Action-packed, intense, spine-chilling—AMC’s The Walking Dead draws millions of viewers each week with its dynamic storylines, sensational twists and turns, and heart-stopping terror. Last Sunday’s episode was no exception. Across the nation, die-hard ‘dead heads’ witnessed, arguably, one of the most intense season finales in Walking Dead history.
The Walking Dead, starring Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, and Steven Yeun, follows a group of survivors living in post-apocalyptic Georgia. After a mysterious outbreak of disease, zombies, otherwise known as “walkers,” roam the world, spreading sickness, death, and hysteric paranoia. As characters struggle to survive the tumultuous conditions, some sucumb to the horror, while others persevere through the hardest of times.
Over the course of the past four seasons, viewers have witnessed a myriad of heartbreaking deaths and monumental turning points. This season, beloved characters perished. In the midseason finale, fans mourned Hershel Greene, the sagacious and warm-hearted farmer we met long ago in season 2. When the Governor attempts to overtake the prison, he uses Hershel as a hostage and decapitates him to prove a point to Rick, inciting a bloody and violent battle between the two opposing sides.
After the midseason finale, viewers witnessed the deaths of Lizzie and Mika. In a shocking scene of raw emotion, Carol executes Lizzie after discovering she has killed her younger sister Mika. Through Lizzie’s eyes, walkers are people who are slightly “different.” With her blurred vision of reality, Lizzie renders herself blind to the truths surrounding her. Carol, who lost her own biological daughter in season 2, had to, once again, endure the painful and agonizing heartbreak of losing a child when she executes Lizzie in the woods.
The Walking Dead concluded its fourth season with another shocking finale. The episode began with a flashback of the prison, showing Rick strategically slaughtering walkers one by one. As Hershel watches Rick remorselessly killing, the scene jumps to the present, showing Rick trembling in shock and soaked in blood. As conditions worsen and food becomes scarce, Rick, Michonne, and Carl focus all their time and energy on finding Terminus, the so-called “sanctuary” they hope will offer them food, safety, and – above all—peace of mind.
Along their journey, they run into Joe and his gang. Earlier in the season, Rick killed a member of Joe’s gang when he attempted to escape a building. Hoping to avenge his friend’s death, Joe threatens Rick, Michonne, and Carl. However, Darryl intervenes, claiming that they are good people. Joe orders the gang to beat Darryl to death, and a fight breaks out. In order to protect his loved ones, Rick brutally stabs one man and uses his teeth to the tear into the flesh of another man’s neck. This scene is a turning point for Rick, showing the lengths he will go to protect his own.
In the season finale, we see Rick in moments of triumph, defeat, and vulnerability. The episode traces Rick’s journey using flashbacks that draw parallels between the past and present. In an AMC interview, Robert Kirkman, the co-author of the comic series and a producer of the television show stated, “This is Rick Grimes being pushed to his absolute limit. And if you think you’ve seen that before, you haven’t. The Rick Grimes that comes out of this will shock people.”
Some key themes of this season were identity, humanity, loss, and rebirth. For the sake of survival, characters have had to make extreme, gut-wrenching decisions. The past four seasons have been an interminable rollercoaster of loss, pain, and terror. However, Rick and the group have managed to hold on to hope. Through the flashbacks of this past episode, viewers witnessed a rebirth—a rebirth of what it is to be human and a rebirth of what it is to have hope.
When Rick, Michonne, Carl, and Darryl arrive at Terminus, they encounter a seemingly peaceful place, but as they search deeper, a harrowing truth unfolds. Amidst the planted flowers is a barbecue. Realizing that one of the Terminus residents has Glenn’s pocketwatch and another is wearing Maggie’s poncho, Rick pulls his gun, and a shoot out begins. Rick, Michonne, Carl, and Darryl flee with haste. As they run through a series of courtyards, they encounter bloody entrails and human skeletons, insinuating there are cannibalistic activities taking place at Terminus. When the residents corner Rick and the group, they load them into a train box. Here, they reunite with Glenn, Maggie, and other members of the prison group.
Following the finale, many questions remain regarding the truth and implications of Terminus. Because everyone is infected with the virus, and death triggers the virus, what are they serving at Terminus if they are in fact a band of cannibals? The dead eat the living, but can the living eat the dead? If they can’t, does that mean those living at Terminus are eating live people? And if so, what lies in store for Rick and the group?
As fans rewind from the drama of the season finale, many anxiously await the fall premiere. By definition, terminus means a final ending point. However, this season finale was more of a beginning, rather than an end. A beginning riddled with uncertainty, but nevertheless, a new beginning.