Sunday's finale of AMC's hit The Walking Dead ended not with a beloved character biting the dust or a look-at-the-flowers twist. It didn't deal with sullen themes of mortality. There was no life lesson — save for the fact that going Hungry Hungry Hippo on a dude's neck is an effective form of self-defense.
Instead, in an altogether Hollywood denouement that might prove smart for the show's future, if a polarizing tease for patient fans, the ballyhooed episode kicked with, lo and behold, some Schwarzeneggerian rah-rah:
"They're going to feel pretty stupid when they find out ... they're screwing with the wrong people."
That wahoo threat, soon to be uttered by 98-pound nerds the world over, was quipped by Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), former purveyor of humanity, current blood-bearded action-hero stud.
Rick and his reunited gang of zombie slayers were trapped in a rail car in the not-so-sanctuary of Terminus, which — and I'm totally guessing here — is being run by Yankee Candle-loving psychotic cannibals. Anyone with me on that theory?
So the fifth installment of the cable TV phenom will presumably be all about the Great Escape, which should be fun to watch, if a popcorny departure for the dark, dark show.
It may also solve a problem consistent throughout this wildly uneven past season: too many flippin' people, too many threads, too little screen time for the best characters, namely Rick, Michonne and Carl.
Yes, there are now even more people on the Dead playbill, including Terminus leader Gareth, who's not unlike someone who was mean to Molly Ringwald in a John Hughes movie. That said, at least everyone — so spread out for the second half of this season — is under the same gulag roof now.
The finale was actually a sly bait-and-switch. It started with flashbacks of good ol' Hershel, reunited with his head and preaching peace in a world gone mad. Rick's son Carl was all confused ("Who are we?") and calling himself "a monster."
But after Rick suddenly Hulked out and treated "Claim It" Joe's jugular like a Hungry Man dinner, it was revealed that losing your marbles a bit is a good thing. If you want to survive, you need to pack both heat and killer comebacks. Lincoln is no doubt the happiest actor on the planet; no longer does his character have to dream about tilling crops and trying to get his gun-nut son to play with Legos.
Now he's about to kick major Terminus tuchus, turning a hopeless feel-lousy moment into a rousing locker-room speech.
Fans will debate this one for a while. As a finale, it was thin on answers and payoff. Diehards were hoping for a slew of pivotal reunions. Rick still doesn't know that Big Baby Judith is alive — assuming the pudgy tyke hasn't been turned into Dinty Moore stew. (Sorry. Too much?)
Where's kid-capping Carol? Daryl and Carol still have unfinished love business. Plus Rick and Carol need to patch things up after he booted her from the group. And don't forget about Singing Beth, last seen screeching away in a hearse and no doubt driving her captors mad by belting obscure folk songs.
Instead, all we have to go on is Rick's tough-guy closing line, which sure sounded a lot like "I'll be back" to me.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected]