We have finally — finally! — arrived at Terminus. It’s taken half a season of train-track tracking, zombie-blood note-scrawling and crazy-kid killing, but the survivors made it. Well, not everyone; only Maggie and Glenn’s crews are there. We’re still waiting for Rick, Carol, and Daryl’s posses to catch up (and who knows when we’ll see Beth again). It’s been a long, slow journey, and for the most part, this episode dragged along like a one-legged walker.
As the five splintered groups begin to come together, there’s a lot of skipping around to check on everyone’s progress, often without a whole lot happening. Note the scene where the Sarge’s crew finds a car and argues about Eugene’s navigational prowess. There’s not much of a point besides showing us that they found a working vehicle and setting up Eugene’s decision to help Glenn. We don’t see much of Rick’s trio, either; only Carl’s candy bar wrapper — which later indicates that Daryl and his Sons of Anarchy buddies are behind them en route to the Big T — is significant. (Though it’s worth noting that even in a moment of levity, Rick can’t help but be a total downer. Carl and Michonne bet on who can balance longest along the train tracks. You’d think Carl’s dad, knowing the horrors his young son has survived, would just be happy to see the kid smile. Instead, he tells them there’s not much time for dilly-dallying.)
(This episode also made me think some dark thoughts, including this doozy: Is it time to kill Rick? His character has become so one-note that even for the brief time he’s onscreen, it feels like the story grinds to a halt. At this point, damaged as he is, would anyone look to Rick for leadership? Maybe a reunion with Judith will re-energize him and justify his place on the show. Otherwise, I’d rather see what Daryl or the Sarge would do if they were running this circus.)
As little as we see of Rick, Carl, and Michonne, we spend plenty of time with Daryl’s band of misfits, led by Joe, who apparently spent a lot of time scavenging for the last remaining smokes in zombieland. For a tough, grizzled oldhead, Joe has an oddly juvenile approach to order in the apocalypse — if you see something you want, you have to yell “claimed,” a system akin to calling shotgun on college road trips. He also has a few rules, including “don’t lie” and “don’t steal.” Violators, he says, will “catch a beating.” That’s exactly what happens when Daryl’s rival gets busted for planting half a rabbit in Daryl’s sack. But rather than a beating, the dude catches death, and Daryl finds the guy’s corpse sprawled on the ground. For a moment, Daryl considers covering the body; the look on Daryl’s face says, “Hell, I didn’t like the guy, but this is fucked up.” Instead, he leaves the body to rot and shares a flask with Joe. This gang is bringing out the worst in Daryl, like his cold streak and his lost love of day-drinking. (And it wouldn’t be the first time Daryl was influenced by an older guy with questionable morals.) He’s also still torn up about Beth, though we’re still not sure if he misses her like a brother or on some romantic level. Wisely, Joe plays on that Daryl’s weakness for his past and his doubts about whether he can be something more than the white-trash trauma that forged him. “Ain’t nothing sadder than an outdoor cat thinks he’s an indoor cat,” says Joe, who strikes me as more of a dog person — the kind that watches over junkyards or fights in inhumane death-duels organized by NFL quarterbacks.
Glenn’s group gets the most screentime, as he makes a deal with the Sarge—Eugene gets his armor in exchange for pressing on toward Terminus. But it’s Tara who we see the most, as she struggles to help Glenn and cope with her role in the prison raid. As horrible as a world full of zombies must be, watching the guy—who was shacking up with your sister—as he decapitates a one-legged senior citizen must take a serious mental toll. So Tara is determined to help Glenn find Maggie at any cost. Bum leg? No problem. Weird come-on from Eugene, who calls her “seriously hot,” even though he knows she’s a lesbian? She brushes it off. Glenn wants to head into a pitch-black tunnel without his riot gear? Lead the way, pal. When she gets her leg stuck in the rubble, Glenn is so determined to save her that, for a second, it looked like he could pull a 127 Hours and try to cut her loose. But it’s Maggie—backed by the Sarge and company—to the rescue. (We’re left to figure out how Maggie and the Sarge joined forces. It seems that when Mags caused the cave-in, she left the tunnel with Bob and Sasha and found the Sarge. Eugene recognized who she was, told her that Glenn was inside, and she freaked out, knowing her man was headed toward a major zombie cluster.) Glenn does Tara a huge solid by telling Maggie he met her “on the road”—a compassionate white lie, but one that may bite him in the ass if someone like Michonne recognizes her at Terminus. The long-awaited newly-sorta-weds reunion was touching but a bit underwhelming from an emotional standpoint, considering all the build-up to that moment. And the burning of Maggie’s photograph seems like a sign that something very bad will happen to one of them very soon.
When it comes to build-up, nothing in this half of the season compares to Terminus, which we finally see for the first time. It’s a series of fenced-in buildings by the railroad tracks, and looks like an old freight yard full of warehouses, one of which is marked with the word “Terminus” painted in big bold letters. A treacly folk tune plays as they stroll through an unlocked gate, past sunflowers and washtubs and into an oddly unguarded and empty corridor. There we meet Mary, who’s tending to a barbeque pit and offers them food. Of course, for us viewers, this scene is as comforting as a five-alarm fire. It all looks too perfect to be trusted, especially in light of the Woodbury fiasco. The characters may buy into Terminus, at least at first. But we know, of course, that not everyone who arrives will survive.