[Warning: Spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 4 and the comic book!]
The second half of The Walking Dead's fourth season has been about the journey, with shocking and upsetting twists and turns. But while the road to Terminus has been long, we finally got a peek at the mythical sounding destination last week and we're sure to get a fuller idea of what this latest sanctuary looks like in this week's season finale.
Still, even though it's mere days away, the not knowing is gnawing at us: what is Terminus? Wouldn't it have to be something wicked and vile to live in the world of this show? Make no mistake, while the show isn't absent those spare moments of happiness and ease (eat that whole pudding bucket, little man!), the overriding theme of the show seems to be that while humans will constantly reach for the familiar feel of civilization, it is often a mirage, fleeting, or far worse. So is Terminus a mirage, fleeting, or far worse?
If you use the comics as a broad guide, it's easy to wonder if Terminus may be a cannibal base camp and the home of The Hunters that appeared in the comic book just after the death of Billy; an event that was mirrored in the 14th episode of this season, "The Grove".
In the comics, Rick and company encounter The Hunters while on the way to Washington, but there is no promise of shangri-la and they don't leave plywood breadcrumbs along the course of a railroad track to lure people in. Aside from the informed suspicion that the comics have instilled in us, and a general eerie feeling, there have been few hints as to whether or not we're about to meet the cannibals. That is, until comic creator and show producer Robert Kirkman spoke to EW about Rick Grimes and the season 4 finale.
“This is Rick Grimes being pushed to his absolute limit. And if you think you’ve seen that before, you haven’t. And the Rick Grimes that comes out of this is really going to shock people."
The nature of the second half of this season has robbed us of the chance to keep much of an eye on Rick following the escape from the prison; in the mid-season premiere he was comatose and in the season's 11th episode, "Claimed", he had to fend off the group of nap craving home invaders that Daryl is now slumber partying with by strangling one of them.
Aside from those two episodes, though, we've only seen brief snippets of Rick while showrunner Scott Gimple has adroitly centered his lens on the show's many other characters, which means that we really don't know what Rick might do (besides choke out a dude) if pushed. What would push him, though? Despite (and maybe because of) the events of "The Grove", it seems really unlikely that either Carl or Judith will be put into peril, so what else could "push" Rick to his "absolute limit"? Maybe the potential loss of an innocent?
Beth Greene seemed like a red shirt way back in season 2 when she tried to kill herself back on the farm; but she survived, made it to the prison, and grew as a character. She wasn't Hershel's toughest daughter - that's Maggie - but Beth has her own kind of strength and she was vital to Rick and Carl as one of Judith's primary caregivers in the absence of Lori. That strength was on full display when she and Daryl bonded and worked through their demons in "Still" before Beth was abducted.
Might the sight of seeing Beth in peril, possibly at the hands of cannibals, push Rick beyond the limit so soon after Hershel's death and the loss of the prison? It seems like it could, and if the show follows the comic blueprint, it's easy to see why Kirkman would say that the events of the finale will "shock people", considering the level of brutality unleashed by Rick and the others on The Hunters in the comic after they attacked the group and ate Dale's leg. The thing is, this show has always been about more than a shock factor, so the question is, what would the takeaway for this season be if that is how Gimple, Kirkman, and company choose the end things?
Here's producer Greg Nicotero on the message of this season.
"This entire season was based on the premise of, "Can you do what it takes to stay alive?" Crossing that line between the brutality and the humanizing aspect of life, and can you be compassionate and still survive in this world or are you always going to be a bad guy? In different worlds and different perceptions, who is a good guy and who is a bad guy?"
For 4 seasons, we've seen Rick battle to survive and to stave off the turn before the turn that makes people do heinous things to keep breathing. We've seen this good man be compassionate, we've seen him murder, we've seen him wrestle with both those acts and the losses that stubbornly persist - but though we've come close, we haven't yet seen Rick Grimes turn into an animal, and maybe that conversion is the powerful parting image for this season that contrasts the hope that we saw at the end of last season. All of the posters are asking, "Who will survive?", but maybe the real shock will come from what state they'll be in if they do.
The Walking Dead's fourth season comes to a close on AMC this Sunday @9PM ET