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[Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the season-four finale, “A,” of AMC’s The Walking Dead and the comic series it is based on.]
AMC’s The Walking Dead capped off its fourth season Sunday with a bloody and deadly finale that set up a mysterious new storyline to launch the zombie drama into its previously announced fifth season.
The hour did not shy away from violence. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) took a bite out of Joe’s (Jeff Kober) neck and ripped his throat out when the leader of a band of “claimers” had a gun pointed at his head while a member of the marauders was moments away from raping his son, Carl (Chandler Riggs). Following that deadly exchange, Rick, Carl, Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) — who helped save the former sheriff’s life — made their way to Terminus, approaching the former train station with extreme caution.
Much like Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Glenn (Steven Yeun), Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), Eugene (Josh McDermitt), Rosita (Christian Serratos), Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.), Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Tara (Alanna Masterson) were, Rick’s mini group were greeted with open arms and the offer of food and shelter as the community had been billed as a “sanctuary for all” and “those who arrive, survive.” After sneaking in the back way and meeting Gareth (Greek’s Andrew J. West), the head of Terminus, Rick becomes instantly suspect when he spots Hershel’s pocket watch — which he had gifted to Glenn — hanging from the waist of one of the Terminus guys, with another sporting Maggie’s poncho and the riot gear Glenn had before passing it along to Eugene.
The subsequent shootout finds Gareth’s gang aiming at Rick and company’s feet and leading them through what it turns out is a massively creepy Terminus. As they run from room to room, they pass a massive pile of what appears to be human bones — including a ribcage — as well as a super creepy candle room where what could be the names of victims and their personal effects forming a circle of memorial in a room scrawled with possible warnings to strangers.
The season comes to a close when Rick, Daryl, Carl and Michonne are forced into a small railcar where they’re reunited with Glenn, Maggie, Abraham, Eugene, Rosita, Bob, Sasha and Tara. With seemingly little hope for survival, a newly empowered Rick declares, “They’re screwing with the wrong people” — an almost direct quote from the comics after Rick’s group comes face to face with a group of cannibals. (For a full recap and analysis of how the episode compares with the comics, click here.)
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with showrunner Scott M. Gimple and executive producer Robert Kirkman (who created the comics on which the series is based) to break down the finale and preview what’s ahead in season five. (Gimple will return as showrunner and pen the season-five premiere. Kirkman will write the second episode.)
Scott, your first season as showrunner is in the books. What was the most valuable lesson you learned?
Gimple: You can do irrefutably impossible things with the right amount of planning and support from intelligent and hardworking people and pizza.
Season four explored the things people do to stay alive. What’s the theme of season five?
Gimple: Rick said, and before that Robert said it in the comics: Are we too far gone to be people anymore, to actually be human beings, to be able to relate to one another on an emotional level, to be able to live a real humanistic and emotional life — are we too far gone? Next season really is who do we become after that? Once that question is answered for ourselves, who are these people? That idea will be explored a few different ways.
Kirkman: We’re ending on a cliffhanger in season four. We’re going to be dealing with Terminus in a big way as soon as we come back. We’re also going to be dealing with a more capable and prepared Rick Grimes coming out of what he’s experienced in this episode. He’s going to go into another really awesome direction.
This season was a remix of the comics. Will you continue with that approach in mind?
Gimple: Absolutely. As we said during our first conversation, in “Pretty Much Dead Already” when Sophia comes out of the barn, that’s a remix. If we use verbatim from the comic, that’s awesome. And if we have to change it, that’s an opportunity to tie character and theme to it in different ways. There are ways we even chose to remix it, like with Lizzie and Mika, to find ways to take things that Robert did. He long played that [with Ben and his brother, Billy] in the comic, and we can do the same thing even a bit longer than he did it just because I liked the way he did it in the comic and I wanted to turn it up that much more.
The back half of season four featured more individual character exploration and some stand-alone stories. Will season five follow a similar structure?
Kirkman: I don’t think this show is going to settle into one formula. We’ll continue to tell different stories here and there. There may be some individual episodes that focus on a smaller group or one character. But I don’t think it’ll become the norm. We’ll continue doing what we always do: to try and break new ground with every season.
Where will season five pick up? Will there be a time jump?
Kirkman: That remains to be seen. A time jump would be a bit jarring, but maybe that’s an interesting way to do things. They’ll either be in that train car or there will be a time jump. I guess there could possibly be other options, but I’m not going to nail anything down.
What kind of discussions did you have with AMC about telling a cannibalism story?
Gimple: I don’t believe we’ve totally, completely, definitively described or illustrated those people as cannibals. They’re up to no good, but I saw no people being eaten. There are absolutely piles of human bones there. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they ate those people. People have died there, and they are up to awful things there; whether or not it’s cannibalism, we’ll find out pretty quickly. That episode does not definitively tell you whether or not they’re cannibals.
Gareth seems similar to Chris, the head of the so-called Hunters from the comics. Would you say those two characters have anything in common?
Gimple: They have very similar hair. (Laughs.) That’s as far as I would go. I’m not going to say people are right or wrong, but Gareth certainly isn’t Chris from the comics unless Chris was lying to us about his past, which he may have. Chris unloaded what happened in his past in some detail, but I can’t confirm or deny.
Kirkman: It’s possible; there are some similarities there. That’s all I’ll say.
The people at Terminus have a boneyard and an ample supply of food — with some speculating that the food Mary was cooking in the penultimate episode looking a bit like limbs. Thoughts? Where would they get all that food if Rick can barely find a rabbit?
Gimple: It very well could be cannibals. If it was, I hope people would be excited about it. And if it wasn’t, I’d hope they’re not too bummed out. There’s even the middle ground, which is the remix approach. It might be right and wrong.
Kirkman: It’s entirely possible that the only thing Rick can find is a rabbit because Terminus has some sort of systematic hunting methods. I wouldn’t read too much into being offered food, simply because it’s a very good gesture and an easy way to build trust, especially when people are coming out of the wilderness for the most part. Those people would be hungry, and if the “Terminans,” or whatever we’re calling them, appear to be kind and accommodating, offering them food would be the natural thing to do.
So it’s not Beth on the grill as many are speculating?
Gimple: She may be on the grill. Or that may be a lovely cut of flank steak with the flank being a cow, goat, sheep or deer.
Kirkman: The more prevalent a theory is and the more people who have keyed in on it makes it the least likely one to be true.
What’s the deal with the boneyard and the candle room that seems like a memorial with words of warning to strangers? All signs point to cannibals with some sort of conscience.
Gimple: We will get more of that in episode 501. It looks like a memorial, and they could be super weird people who memorialize people they victimize, or it could be that something happened to them.
Kirkman: That possibility is there. The people of Terminus have a great many secrets that will be revealed. They’ve proven themselves to be fairly dangerous. Whether or not they are actually cannibals remains to be seen. Seeing Gareth and Rick and the people of Terminus and our survivors go head to head is going to be interesting. There is a very deep, dark and storied history to Terminus and how these people came to be that will be revealed in season five. There are an enormous amount of hints here and there in the finale that you could freeze frame and study and dig into over the span of months between the end of season four and the beginning of season five that will in some cases give you some pretty good hints and other cases be deliberately misleading as we intend it.
The Cannibals story ended in the comics when they “ate” Dale after he’d already been bitten. Bob has an injury from The Governor’s shooting attack that was compounded when a walker took a bite out of his bandage. Could this be something you explore next season?
Kirkman: Or there could be no story there. He was injured in the shootout at the prison and had the bandage, and it seems like the bite saves him, and that could be the end of that story.
The past couple episodes have been extremely dark, with Lizzie’s and Mika’s deaths and Carl’s near rape in the finale, further proving how dangerous this world is for children. How will these experiences change how our core cast treats kids going forward?
Kirkman: They’ve seen that children can be very vulnerable in many ways — emotionally, physically — and they can be a source of extreme danger, as we’ve seen with Lizzie. They’ll be a bit wearier moving forward of how they encounter children and what to do with them. We’ll be seeing a bit more of that moving forward.
Carl has been through an awful lot this season and was nearly raped during this episode. How will that change him, considering he already thinks he’s a monster?
Gimple: What’s interesting and tragic — and this is something we were going for from the start of the season — is that he would wind up with a very mature self-awareness. He’s worried about being a monster, but the fact that he’s worried about that is actually wonderful for this kid. At the end of season three, he wasn’t worried about being a monster. (Laughs.) He was almost proud of the rough things he’s done. He said, “I did what I had to do,” in the season finale. In this, he’s straight-up worried about the things he’s done. He’s worried about what his father believes him to be. It’s a subtle thing, but the fact that he’s worried about his demons to me says he’s conquered them, that he is a human being with a conscience. He was a kid that was going down a road where he wasn’t going to have one. It’s not an awesome victory with Journey blasting “Anyway You Want It” after it. It’s really sad but also a wonderful thing that we saw Carl recognizing and worried about his own humanity. When that gentleman with the glasses was screaming — which was directly out of the comics, including the same bite — Carl ran to help without thinking. He’s made a lot of progress.
What kind of emotional impact will tearing Joe’s throat out and nearly seeing Carl raped have on Rick? He was still shaking the morning after the encounter with the claimers.
Gimple: I don’t see Rick as shaking. The stuff he told Daryl represented him as angst-free about it. Not that he was glib or casual or anything like that, but it isn’t the wringing of the hands we may have seen in the past. He isn’t necessarily cold; he’s accepting these are the things he is going to have to do, and he can’t feel bad about it anymore; he can’t torture himself about it anymore. It’s, “This is who I am, and I’m going to accept it. I’m not going to celebrate it or congratulate myself about it, but I’m not going to let it destroy me.”
Kirkman: Rick is resigned to the fact that this is what he’s going to have to do to survive. I don’t think he’s particularly shamed or happy about what he’s doing; he’s accepting his fate. You have to do what you have to do, and that’s something he’ll be dealing with quite a bit. [Seeing Carl almost raped and the experience with the claimers] will not be glossed over. This is not a show that introduces things like that into a character’s past and then doesn’t deal with them. It will be very much at the forefront when it comes to Rick, Carl and even Daryl’s character as we move forward.
Hershel (Scott Wilson) was back for this episode. Was that filmed before he was killed off? Why go back to the start of the season at the prison?
Kirkman: Scott came back for that, and that was filmed with the finale. It was a good bookend. It was great to come back and see peaceful Rick and his influence directly from Hershel to see how far Rick has gone this season. I love the way it dovetails back into beginning of the season. It shows us that this is one big overarcing story that deals a lot with Rick’s transformation and evolution. It gives us this very different Rick that we have going into season five. It was a great opportunity to get Scott back and do some cool stuff with him.
Rick is a changed man from the farmer we met at the start of season four. How will his experiences with the claimers and The Governor change how he approaches his position at Terminus?
Gimple: He has a great deal of confidence. He knows he can do whatever he has to do and won’t hesitate, blink or be wringing his hands afterward. He could not be better equipped to handle this impossible situation than he is right now.
Are Carol, Tyreese and Beth the group’s best bet to get out of that railcar at Terminus, or were those screams were heard at Terminus them?
Kirkman: That’s our big unknown moving into the fifth season: where these characters are and how they will play into this Terminus story. It’s entirely possible that they’re all in another train car somewhere. It’s entirely possible that none of them are at Terminus or that none of them ever arrived there.
Might that powdered milk near the train car where Rick and company are have been something they fed Judith and the people who were there before them?
Gimple: It would seem like they have people in there that they’re feeding. Interesting.
Kirkman: Anything is possible.
The railcar is the first time Rick and Daryl meet Abraham and his army. How will they get along? How might they respond to Eugene, who claims to know what caused the outbreak and how to cure it?
Kirkman: Abraham has proven himself to be the alpha male that has a clear mission and directive, who will stop at nothing to accomplish that. If in season five we find that Rick is at odds with that mission, we could certainly see a clash between those two. If their goals align, we could see them working together. It’s going to be a pretty interesting one and will give us a lot of story material. I’d be on the look out for what it is that’s going to be going on between those two guys.
Rick and Daryl shared a quiet moment when he referred to him as his brother. How will that relationship evolve now that they’re around so many alpha males?
Kirkman: There is a closeness that is growing between all of these characters as they continue to survive together. New bonds have been formed this season between characters that didn’t have as strong of a bond before. We’ll continue to see them grow together so that we can tear them apart. That’s what’s happening here.
The last line of the season: “They’re screwing with the wrong people” — is a version of Rick’s quote from Issue 64. What was the discussion like to end the season on that note?
Gimple: That ending we knew super early on. There wasn’t as much discussion toward it as just making sure we were building toward it. The guy who was hiding under the bed in Episode 412 — which I don’t think was a cowardly act at all; it was a smart act — but the guy who was doing that was an intermediary version of Rick that led him to be the person who went after the claimers the way he did. He’s gone through such a journey from where we saw him at the beginning [of the season] without a gun at his side, farming. Now, even though they have him in a horrible spot, he knows he can do what he has to do to survive.
The Walking Dead will return for its fifth season in October on AMC. Stay tuned to THR‘s The Live Feed for more coverage.
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