After the mayhem of the last season, season 4 of The Walking Dead shows Rick trying to establish a more peaceful life for the community within the prison walls. From outside the walls come the general treat of the walkers and the particular threat of The Governor, whose whereabouts are unknown. The first half of this season is about the destruction of the hope for an idyllic community within the walls of the prison, and the second half is the diverse journeys taken by the fractured community toward the supposed safe haven named Terminus.
The tone for the season is set by a very brief and ironic episode. While Rick is out in the woods checking on snares, he comes across a pathetic woman. Rick is welcoming but suspicious. She takes him to her camp to meet her husband. She attempts to kill Rick so as to feed to her husband, or what’s left of him–he’s mostly an undead head. This having failed she kills herself to join her husband in walker heaven. Is this event a foreshadow of the last episode?
In the beginning of season 4 we find Rick has stepped out of the leadership role, hung up his sidearm and turned his attention instead to farming pigs. The prison has become pastoral and the only threat to peace, the walkers, are easily kept at bay. The peace is destroyed, however. First from within. A mysterious and deadly virus infects the compound and generates zombies within the prison. Aside from the fact that it’s viewership would plummet if the prison residents lived peacefully for any length of time, the disease, and the zombie virus which infects all the living, is a powerful symbol for the idea that humanity can’t get away from evil, because it goes wherever we go.
Not all evil comes from within, however. The Governor falls in with a new group of unsuspecting survivors and are taken in by his assumed identity while he quietly eliminates the leadership and takes control. His first move as leader is against the prison community. With lies he convinces his new followers that the residents of the prison are evil and that they are justified in eliminating them. During the negotiations for the prison, The Governor shows his true nature; rather than live in a peaceful coexistence, he beheads Hershel . In the ensuing battle, the Governor killed, but the prison is compromised.
The first half of this season is an articulation of the archetypal zombie narrative. Humanity is engaged in “ordinary life,” a condition that is static but not stable. It is threatened both from within and without. The disease and the attack shattered the community both physically and emotionally. The second half of the season follows the fragmented community of survivors. Within these small groups there is a coming together through understanding and forgiveness.
The first group is Rick, Carl and Michonne. Carl is furious with his father because he was their leader and he has been unable to protect the people he loves–most recently, Judith. Michonne is ready to once again take up a solitary life with a pair of incapacitated zombies, but after a dream of the family she lost, she destroys her “companions” and reunites with her new family, Rick and Carl.
Another group is Beth and Daryl, two characters who have very little in common–the good girl and the bad boy. Through their journey, they come to understand and appreciate each other. But they are separated after an encounter with walkers.
Judith is safe and traveling with Tyreese. With him are Mika and Lizzie. Carol turns up and joins this them. Although they find a lovely grove in which to stay, Lizzie kills Mika in order to see her re-animate–more exploration of human depravity. Carol confesses to Tyreese that she was the one who euthanized Karen, Tyreese’s girlfriend back in the prison. Perhaps Tyreese realizes the necessity of Karen’s death in the light of Carol’s necessary act of dispatching Lizzie, which she accomplished just before her confession.
Glenn travels with Tara, one of those who was with the Governor when he attacked the prison. They are joined by Abraham Ford, Eugene Porter and Rosita Espinosa. Abraham is on a mission to deliver Eugene to Washington, D.C. in hopes that Eugene’s genius will be able to help find a way to stop the zombie infestation. Glenn’s only desire is to find Maggie. These two disparate missions combine.
Maggie, Sasha and Bob travel together, but Maggie’s sole motivation is to find Glenn. Although this group breaks up because of differing individual desires, they come back together again for mutual support. Eventually these groups are blended and they enter Terminus.
All of our groups have seen signs saying things like, “Sanctuary for all. Community for all. Those who arrive, Survive. Terminus.” Consequently all our groups follow the road to Terminus in the hope of finding a better life. But it’s not better. Many of our heroes find themselves reunited, but imprisoned in a boxcar at Terminus. The season ends with Rick saying that “they’re screwing with the wrong people.”
After the attack on the prison, the community was fragmented. But they were reunited by the same desire with which this season began–the desire to create and enjoy community. This dream was shattered by the disease and the Governor, but it was this same desire that lead them all, by various pathways, to Terminus. The draw is “Community for all.” Apparently they will not find community in Terminus. But Rick is the perfect blend of idealist and pragmatist–he is both Dale and Shane. He desires peace, but when the survival of his “family” is threatened, he can take care of business.