by Thom Yee
So the Jerks ended up being little more than that. Selfish, depraved, rapey jerks, with no long-term story implications and no impact beyond helping to drive home a point that, it turns out, may have actually been building this entire time even despite the seeming pointlessness of the individual season four episodes.
For all of season four’s faults in character, pacing, and truncated seasonal arcs, “A”, the sixteenth and final episode of the season, wound up being pretty good. There was no long-stirring threat that suddenly exploded, no prolonged action set pieces or main character deaths. What the writers decided to do instead is go in a completely different direction than the show has ever gone in before: they gave us what we wanted. They had characters striking down with great vengeance and furious anger. They had characters stop doing stupid things just to serve the plot. They stopped forcing characters to do things in the name of symbolic rather than literal or practical meanings. It may have taken a lot of stupid decisions, a lot of wasted time, and a lot of sh*tty episodes to get here, but all that crap really made everything that happened this episode worth it. Now all the writers have to do is figure out how to pull this off on a regular basis.
We begin with Rick, Carl and Michonne as their camp is ambushed by the Jerks, still seemingly in search of justice over the death of whateverhisnameis (I’m not going to bother looking his name up) that Rick killed a few episodes back. Instead of justice, though, it turns out they’re really just using their codes of conduct to justify their sadistic tendencies as the whole scene starts to go distinctly Deliverance, Carl and Michonne the group’s intended first victims. “Claimed?” Of course Daryl tries to stop them, causing the group to start beating him near to death, all of which brings out Rick’s inner monster as he — in desperation and still too beaten up to respond with superior hand-to-hand combat techniques — rips Joe’s throat out with his teeth, stunning the rest of the Jerks just enough so that Carl, Michonne and Daryl are able to take out the rest of the group. R.I.P., Jerks. We didn’t know you were rapists until now, and now we’re even more glad you’re dead. Rick, Carl, Michonne and Daryl then proceed to Terminus and all of the sh*t starts hitting all of the fans.
There’s a clear separation between “A” and most of the rest of this season in that what many of us would do or would want to happen is what does happen. Faced with failing to protect his son, Rick goes straight for the throat, brutally killing a sadistic mofo (or maybe that should be sofo [as in son]) before straight up murdering the Jerk who was just about to rape his son, stabbing him in the gut and running the knife straight up to his neck, the scene shifting to Carl’s at first frightened and then hardening face as we hear Rick further bludgeoning the now already-dead man. And man, that was satisfying. We wanted those guys to die and die horribly, and they did. And then, instead of walking straight into a trap at Terminus, our group scouted out the area, made preparations in case things don’t go well, and cautiously approached the situation before finding out, as we all suspected, that there is no salvation, only cannibals (which is also a reasonably clever twist on the overall Hunters arc that this half of the season seems to be basing its storylines on). Sure, they’re caught anyway, as the Cannibals (which is what I’ll be calling the people of Terminus) shepherd our fleeing heroes into a shipping container/make-shift prison that also happens to be holding Glenn et al., but there’s something about the scene, something about the composure of the group, and Rick in particular that tells you that they’re not really in trouble and they never were.
You see, by this point in the show, Rick and his group, with just a little knudging and the right leadership, are actually a pretty dangerous group. They’ve survived the walkers, they’ve survived the Governor (twice), and they’re starting to get pretty good at taking what they want. As evidenced by their cautious approach to Terminus, they may finally even be learning from their mistakes. All throughout the episode, we see flashbacks of a happier, simpler time, just after the group had settled into the prison as Hershel convinces Rick to put away his zombie-hunting, supply-running ways to stay at home and farm with Carl for the sake of their sanity. Hershel was convinced, even at the end, on his knees and at sword-point, of man’s better nature as he heard Rick’s pleas to the Governor to put everything that had happened to the side and work together. He wanted to save Rick and relieve him of the burdens he had put on himself for so long. Even though we open this episode with the cold vision of Rick covered in blood as a stark contrast to those hopeful and now long-ago days, even though Rick and Carl and everyone may have become monsters compared to the people they were, what they are now more than anything else is survivors. And, as Rick tells us (adapted from the comic)…
And man, that’s just about the only thing they could’ve done to make me excited for next season.
The Walking Dead “A” final score: 9
Items of Note:
-I wonder if Glenn and co. ate any of the food before finding out what was really going on at Terminus?
-So Beth’s still missing and Daryl implies she’s just gone in a way that doesn’t suggest her recovery should be in anyone’s short-term plans. Anyone else hope they forget that whole kidnapping storyline, à la Peter Petrelli leaving Caitlin in a horrible alternate future that no longer happened?
-See you all next October. Well, probably not all of you. But hopefully way more of you.