(NEW YORK) — On Sunday night’s fourth season finale of AMC’s The Walking Dead, Rick, Carl, Daryl and Michonne finally reach Terminus, the mysterious location teased as a safe haven, however, after a death-defying journey, the season ends with them going from the frying pan into the fire — and Rick smiling against all odds.
The episode was full of flashbacks to earlier episodes, when the prison became a farm, giving fans a chance to see Hershel again. The glimpses back were interspersed with Michonne, Carl and Rick camping out on their way to Terminus. They hear a man screaming for help, but find him surrounded by walkers, and they’re unable to do anything but watch.
Later, as Carl slept in an abandoned SUV they found, Rick and Michonne are set upon by dudes with guns — friends of a man Rick killed in an earlier episode. Daryl emerges from the shadows to try to stop the men he thinks are his friends, only to have their leader, Joe, turn his men on him for trying to save Rick et al.
Joe informs Rick that he’s going to be the last to die, after his men are finished beating Daryl to death, then raping Michonne and Carl. A still-weakened Rick attempts to fight back, but is outmatched — until Joe pulls him close, and Rick goes walker on him, by chomping through Joe’s jugular.
Seeing the savage act distracts Joe’s men. Michonne turns the gun at her head under the chin of her assailant, and after Daryl stomps his attacker to death, Rick singles out the man who threatened his son, and cuts him crotch to throat.
The next morning, the gang reaches Terminus to find a group of 20-somethings and an older woman who’d been sending the mysterious messages about Terminus. A thankful Daryl bonds with a bloodied Rick, and Michonne reassures Carl, who slept in her arms, and doesn’t know how to take his dad’s savagery — because it saved their lives.
The gang gets to Terminus and their new hosts, mostly 20- and 30-somethings, remain friendly but cautious, even offering them meat from a barbecue.
In short order, the cop in Rick kicks in. He spots Hershel’s old pocket watch on one resident, and another item of Glenn’s riot gear on another. The residents try to explain the finds away, but Rick quickly pulls a gun on one of his hosts, getting him in a headlock. Things go from bad to worse when their formerly gracious hosts start shooting, corralling them past some seriously creepy piles of bones and past the screams of apparent prisoners. Eventually, Rick and the gang are cornered, and corralled into a train car — where they meet Glenn, Maggie, Sasha and Bob, and other survivors from around the way, including Tara and Abraham.
When all appeared lost, a newly confident Rick smiles to end the episode, and the season, saying, “They’re gonna feel pretty stupid when they find out…they’re screwing with the wrong people.”
The episode did end on a cliffhanger of another sort: no word on what happened to Tyreese, Carol, Beth and baby Judith — though the sharp-eyed might notice trampled boxes of formula that had been secured for the baby were seen in the Terminus camp.
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