It’s been a refreshing, meandering, and occasionally ridiculously shocking trek to Terminus for our fractured group of apocalyptic survivors – but at last, we’ve made it!
We knew ahead of ‘The Walking Dead’ finale that, after Glenn, Maggie and company made it first to the so-called sanctuary, others would follow suit, but who was to be next? And what was going to be wrong with these people – what exactly was that way-too-nice woman cooking up in the tease last week?
The finale too, following a therapeutic penultimate episode (we all needed a respite after what happened to the girls two weeks ago), would promise another cleansing of the group; no one lasts long out here, right?
While switching between groups for the last seven episodes since the prison was (thankfully) destroyed, ‘The Walking Dead’ became something far more interesting with varying degrees of success this year. Carol continued her dominant rise up the ranks, doing what needs to be done in this world instead of simply talking about it. Beth and Daryl went on dates, while Maggie and Glenn were simply unwavering in their quest to find each other.
In the past, the show has suffered when stretching out morality issues for too long. Before becoming the entertaining, independent cavalier he is now, Carl was pretty petulant and annoying; that arc took some time, but it’s worthwhile now. This year, Lizzie became dangerously close to stepping into those stubborn shoes, except wait, her story was much shorter, still compelling, and featured, of course, one of the biggest "WTF" moments in the show’s history and immortalized the phrase, “look at the flowers.”
By dividing up the characters into groups, with newcomers and old favorites lumped together, we not only got know people a little bit better, but we also got to miss our protagonists, and maybe forget what we liked about them to begin with.
Case in point: Rick, who definitely seemed like someone who could be killed off in the finale, is still the star of the show, however much Daryl is lovable or Carol determined. We rightfully returned to our longtime protagonists in "A," and were reminded that Rick’s only motivation in this world is to take care of his son. We’re also reminded that Rick is still smarter than most out there, and we’re reminded that somewhere inside Carl is still a child; neither are simply cold-blooded killers.
Still, in the (distant) second most shocking moment of the season, Rick devolved, if only momentarily, into a zombie himself.
We got once again that deranged stare from Rick, with the camera close up on his eyes, the seconds ticking by ever so slowly, as his friend was being beaten and his son had a knife to the throat. And when you hear the belt buckle start to come undone on some unknown disgusting assailant who is pinning down Carl in a moment that became real uncomfortable real fast, well, of course, Rick snaps in incredible fashion. Carl is after jolted back into reality, Daryl is nonplussed, and Michonne impressed.
After settling down, we carry on. Approaching Terminus with cautious and suspicion, Rick juxtaposes last week’s desperate push by the Glen and Maggie crew, who were trusting in signs, hopeful for salvation, and simply relieved upon arrival.
In all though, this wasn’t your standard finale, for better and worse. The anticipated showdown curiously comes 10 minutes in, and by the time you recover from Rick’s neck-biting maneuver, we’re at Terminus and holding our breath again. What’s more, with the entire viewing audience coming into the episode assuming, figuring, awaiting the death of a main character, we’re thrown for a loop.
We’ve also a precedent-setting episode that features nearly a complete lack of zombies; Rick is the only one to take a bite this week, save for a quick scene of one poor soul being devoured in a clearning that only serves to foreshadow the significant chomp to come.
There is a brilliance in that. While not exactly in the best of circumstances, our heroes are all alive at the end! The writers even brought back Hershel in a series of quaint, wholesome, “we get that the present is different than the past” flashbacks. Beth too was there, even though we don’t know where she is now.
So what happens? Well, not much. I mean, it seems that the folks at Terminus are a psychotic, possibly cannibalistic cult, but that was more or less expected. Before being shepherded into a train crate, Rick acutely spotted Glenn's riot gear, Maggie's poncho, and the pocketwatch Hershel passed on to Glenn as a sign of approval. But Rick has his swagger back, and before he calmly whispered set-up words that should be cheesy if they weren’t so stirring ("they screwing with the wrong people"), we know they’ve hid guns outside, and that Carol, Tyreese, and Beth are still out there and presumably on their way. And that Rick is ready for a fight.
So it’s not the ending we are used to; indeed, this feels like it should be leading up to a finale and not one itself. It’s unsatisfying in only that we have to wait some time for what comes next, but it caps off a solid, welcome, character-driven season that isn’t simply old hat.
Sadly though, we’re also reminded the only thing that we ever know for sure is that the show is never in a hurry – ‘Walking’ is right there in the title.