Here's hoping it's a payoff worth all the hours viewers have invested in what has oftentimes been an almost insufferably slow and sluggish season.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. "The Walking Dead" is a character-driven drama, not a horror show with nonstop action and cheap thrills. Hey, we're huge fans too, but if we care more about the walkers than the humans to which entire episodes devote, then that's a a bit of a problem — and here are the issues that seemed to drag things down the most.
Man up, Rick. Seriously.
In the midseason premiere, "After," Rick had barely survived hand-to-hand combat with the Governor only to endure another power struggle — this time with his son. Barely able to walk, Rick trailed after Carl like a defeated parent at the grocery store with a whiny 4-year-old demanding sugary treats in every aisle.
His lowest point during the season was cowering under the bed while Joe's marauders fought over who had "claimed" the mattress. Rick was utterly defenseless, having given his only weapon to Carl, who was out foraging for food with Michonne. Brilliant — leave a recently comatose man alone without a gun while you two enjoy a ramble around the countryside and playing with Crazy Cheese! Sure, the former sheriff's deputy did manage to escape, but at what price? The psychopaths Daryl's palling around with are now hell-bent on killing him — or worse.
Alpha-male Warrior Rick is much more fun to watch than Farmer Rick (or even Bonkers Rick). Can this Humpty Dumpty of a man put his pieces back together again in time to save his gang from whatever awaits them at Terminus? Or will he just tend to the pretty flowers?
If Joe's gang does square off against the Grimes group, let's hope the first thing they claim is Carl's dirty ol' Stetson. Honestly, if that kid were wearing a Braves cap, we'd dislike him 28 percent less. The boy's rite-of-passage episode, "After," was downright infuriating — like Carl's short supply of bullets, Chandler Riggs simply doesn't have the acting ammunition to pull off those weighty monologues. Michonne seems to like him, so he must have some redeeming qualities. In fact, if we need Carl to bring out Michonne's goofy side, then so be it. Just no more solo scenes, please. (Unless he's eating 112 ounces of chocolate pudding, because that was awesome. And Carl can't talk with his mouth full.)
Daryl's adventures in babysitting
"I never" … want to see Beth again? Of all the people for Daryl to do absolutely nothing with for two whole episodes, did it really have to be the show's least interesting character? We can't agree with shippers who would've preferred to see Daryl and Carol partnered instead — "The Grove," when she reconciled with Tyreese and euthanized Lizzie "Of Mice and Men" — was one of the series' most powerful episodes. Still, imagine how much fun it would've been to see Daryl roam the countryside with someone a little ... smarter. Can you imagine the crossbow-toting redneck's reaction if he were stuck listening to Eugene chatter about video games?
The introduction of the D.C.-bound trio of Abraham, Eugene and Rosita was a welcome sight, especially by fans who love their comic-book counterparts. It's refreshing to meet complex characters with a far-reaching agenda: to find the cause of the zombie outbreak and cure it. Their mission is serious, but their characters are fun. If we'd seen more of Eugene's mullet and less of the Governor's eye patch, this season would've been much more entertaining.
The Governor's reinvention of himself as family man "Brian" was a fascinating character study, but it didn't need two whole episodes — "Live Bait" and "Dead Weight" — to tell it. The story of our protagonists at the prison was practically abandoned in favor of characters we either, one: despised, or two: had no emotional investment in. And now we're stuck with Tara, whose gimpy leg and guilty conscience are just dragging everybody down.
Not great, Bob
Bob Stookey, the former Army medic with a drinking problem, is one of "The Walking Dead's" more intriguing characters. We need to see more of him. And like Glenn and Maggie, his budding romance with Sasha offers another glimmer of hope in this bleak landscape. Maybe too much hope?
The claim game
For a show that prides itself on its rich, multilayered characters, Joe and his merry men are cookie-cutter criminals. And they're really damaging Daryl's calm. First Beth, then these guys? Our favorite bunny killer deserves to keep better company. Obviously we're not meant to sympathize with this group, but the story always suffers when there isn't room for empathy. (For example, the stakes were much higher when Rick clashed with the prison inmates because we felt pity for some of them.)
"The Walking Dead" is at is finest when the focus is on characters we love — or at least love to hate. Isolating them from one another this season was an interesting experiment, but — like the "searching for Sophia" narrative in season two — it went on too long. Terminus probably won't prove to be the sanctuary everyone is hoping for, but it least it means the end of their disjointed story lines.
The zombie drama does have a history of ending on brilliant notes, so in all likelihood, fans — including us — will be raving come Monday.
"The Walking Dead" season finale airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.