The closing of one door on The Walking Dead invariably results in the opening of an unsettling new storyline.
The fourth-season wrapup of AMC’s apocalyptic zombie drama series provided a strangely satisfying conclusion without really wrapping up anything.
And in a Walking Dead first, there were hardly any walkers killed in the season closer. Instead, most of the on-screen violence was human on human.
All spoiler alerts apply from this point onward.
The entire fourth campaign of The Walking Dead has focused on character-building, starting with the season-opener that found the once strong and united group of survivors lead by sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) separated and cast to the wind following the attack on their prison sanctuary.
Last night’s finale began with a flashback to the good ol’ days back at the prison, with the sage – and since decapitated – Hershel (Scott Wilson) dispensing some of his trademark wisdom to Rick.
Cut to Rick sitting on the hood of a car, covered in blood and clearly shocked at something horrible he has just done.
The timeline then shifts backward slightly to show Rick, son Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Michonne (Dani Gurira) trudging along a country road en route to the supposed survivor Shangri-La known as Terminus.
Out of the blue, Carl asks his father, “Who are we?” As in: Are we the good guys now or the bad guys?
Soon after, the trio is ambushed by a group of thugs that have been tracking Rick since he strangled one of them in abandoned house three episodes before. As it happens, the marauders have Rick’s former compadre Daryl (Norman Reedus) among their ranks.
Daryl pleads for his friends’ lives, but receives only a beating for his efforts. Rick goes all in and goes berserk against the marauders, biting out a junk of their leader’s neck and spitting it out in disgust. Daryl and Michonne dispatch the rest.
As often happens on The Walking Dead, the shocking brutality is immediately followed with a greeting card-like moment: Rick tells Daryl that he is his brother, thereby filling some sort of void that Daryl has felt since his real brother Merle’s death. Aw…
Later in the episode, Michonne reveals to Carl the reason why she originally dragged her child’s father and his friend around as armless, jaw-less zombie walkers: As it turns out, the two men had smoked marijuana and in their incapacitated state had allowed her son to be killed.
Carl responds by telling Michonne that there’s a monster inside of him as well.
More flashbacks are thrown into the mix. Viewers learn that it was originally Hershel’s idea for Rick to abandon violence and become a farmer.
From there, Rick leads the group to Terminus and realizes the compound isn’t quite the safe place it promised to be after he spots one of the guides wearing Glenn’s watch and riot gear.
Rick, Carl, Michonne and Daryl attempt to escape but are immediately surrounded by the Terminus leader Gareth and his goons. Gareth orders the newcomers be put into a train car, where, in a fleeting moment of joy, Rick is reunited with Glenn (Steven Yuen), Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and other members of the former prison survivors.
Still missing in action: Beth, Tyreese, Carol and Rick’s baby daughter Judith.
And since viewers now have to wait at least six months until the next new episode of The Walking Dead, the season finale wrapped with a grim declaration by Rick: “They’re messing with the wrong people.”