The Walking Dead season finale may not have been the most exciting episode, but here’s why it was a brilliant one: (Spoilers, obviously…)
In case you haven’t figured out what Terminus is, well, how to put this delicately… it’s the place where the most deviant (or most resourceful, depending on how you look at it) of humans have set up shop to engage in their own special way of surviving the zombie apocalypse. Yes, they’re cannibals.
But what’s so brilliant about the episode is how it never actually spells that out for you (wasn’t even mentioned on Talking Dead either), while at the same time it had been blasting you with foreshadowing throughout the entire episode:
Take, for example, all of the food references throughout the episode, from the flashbacks of Herschel talking to Rick at the prison about starting a farm, to Rick and Michonne’s conversation at the campfire where Rick says, “All we ever talk about is food.”
And then, the dialogue. Oh, the dialogue! The brilliance here actually started with the final line of the previous episode, when Mary walks out from behind the grill to welcome Glenn and his company of weary travelers, and with a vibe that leaves you with the feeling that something’s a little off, she says,’ “Let me make you a plate.” Think about it. Anyone who grew up with a sci-fi fan for a Dad, like I did, may remember that old Twilight Zone episode called “How to Serve Man,” about aliens coming to earth to serve the human populace, as is presumed by the book of the same title that their leader is frequently seen carrying around? But oops, it turns out that “How to Serve Man” is actually — wait for it — a cookbook! Similar wordplay cleverly crafted here with Mary’s line, and I just love that. Indeed, she wants to make each weary traveler a plate… for herself and the others in Team Terminus to have a nice feast of (I’m assuming with a side of fava beans and a nice chianti). More clever wordplay abounds when, in the finale episode, Michonne asks Gareth (Team Terminus’ leader) why they let everybody just come in? His response, “When people become a part of us, we get stronger.” (Soylent Green flashbacks, anyone?) He even goes on to say, “That’s why we put up signs. It’s how we survive.” Yes, it’s how they survive, indeed.
Then of course we had the highly unsettling visual of the racks and racks of ribs laid out on the tarp as Rick and company were being herded toward the train car by gunshots aimed at their feet. Maybe this wasn’t so much as foreshadowing as it was just a gross and unsettling image in hindsight. But still, it gets cool points.
Even Rick’s tearing at Joe’s jugular with his teeth — at first you just feel disturbed at seeing Rick basically reduce himself to the tactics of a Walker in order to survive. But what we’re being shown is significant: Human teeth tearing at human flesh. In hindsight one can see how this, too, foreshadows the cannibalism that awaits our protagonists.
But perhaps my favorite bit of foreshadowing happens early on in the episode, near the beginning. It’s when Rick retrieves the dead rabbit he’s snared and brings Carl over to the trap to instruct him on the inner workings of it: preparing the trench, placing the noose inside, camouflaging it with leaves and twigs — all clearly spelling out certain death for any unsuspecting critter. This beautifully foreshadows what happens to all of them at episode’s end. They’ve been seduced by the signs at Terminus for quite some time as they’ve worked their way along the path to find it. And with the simple push of its unlocked gates (or the scaling of its fences, as it were with this crew), into their own trap they’ve roamed to be met with the same intended fate as their own previous night’s dinner.
So don’t hate on this superbly crafted episode. It’s the gateway to a new season which will undoubtedly explore the nature of a creature far worse than flesh-eating zombies — the savage human — and will do what The Walking Dead does so well… challenge your perceptions of morality and the concepts of good and evil, in a world where everyone is really just trying to figure out how to survive.