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Quiz time: What were the final words uttered/muttered/sputtered by Rick in the closing seconds of last night's fourth season finale of "The Walking Dead?"
(And I first offer here the obligatory "spoiler alert!" for those who have yet to watch, or don't even realize that Rick survived -- because of course he did, contrary to whatever chatter was going on this season.)
a.) "They just made a major and unfortunate mistake -- unfortunate for them!"
b.) They don't know who they're dealing with -- maybe they should ask Joe."
c.) "I'm hungry . . . for neck."
d.) "Hasta la vista, baby."
e.) None of the above (though a. is a close approximation.)
Correct answer is e.), which means Armageddon approaches again, in the fifth season -- which, by the way, signals yet another major migration for our small survivor pod as they head to Washington. In other words, Terminus is quite obviously not a long-term solution.
What is one to make of Terminus, first seen a couple of episodes ago and which clearly -- to anyone who lived through Woodbury -- was one of those too good to be true places?
Clearly to me it represents some sort of railroadized version of a Nazi death camp -- with its sloganeering and soothing bromides offered by strange unbalanced people who are (were) too smooth, too unrattled, too well-fed.
You expect a sign above the entrance to read: "Arbeit Macht Frei."
And then the railroad cars.
A quick glance at any "Dead" affiliated Wiki indicates that "Terminus" was the original name given to Atlanta, where a railroad terminus was built; I have no idea whether that is true, but it seems compelling enough. Who are these people? Why are they here? Why the enforced enslavement, or is the spirit of the Gov'nah alive and well, in other communities of the living?
What Sunday night's fourth season indicated, or demonstrated, is that Robert Kirkman's overall vision, as delineated by Scott Gimple -- who's done a good job with this brutal franchise as new showrunner -- is like a savage hall of mirrors: The dead aren't the ones to fear, as much as the living. Communities can't form without the requisite distillation of all that is terrible and loathsome in human nature -- the need to conquer, to control, and then ultimately, destroy.
And Rick, recognizing that, has been reduced to his most fundamental nature, too -- ripping out the carotid artery in Joe, while a geyser of blood sprayed his face.
Zounds, that was awful. But it was what this world has become, only worse.
Next season, (apparently) Washington. Our small and brutalized group should feel right at home there.
"The Walking Dead" is back for the second half of its fourth season Sunday. Here, without further babble, is my review. Bottom line: I still love this show, rolling zombie heads and all.
"The Walking Dead," AMC, Sunday, 9 p.m.
What it's about: In the wake of the epic prison battle between "The Governor's" (David Morrissey) forces and those loosely led by Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), there is only death and chaos. The survivors begin to scatter as the "walkers" overrun the prison, now completely abandoned. Nothing -- in other words -- is the same. Battered Rick and son Carl (Chandler Riggs) stumble away to who-knows-what-or-where. Michonne (Danai Gurira) and her trusty katana hack their way through the chaos, too. But what remains of the others -- Glenn (Steven Yuen) or of Maggie (Lauren Cohan) or Daryl (Norman Reedus) or Lilly (Audrey Marie Anderson) or ANYONE? All questions awaiting answers as the second half of the fourth season begins Sunday.
My say: In the 2006 novel by Cormac McCarthy, "The Road" -- later made into the movie of the same name with Viggo Mortensen -- a man and his son pick their perilous way through a post-apocalyptic landscape that is (initially) sculpted only with questions and no answers. That's your scene-setter for Sunday night, too, and quite possibly the balance of the season: Down that long, muddy road where Rick and Carl struggle is most certainly danger -- but what lies at the end?
AMC has said "The Walking Dead" could go on for years and years, so that metaphoric highway now extends to a vanishing point on the horizon. But that tension of not knowing what lies around the next corner, or behind that closed door, or in the shadow of the dark woods is what has always animated "Dead" at its best.
Yet the "not knowing" turns Sunday night into a joy ride of real terror. For, like the survivors, we are all now in an unknown world surrounded (paradoxically) by familiar things -- white picket fences, cans of pudding, spacious homes with spacious, airy porches.
(Carl looks on in joy and wonderment at a wide-screen TV alongside a huge stack of DVDs, then his face clouds over: Oh, right.)
Sunday is brutal, but is also another reset that allows just the briefest light of humor and humanity to penetrate the gloom. And it is terrific.
Bottom line: "Dead" brazenly reinvents itself once again, and the result will have you crawl under the living room couch for safety. (Ah, yes, couches, thank goodness for those.)