[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched the season finale of The Walking Dead.]
The Walking Dead took its first trip to Cliffhanger City with its season 4 finale, leaving Rick Grimes and most of the group reunited in the worst of all places — locked in a train car by the baddies of Terminus. But there is hope because at least the group has Rick back at his badass best. The finale used a flashback framework to show Rick’s transformation from a leader into a farmer after the fall of Woodbury, at the urging of Scott Wilson’s Hershel. That was juxtaposed against the things Rick had to do now to keep his family and friends safe — things like biting one marauder’s neck off and gutting another. Translation: the old Rick is finally back. And it is the Rick the group will need if they are to survive this encounter with their latest foes. We caught up with Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman to get his thoughts on the finale, the evolution of Rick Grimes, and the fact that nobody major died, as well as get some insight into Terminus leader Gareth (that dude in the photo above) and what will happen when things pick back up in season 5. (Click through both pages to read the entire interview. Also make sure to read our finale interviews with showrunner Scott M. Gimple and star Andrew Lincoln.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why are you doing this, Robert? Making the poor fans suffer for 6 months worrying about these guys stuck in a train car? How dare you, sir?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: [Laughs] If we could do the show year round and produce an episode every week, we totally would, but every now and then you gotta stop and make the show great and stuff.
EW: It’s your first real cliffhanger and a different finale for you guys in that sense.
KIRKMAN: Yeah, well, it all came naturally from the story. We knew that Terminus was going to be a great place to leave things. We kind of wanted to leave this season with a little more punch than we’ve left it in past years. I think the no cliffhanger thing has worked for us so far but I personally as a viewer have always been a big fan of season-ender cliffhangers and I enjoy that anticipation when that last minute rolls by and you’re going “WHAT THE HECK? OH, COME ON!” Like, that’s something that I thoroughly enjoy and I think Scott Gimple is into it too. So we’re very excited about the idea of ending this season on a cliffhanger and hopefully the viewers will like it too and it will make it that much harder to wait for season 5 and will make the anticipation that much higher.
EW: With all those flashbacks this episode really felt like the evolution of Rick Grimes back into a do-whatever-it-takes leadership position, which ultimately I guess is the arc of the whole season, right?
KIRKMAN: I’m really proud of what Scott Gimple, our showrunner, was able to do with this season and the way that it kind of does dovetail back into itself and by the end of the finale you kind of see how there was this grand plan from day 1 of the beginning of season 4 and everything does kind of interconnect and drive this forward into this Rick Grimes story which is an exploration into who this guy is and how he is uniquely suited to be the leader in this new form of civilization and how he is evolving into the guy that is going to be able to keep people safe and keep people alive and how he is finally accepting that role.
EW: What about that breaking point scene for Rick where he bites off Joe’s neck and then guts that other dude who had Carl pinned down?
KIRKMAN: In that scene Rick realizes he is a guy who will do absolutely anything to survive. There has been all of this discussion about retaining your humanity and not losing who it is that you are. We started this season with Rick putting his gun away and trying to live a peaceful life and trying to be there for his son in a way that he hadn’t been in the seasons previous and to try to show his son how to live and be a human being. And in this episode he kind of has to become a monster, otherwise something terrible is going to happen to Carl, possibly all of them are going to die. It’s him being pushed to his breaking point and him realizing no, this is the world we’re in and I have to be in this world so now I’m going to do whatever I have to do. And in a sense he almost becomes a walker when he’s biting that guy’s neck out and savagely murdering this other guy. He really loses his humanity in a very big way. Which is something we’ll be exploring moving forward.
EW: Even though the season ends with the group in this terrible situation, in a weird way it’s almost an upbeat note with that proclamation by Rick of “They’re screwing with the wrong people.”
KIRKMAN: Rick Grimes’ evolution has come at the exact right point. This is the Rick Grimes that they need in that train car. And this is the Rick Grimes that the people of Terminus should not have encountered. It is the exact wrong time for them to encounter this guy. So it is supposed to be a somewhat uplifting kind of cliffhanger because you should get a sense that this guy is now ready for anything. He can handle absolutely whatever the word is going to throw at him and that is something we’re going to be exploring in season 5.
EW: When you guys mapped out season 4 and especially the back half of the season, were you worried about having Rick MIA so much since he really is the face of the franchise?
KIRKMAN: Well, you know, being apart makes the heart grow fonder and all that stuff. That was all by design. We knew this was going to be a very Rick centric end of the season and we really wanted to come back with Rick Grimes in a big way in this last episode and it was kind of important to the overall arc of the show to build up some of these other side characters and bring them to the forefront and help us get to know them a little bit more and also keep Rick in our back pocket so that the last episode seemed a little bit more unexpected than it would have otherwise.