So the end of season 4 has finally arrived and even though getting to this point has been a bumpy ride, it is hard to deny how satisfying the finale is. The show has had a hard time balancing all of its elements throughout season 4, but in this one instance it manages to get it right. "A" is not only one of the most tonally consistent episodes there has ever been, it is also the most compelling season finale the show has had.
"A" is a more subtle affair than previous finales. It focuses more on what our characters have become as opposed to where our characters are going. The audience has always know the destination has been Terminus and that it wouldn't be some happy haven for our heroes to go to. There is no surprise in the fact that Terminus isn't what it seems, the audience had figured that out episodes ago. So the showrunners decide to take a different approach and make Terminus the final act instead of the whole episode. That decision was a master stroke and what proceeds the final act is a whole lot of character work that gives this episode a lot more weight and impact.
Rick, Carl and Michonne (later Daryl) are the focus of the episode. We haven't seen them in a while, but it looks like this triumphant trio is having fun at the end of the world. Yes they need food, but they aren't exactly in peril. This is all set up for a conflict that really does hit you like a punch to the gut. We are lulled into a false sense of security and even though the arrival of Joe and his gang has been heavily foreshadowed, the episode still manages to make their appearance a surprise. This is due to the strength of this episode's structure. Heavily focusing on character interaction at the beginning allows the episode to build to the moment Joe turns up. It is a turning point in the episode that is very effective.
Scott Gimple and Angela Kang's script is a solid piece of entertainment, managing to balance everything and giving certain moments emphasis. It is one of the best scripts the show has produced, even if it has a few easily guessable plot points. But as stated before this episode isn't really about the narrative and is more about the characters.
This emphasis on character has been the driving force behind the latter half of season 4 and there have been successful episodes, but "A" just manages to do everything it sets out to do with a confidence the show hasn't shown in a while. It is ballsy to continue to introspectively look at the characters in a finale rather than deliver a set piece. It also helps that Andrew Lincoln is an amazing actor. His Rick is a complex man and he manages to make every piece of dialogue count. He raises the quality of the show to no end. Also both Riggs and Gurira do great things this episode, with both actors giving depth to Carl and Michonne. However it must be said that Reedus does seem to be going through the motions. But at the end of the day it is Lincoln's performance that really helps "A" stand out as an episode.
Another great decision by the showrunners was to give the audience and the characters a question. "Who are we?" is the puzzle that Rick, Carl and Michonne have to deal with this episode. The episode throws in little flashbacks to a simpler time when Hershel was alive and trying to help Rick move onto a different path. These flashbacks work in conjunction with events in the present to show that no matter what happens there is a darkness in Rick that can't be subdued. It is released in the name of protection, but when does it stop being self-defence and start being brutal murder. We are witness to a savage outburst by Rick as he murders the man who was about to rape his son, yes his actions are justified but just how far gone is Rick now? His final words of the episode hauntingly reinforce this idea that Rick and the gang have been through so much that they are no better than the monsters they encounter. This theme has become somewhat of a cliché in the post-apocalyptic genre, but "A" manages to explore it successfully.
Terminus itself still has its mysteries, but it isn't exactly a surprise. Same can be said for Daryl's choices in this episode. However the implications of Terminus are what the audience will come back for. The people of Terminus have caged a wild animal in the form of Rick and that is an exciting prospect.
"A" is a character driven piece that really manages to illuminate its thematic strands without sacrificing character or action. It has some bloody moments that will entertain the gore hounds, but most of gore actually services the plot for once. This is what The Walking Dead should be, a tale of survival and humanity in a horrific world. "A" delivers on this premise completely and although it has a few problems it manages to be the most complete episode the show has had in a while. The future looks bright for The Walking Dead.
10 Happy Hershel's out of 10
Review by @gizmo151183