The Walking Dead Recap, 4×16: “A”
Nope! You get a D-, episode. Nice try.
Last time on The Walking Dead: everyone’s on their way to Terminus, and a few have already made it there. The compound is fairly empty save for lots of flowers and nice ladies offering food, so naturally we’ve all been gripped with a terrifying sense of overwhelming dread.
We open at… the… prison? Maggie, Glenn, and Rick step out of a car that is very nice and most definitely product placement, and Maggie goes to great her mysteriously not-dead father. She’s wearing riot gear. I’m gonna go ahead and guess this is a dream sequence — but also, she should never stop wearing that riot gear. Pretty much everyone who isn’t Doctor Mullet looks 100% hotter in that stuff.
Carol, Tyreese, and Carl walk past as Rick heads to the gate to stab walkers in the face. Hershel looks on approvingly. I think. He’s very inscrutable and also dead, so it’s hard to get a read on him.
Rick goes to stab his first walker, and all of a sudden he wakes up. He’s actually hunched over next to a broken down truck. He also has blood caked on his face. Great! That’s not foreboding or anything!
After the cold open we’re back to before Rick went through some more stuff and things. He’s sitting around a small campfire with Michonne and Carl. Michonne continues to be a better parent than Rick, even when she’s not actually doing anything. Carl wants to know if they’re going to tell the people at Terminus their whole life story, and Rick answers that they’ll tell them “who we are.” “But who are we?” Carl asks. Really, kid? You’ve got no time for an existential crisis right now.
Speaking of which, they come across a walker in that exact moment, dispatch of it quickly — well, Michonne does, because she’s the best — and check on the traps to find a dead rabbit for later. Between this show and Arrested Development, I think I have a very unrealistic notion of what dead rabbits looks like. They always seem too floppy in some places and not floppy enough in others for some reason? But anyway, Rick starts teaching Carl how to make one of these traps: by hiding the noose in a pile of leaves against a “funnel” shaped part of the trail, “so any animals that come by have to run this way.” You know, straight into the trap. The trap. Gee, I wonder if we shouldn’t all be paying very close attention to what is the most obvious foreshadowing I’ve ever seen?
Suddenly someone starts shouting for help deep into the forest, and Carl goes running towards it like the scared little rabbit he is, with Rick and Michonne in hot pursuit. They come across a guy in glasses who’s been surrounded by walkers and Carl raises his weapon, but Rick pulls him away and out of sight, saying that they can’t help him. Which, admittedly, they can’t, because one of the walkers has already chewed right past his prescriptions lenses and into his eyeball. They go running back to the train tracks and slice their way through some more walkers in their way when–
Flashback time! It’s Hershel again. He’s waking Rick up at the prison, because he needs help with something that presumably does not require guns. I suspect this is the moment when Rick learns to farm.
Back to present walker-smashing. They’ve successfully escaped and are now heading up the road when they come across what I believe is where Doctor Mullet’s team found the car last week. They make camp near an abandoned truck and have a nice whiny discussion that night about how food is all they ever talk about anymore. I mean, I guess you could start a book club, Rick, but I don’t know how popular that would be with all the things that want to kill you.
Speaking of wanting to kill you, look who’s found your camp! It’s King Solomon and his gang of angry bikers.
Biker King also seems to think it’s New Year’s Eve for some reason, but I seriously can’t tell if he’s being rhetorical or if he’s just been keeping track of time since the turn. Either way, he’s pissed, and starts counting down for the “ball drop” — AKA the moment he gets to shoot Rick in the head — until Daryl turns the corner and offers himself up as tribute to ensure Rick and Michonne’s safety. The King points out that good people don’t strangle other guys in bathrooms and calls Daryl a liar, which gives all the other bikers license to wail on him. The biker king then tells Rick that after they beat Daryl to death they’re going to rape Michonne anyway. Oh, and then Carl, and then they’ll kill Rick.
Hey, listen up, show writers. We’re already living in a fantastical hellscape of a zombie apocalypse here. Do we really to dip into the “let’s threaten to rape some marginalized characters so that the white guy can be sad” territory here? I wasn’t a fan of it the last time the bikers brought it up, and I wasn’t a fan of the implications behind Beth’s abduction, and I’m super not a fan of it now that it’s coming to a head here. At least when you did that double child-murder in “The Grove,” it was new and interesting types of fucked up. Rape threats against women and young boys are really, agonizingly old at this point, because they kind of happen to actual real people a lot — and you’re not exactly writing Law and Order: Special Victims Unit here, so you don’t have to use them. You can find something else to prove that these are bad people we’re dealing with.
Either way, White Guy saves the day by… doing something. I can’t even actually tell how he managed to get the gun away from his head because of the stupid close-up on his dumb face, but he does. And then when King Biker tries to subdue him in a bear hug, he sinks his teeth right into the guy’s neck and pulls away with a huge blood-spurting chunk of it. See, that’s new kinds of fucked up! Isn’t that so much better than trying to rape a lady, guys? Now I feel gross in a way that won’t make me afraid to walk alone at night!
It’s so fucked up, in fact, that all the biker guys literally stop to stare, giving Michonne, Daryl and Carl ample time to fight back. Carl still gets grabbed by the same creepy biker, but Rick comes after him with a fiery vengeance and eviscerates him. Man, Carl doesn’t even get to kill his own would-be rapist? That was the one thing I would have liked to see, if we were going to go down this stupid rape threat route. Way to take back the night, Rick.
Okay, are we done with rape now? Good. We’re back at the prison, and Hershel is making plans to domesticate the nearby pigs and horses. Yup, he’s teaching Rick how to farm. Everything’s about freakin’ Rick, huh?
We’re now halfway through the episode and we still haven’t made it to Terminus. Instead we’re back on the Rick from the beginning of the episode. Somehow it’s even worse, now that I know his whole deal is that he feels bad after killing the hell out of all those guys. Stop feeling bad, dude. You should feel very okay about that killing.
Inside the car, Carl is sleeping off his trauma as Michonne looks on. Outside, Daryl is patrolling. He sits down to tell Rick his sob story about losing Beth and saving them, and not understanding just how bad the bikers were when he decided to tag along. Then Rick calls him his brother and they both share some delicious manpain as they outline their number one priority: keeping Carl safe.
Later, they’re back on the trail, and Rick finally asks if Michonne is okay. Did you not ask before, dude?? Then, when she says yes, he tells her that’s he’s okay without being asked. GOD DAMN IT, RICK, NOT EVERYTHING IS ABOUT YOU.
“I know,” Michonne says. “How” Rick asks. “Because I’m okay, too,” Michonne says. What I’m taking from this is that Michonne should be a lot more messed up because oh yeah she was the one of those people that almost got raped, so if she’s okay, then Rick can just get over himself.
They reach Terminus by sundown, finally, though they go through the woods away from the entrance so they can do some reconnaissance. Carl decides to go with Michonne instead of Rick, and when she asks him why, he remains silent. So she tells him about how her son Andre died: they went to a refugee camp that was in steep decline, and it got overrun by walkers while she was away on a food run. Mike and Terry were high while it happened, apparently. Where did they get drugs from, though? Did they really have to be high? Was that necessary, writers? They couldn’t have just been woefully unprepared?
Anyway, then Michonne let them turn so they could be her zombie buddies and keep her safe from the other walkers, and we know the story from there. “I was gone for a long time,” she says. “But then Andrea and your dad brought me back. And you did.” She goes on to say that she’s seen the way he’s been looking at Rick since the attack the night before, and that he doesn’t have to be afraid of either of them. But the problem isn’t that Carl’s afraid of Rick, it’s that he’s afraid of disappointing Rick, because deep down he thinks he’s a terrible person with terrible thoughts — about his rapist, I think?
Speaking of which, time for another rant: if we’re going to go the “let’s threaten some characters with rape,” route, the absolute least you could do is let these characters be as open and honest as possible about the experiences they go through afterwards. This exchange between Michonne and Carl could have been really fantastic, but instead it felt intentionally vague, and that diluted its possible impact considerably. I had to watch it twice just to figure out what Carl was even saying. Hell, if someone — anyone — had even used the word “rape” through this entire episode, I would be pleasantly surprised. Don’t bring up the very idea of rape if you aren’t prepared to talk about it without couching it in metaphors, is my point.
Back to the action, finally. Rick buries some weapons in the woods “just in case,” and then he and Daryl descend on the camp with weapons drawn. There’s a woman speaking into the radio with an incredibly creepy voiceover that sounds straight out of a dystopian YA film adaptation, and there are people working in the warehouse in front of them. Of course, Rick and Daryl walk right up to them and say hello. After establishing that they aren’t here to rob anyone, one guy, Gareth, steps up, and says the exact same opening line that Mary gave the other gang last week. He brings up another guy, Alex, to show them around. They look like they’ve developed a start-up social media network together, and they concern me.
First, they need to put down their weapons. Michonne does not like this idea, because she’s not an idiot. But they all do it anyway, and the two pat the crew down to check for hidden guns and knives. “Hate to see the other guy,” Alex says, noting Daryl’s wounds. “Did they deserve it?” “YES,” Carl says immediately, and Rick gives him an incredibly strange look. Rick, you were there that night, right? That guy wanted to rape your son. He absolutely 100% deserved that gruesome death of his. Don’t act like it’s weird to hear that coming out of your son.
Anyway, everybody gets their weapons back and follows Alex outside to meet Mary (who is played by Denise Crosby, yes, so good job to the bunch of Trekkies who figured that out last week). She congratulates them for entering in the back door. As they’re talking, Rick notices something: the chain a pocket watch in Alex’s pants pocket. Oh boy, it must be Hershel’s pocket watch — the one he said he gave Glen two flashbacks ago. So of course he does something stupid and puts a gun to Alex’s throat, demanding to know where he got the watch.
Speaking of flashbacks, let’s have another one! Patrick is back, so good job for that kid getting another day’s worth of work. He’s playing with LEGO, which he’s trying feebly to justify to Rick. Dude, don’t. Look at yourself. Look at your glasses. You don’t need a reason to like LEGO. We know.
Rick then does the same thing that Hershel did to him, telling Carl to leave his gun and help him farm. Aw, look at how idyllic and adorable!
Back to reality. Alex tells the snipers on the roof to stand down. He got the watch off of a dead guy, he says. “What about the riot gear and the poncho?” Rick asks. Those were from… other dead guys? if Alex and Gareth were running a social media network, Alex would definitely be the behind-the-scenes man, because he is not very good at this whole confrontation thing. Gareth, on the other hand, is creepily David Karp smooth at this. He tells them that it’s obvious they don’t trust him anymore, and all hell breaks loose as the snipers take aim and the gang goes running. The snipers are terrifyingly bad shots, though. Like, Stormtrooper levels of bad. There’s also a ridiculous amount of bullet holes in the walls, too, as if they’ve done this before… a lot…
And then they run past this giant pile o’bones…
And a storage container full of people, into a weird candle-filled shrine to selfishness that says stuff like “Never again” and “We First. Always”…
And finally they end up surrounded on all sides, and David Karp tells Rick that if they don’t all go into the train car, they’ll kill Carl, and he’ll end up in there anyway. I am so sick of people using Carl as a walking negotiation tactic, guys. But of course he complies, and they all go into the train car to find that Glenn, Maggie, Sasha, Bob, and the new guys are all stuck here, too, waiting to get eaten by the Sawney Bean clan or whatever. Hooray.
All in all, I was not happy with this episode, in case you couldn’t tell from the many times I pulled this recap over to talk about how not to write about rape. If we step aside from that particular aspect of the narrative, however, this season finale still managed to do everything wrong that this second half of the season had been doing right up until now: it rushed a much anticipated reveal in favor of poorly thought out dialogue and flashbacks that didn’t actually explain anything about what the characters were going through, and spend most of it’s time on what Rick was feeling even though nobody cares what Rick is feeling.
In fact, it didn’t feel like a season finale at all. It felt like the second episode of a season. Not that a season finale has to have pants-wetting action or anything, and I don’t even mind the cliffhanger, but at least some character development would have been nice, and I honestly can’t say that Rick is all that much different than he was at the beginning of the episode, even taking into account that he ripped a guy’s throat out. In fact, I would argue that Carl has actually regressed since the beginning of this half-season, because now he’s gone from the interesting person he was when Rick was in his healing coma back to a passive boy-shaped object to keep safe under any circumstances. We’ve gone completely back to square one, in that I feel more obligated than excited to watch next season again.