to prop each other up.

As they approach Terminus, they do so with caution, even burying a cache of weapons just in case. Unlike Glenn and Maggie’s group, who approached through the front and a bunch of toothy smiles just waiting to get shot to dust, the Monster Squad goes in surreptitiously, through the back. Eventually, they find about half a dozen hipsters, completely unsurprised that a band of marauders found their way in.

It seems pretty friendly, and they’re welcomed with open arms. They allowed to keep all their weapons wherever they go, they just have to show them – it’s like Right To Carry, but it makes a lot more sense. While Alex gives them a tour of the inviting Sesame Street set that Glenn and Maggie were welcomed into, we see that one of the Terminusites is wearing riot gear from the prison, another wearing Maggie’s poncho. Acting swiftly, Rick draws his gun, grabs Alex, and finds Hershel’s watch in his pocket.

So it turns out it’s not exactly as it seems. For a few minutes, it’s the wild west. Herded by gunfire, Rick and company make their way past a bunch of things marked with an A, including a shipping container where they can hear shouts for help, and into what can only be described as a shrine – hundreds of candles spread across the room, and names written on the floor. On the walls are painted the words “Never Again,” “Never Trust,” and “We First, Always.” Before any of our group can say it should be “Us First, Always,” they head through a door marked A, and outside, where they’re pinned down.

They give themselves up, and head into a shipping container of their very own, again marked with an A. After a few moments, Glenn emerges from the darkness, with Maggie, Bob, Sasha, Tara, Lincoln, Eugene, and Rosita behind them. “A” might as well have stood for A-Team, because this is all Rick needs to wreak havoc on Terminus. “They’re gonna’ feel pretty stupid when they find out,” he says. Abraham asks what, and the new Rick, self-assured Rick 2.0, says “They’re screwin’ with the wrong people.”

Because that’s who they are. They’re the ones who survive.

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