There are many ways that a person can become consumed in the zombie apocalypse; the obvious literal consumption by the undead, but there is also the notion of having your mental state consumed by grief, by guilt, by confusion… and The Walking Dead has often been very deft in showing us many of the ways a person can unravel and become something they never thought they could become. This season, the question that has hung over our survivors like a black cloud is the question of whether or not a person can come back from having been consumed in one way or another, and the answer isn’t as simple as a binary yes or no, and Rick has become the manifestation of that answer… yes you can come back, but you won’t return the same.
In “A”, the fourth season finale, we get bookended views of Rick’s journey throughout the season via the use of flashbacks elucidating how he went from the crazed killing machine we knew at the end of the third season to the pacifist farmer trying to do right by his son. It took that calming of his inner demons to better understand the necessity of embracing those very demons and how to not allow them to consume you, but to utilize those darker elements within him to keep those he loves safe.
There has been absolutely no better example of how far he will go to keep Carl and his friends safe than his encounter with Joe and the Claimers (has a band picked up that name yet?). By doing what he needed to do to prevent his boy from being brutally raped, to prevent his and his friends’ death, to prevent evil from reigning supreme in a lawless world filled with chaos and horrors unimaginable in our comfortable and stable lives, Rick Grimes will do what it takes and has now come to terms with the level of savagery needed… and to not allow it to consume him. In fact, he took that literal route and found himself consuming Joe, fighting fire with fire.
It’s almost like a bad Yakov Smirnoff joke… “In Soviet Union, zombie apocalypse consumes the hero… In America, the hero consumes you.”
I’ve said if before, and I will say it again… the best way to view The Walking Dead is to see it from a top down approach, to understand that individual episodes are but parts of the whole, and it is often the whole of the season that will eventually gel into a larger thematic arc. It’s easy for me, or for any critic of the show, to bitch about this detail within an episode or complain about how much time is being devoted to this or to that… but it takes time and eventual perspective to understand how all of those pieces fit into the larger scale, and this season The Walking Dead has finally created something both straightforward in it’s motives and remarkably complex in how each of it’s pieces fit together over time. From the idyllic conditions created by our survivors in the prison, to the outbreak of a chaotic disease, to the collapse of their home at the hands of a madman, to the unraveling of community as the group was disperse into the wilderness to fend for themselves… we’ve seen our heroes endure not one, but multiple challenges with varied results… and thematically they have been tied together with the question posed in the first episode of the season by Clara… can you come back?
In the second season, Shane told Lori that Rick wasn’t built for this world. At the time, that was probably true… but having endured in ways that Shane never could, Rick has shown that not only is he built for this world, but he can retain his humanity (the overall theme of the third season) while matching the brutality surrounding him… and that is how you come back… you embrace the world you live in.
The action with Joe’s gang was stupendous… possibly one of the few times I’ve ever leaped to my feet in anticipation and excitement over a television show, and as a comic reader I was elated as this was a story ripped straight from the books (and I can be heard discussing those points on mine and Grace’s Comic Talk segment on The Walking Dead’Cast)… but it is the story of Terminus that delivers the most meat to chew on as the show heads into its fifth season.
All of our survivors are heading towards Terminus, and each group approaches this beacon of hope very differently. Glenn’s group from the previous episode sauntered right in, filled with hope and the desire for that shattered community… Rick takes a more cautious tack, showing that they have learned from previous mistakes. First, taking a less direct route, then watching for a while to see if anything was off, burying a cache of weapons in the event they may need them later (which they most certainly will), and finally going through the back door. Like Rick says to Gareth on their first meeting, he wanted to see them before they saw him.
Our dispersed heroes are now partially reunited, with the exception of Tyreese, Carol, Judith, and Beth, but are being held captive by what I believe can be safely assumed to be a group of cannibals. Sure, some folks have their doubts, but I see no question in this. Not only have we seen an incredible amount of foreshadowing in previous episodes (all of the paintings that Michonne and Carl were looking at in that house in Claimed were clues: the woman who looks like Mary, the sunflowers, a dog that looked like the dog Daryl met, plus that giant grill that Mary is working over with quite a bit of meat), but as our group was being herded via sniper fire, they were herded past a pile of stripped human bones on a tarp, they ran past another train car with screaming people inside, Glenn and Abe’s Army were being fed powdered milk (refrigeration is an issue in the ZA, so they would have to “farm” parts as needed… keep the victim alive, but take their legs, arms, etc.), and my favorite little tidbit… even though Gareth knew everyone’s names, he referred to them as, “ringleader, archer, samurai, and kid”. Just as Rick taught Carl at the beginning of the season with the pigs… don’t name your food, you will get attached and be unable to consume them… Gareth makes a point of not giving them names for others to hear.
But if there is one single moment that not only defines what this episode meant for me, and points to the future direction the show will take, it is that final line by Rick, “They are screwing with the wrong people” (in the comic it’s, “They are fucking with the wrong people”, way more effective… but… TV). And for as bad-ass as that line is, it’s not the dialogue that sells it… it’s the fact that in a seemingly impossible position, Rick no longer fears others, he knows that he is the one to fear because he has now embraced what he has become and what he is willing to do. To borrow a phrase from Breaking Bad, Rick Grimes is the one who knocks.
Now that the fourth season is wrapped, and Scott Gimple has shown himself to be a master story teller, we must wait until October for the return of The Walking Dead. How will Rick survive the Terminus cannibals, and who will not make it out alive? Who will be served on a plate? Will Tyreese and Carol arrive in time to save the day? Will Beth ever be seen again… or is she, like Daryl said, simply gone?
I am very eager to see what will be coming next and how the future arcs will play out… this season has been my favorite season thus far, I can’t wait to see if Gimple and company can top it. I’m guessing they can. What do you think?
To serve man? It’s a cookbook!
Cornelius J. Blahg