Warning: spoilers if you’re not up to date with AMC’s zombie series!
After splitting Rick and the survivors apart, The Walking Dead spent the back half of the season gradually steered them all toward one place, the aptly named “Terminus.” And as most savvy viewers expected, it isn’t the utopian safe haven the survivors hoped it might be. The full extent of what’s going on hasn’t been revealed yet, but the finale made it pretty clear that, whatever it is, it ain’t good. It was more of a cliffhanger ending than the show has typically done, and the dire situation Rick and the others were left in is reflected perfectly by the first teaser poster for the next season, which you can see above. It’s all about survival.
Speaking to EW, Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman said:
We kind of wanted to leave this season with a little more punch than we’ve left it in past years. I think the no cliffhanger thing has worked for us so far but I personally as a viewer have always been a big fan of season-ender cliffhangers and I enjoy that anticipation when that last minute rolls by and you’re going ‘WHAT THE HECK? OH, COME ON!’
The season finale was a major turning point for Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln). After having tried to build a safe, semi-comfortable life for himself, his son, and the others, Rick has had all that torn away. When it comes to a head and Rick is facing the possible death and violation of Carl, he snaps. In one of the show’s most brutal moments, he tears one assailant’s throat out with his teeth and then guts another like a pig. The second act, especially, wasn’t actually that gory because we didn’t see much, but the act itself speaks volumes. Rick wasn’t just dispatching this guy out of self-preservation. He was taking vengeance, killing him in a painful and horrific way because he had threatened Rick’s child. This is a very different Rick than we’ve seen so far, and one I know many fans hope is the definitive new Rick going forward.
Kirkman tells EW:
…in this episode he kind of has to become a monster, otherwise something terrible is going to happen to Carl, possibly all of them are going to die. It’s him being pushed to his breaking point and him realizing no, this is the world we’re in and I have to be in this world so now I’m going to do whatever I have to do.
He also points out that this dark turn for Rick actually gave the cliffhanger ending an exciting, anticipatory element because we’ve now seen what he’s capable of, and the startling violence earlier in the episode gives his line, “They’re screwing with the wrong people,” a weight it wouldn’t have had earlier in Rick’s evolution. “This is the Rick Grimes that they need in that train car,” says Kirkman. “And this is the Rick Grimes that the people of Terminus should not have encountered. It is the exact wrong time for them to encounter this guy.”
The finale obviously left us with a lot of questions, notably the whereabouts and status of Tyreese, Carol, Judith, and Beth. Kirkman wasn’t offering any hints at all about them, but he did touch on the other big question mark: what the hell is up with these Terminus people, and are they based on preexisting characters or stories from the source material? One popular theory is that they’re the series’ version of a group of cannibals from the comics. Kirkman wouldn’t confirm or deny, obviously, but he did reassure fans that they won’t have to wait long to find out answers once the series returns. “We’re not going to be keeping that close to the vest for too very long,” Kirkman says. “So in our big season 5 premiere we’ll get some answers.”
Finally, he threw a bone — or a challenge — to the fans, revealing that the character Gareth (Andrew J. West), who seems to be one of the Terminus group’s leaders, is in fact based on a character from the comics. “So there are some pieces of him in the comic book series that you could dig out if you were a bit of a detective.” Given that West will become a series regular next season, there’s no question he’ll play a major role, likely taking on the primary antagonist role formerly filled by The Governor (David Morrissey).
The Walking Dead will return to AMC sometime in fall 2014.