That’s the big question of Season 4’s season finale, almost dwarfing the pressing issues at hand, like who these shrewd deceivers at Terminus really are.
The answer to this ladder question was never provided, as our group was finally reunited in the most unpleasant of circumstances at the end of the episode. The Walking Dead fans are forced to dangle on this colossal cliffhanger for the entire summer! (I haven’t been this anxious since someone shot J.R.! Sorry to those under 40 who have no clue what I am talking about.)
Sadly, the season finale of Season 4 probably left us in more suspense than any other season thus far. The only comfort we have is: 1. At least our group is all together again (save Beth) 2. And the confidence in Rick’s Rambo-like stare into the camera before he uttered the last line of the season…
“They’re screwing with the wrong people.”
(I think of Michael Gross in Tremors. “Broke into the wrong rec-room.. didn’t ya!”)
But the battle against the prevaricators of Terminus was not the forefront of this season finale. Instead, this episode peered into the internal struggle Rick faced deciding what example he was living out for Carl. After all, every parent knows, you can say what you know, but you can only reproduce who you really are.
Rick’s last line of the episode… and the season, a declaration of strength and the willingness to fight to protect the group (maybe even avenge the group?) might just be an assertion of the path he has chosen. The episode exposed Rick’s internal struggle between the “pacifist-Rick,” setting his gun aside to plant a garden, a peace only possible within the protection of fences, and the gun wielding Rick outside of those broken walls.
Carl felt this struggle. Who are we? What have we become?
As Carl, Michonne and Rick walked along the rode, Carl verbalized this conflict.
Carl: When we get there, are we going to tell them?”
Michonne: Tell them what?
Carl: Everything that’s happened to us. All the stuff we’ve done. We gonna to tell them the truth?
Rick: We’re gonna to tell them who we are.
Carl: But how do you say that? I mean… who are we?
Before words have a chance to bumble up an answer, actions provide an answer just seconds later.
The season finale taught us that a sword, a crossbow and a side arm are standard issue while out on the road encountering the dead, or worse… the evil living?
The flashbacks hinted at this as well. Looking back, in 20/20 hindsight, we see a flashback that would have fell during the timeline of Season 4, Episode 1, of Patrick playing Legos while, in stark contrast, Carl sat fieldstripping his sidearm. Is it coincidence that Carl survived and Patrick became room temperature (by the end of that episode, no doubt)? Is this a subtle gesture hinting to what kind of person actually survives in this bleak era? As Daryl alluded to Beth just a few weeks ago back in Episode 13:
Beth: There’s still good people Daryl.
Daryl: I don’t think the good ones survived.
If “good” means “not ready to defend oneself” … Daryl might just be right.
The contrast between “farming Rick” and “enraged, blood-soaked Rick” was also immense, although both acts were done because of Rick’s love for Carl. On one hand Rick wanted to teach Carl to farm to survive. On the other, Rick poured out his vengeance on someone who attempted to abuse Carl in the worst way possible. (How far would you honestly go if someone tried to rape your child?)
What does this make Rick? Is a blood-soaked Rick not “good?”
Maybe the more important question is, what is Carl gleaning from his father?
Which father is Carl learning from? “Farmer Rick,” or “blood-soaked Rick?”
Isn’t that the essence of what Hershel was asking Rick (Was it just me, or was Hershel really sending that Obi-Wan Kenobi vibe in this episode?)
Hershel: We’ve been here two months. You made it work. The war’s over Rick.
Rick: We don’t know that.
Hershel: I’m talking about you. I’m saying… you pull Carl back from going out there. Fine. He shot that boy.
Rick: Yeah, I know.
Hershel: He needs his father. He needs his father to show him the way. What way are you going to show him?
That’s a question we can probably all ask ourselves.
SEASON 4, EPISODE 16 DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
1. Why do you think Rick gave up his guns for a while to teach Carl to plant?
2. Why did farmer Rick eventually pick up his gun again?
3. Do you think the farmers and people who play with Legos have a chance in that chaotic world? Explain?
4. Why did Hershel ask Rick, “He needs his father to show him the way. What way are you going to show him?” What did he mean by that?
5. What “way” is Rick showing Carl? Do you agree with Rick’s actions?
6. It seems that some people in this chaotic world are searching for some sort of “code” to live by. What code do you live by?
Read the following passage of scripture:
9 But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light…
11 Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. 12 Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.” (I Peter 2: 9, 11, 12, NLT)
7. In verse 9, Peter describes us as “chosen” and “holy.” What does that look like today?
8. What does Peter say we can do “as a result” of being holy? Give an example how you can show others God’s goodness day to day.
9. Peter warns us to keep away from worldly desires. What are some worldly desires that young people today are tempted by?
10. What are some worldly desires you need to be wary of?
11. Why does Peter tell us to be careful to “live properly among your unbelieving neighbors”? (hint, he tells us in the end of the verse)
12. What would your friends and family describe your behavior like?
13. In the flashback, Hershel challenged Rick by asking him “which way” he was going to show Carl. Which way are we going to show others? (Which might be a little easier for us since we aren’t living in a zombie apocalypse and probably don’t have to deal with people attacking our family)
14. Is there a “code” from these verses above that stands out to you, and you can apply to your life this week?
It’s hard to imagine living in a world where anarchy rules, and where gangs of marauders, rapists, and maybe even cannibals (Terminus?) inhabit the earth.
In the world of The Walking Dead, Daryl, Rick and the rest of the group seem to search for some sort of code to live by, a code that protects each other and looks out for one another as the “brothers” that they now are.
This quest for right and wrong in hopeless times is what prompted me to write The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenagers last year. I thought, what code would today’s teenagers cling to in trying times? As it happens, the group of three teenagers in my story turned to the Bible in their packs more often than not.
We’ll have to wait until this fall to see how Rick and everyone emerge from this impasse.
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on TheSource4YM.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.