Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 8: How It's Gotta Be

Welp, The Walking Dead mid season finale happened.

I've been trying my best this year not to curse on my blog, as there are far more elegant and intelligent ways to express oneself. That said, WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK IS WRONG WITH WALKING DEAD SHOWRUNNER SCOTT FUCKING GIMPLE?


For the past few seasons I've made no secret of the fact that I am NOT a fan of Scott Gimple and the many head-scratching creative decisions he's made on The Walking Dead.

I was generally pleased with Gimple when he first took over as showrunner at the beginning of Season 4. He brought a new energy and focus to the series (which had frankly begun growing stale), as he began following the comic book much more closely than previous showrunners. 

Unfortunately, with each subsequent season his artistic choices have become increasingly bizarre and incomprehensible. Under his watch, character motivation has become contradictory or non-existent. He insists on filling every episode with non-linear timelines, to the point where it's impossible to tell what's happening when. Worst of all are his constant "fake-out" deaths, in which a character seemingly dies, only to reappear happy and healthy a few episodes later.

So what's my beef with Gimple this week? It's a big one. Are you ready? He just killed off Carl Grimes, the second longest-running character on the entire goddamned show (after Rick).

I'm so pissed off at Gimple right now I could chew rocks. I hate him with the white hot passion of a thousand exploding suns, and I'm seriously considering dropping the show.

You may be wondering why I'm so upset by this fictional death. After all, it's not like The Walking Dead hasn't killed off major characters before. The show's probably second only to Game Of Thrones in terms of the number of cast members it's offed. In fact just last season the show brutally killed fan-favorite Glenn Rhee, arguably one of the most popular characters on the show. So why didn't I blow my stack then?

Because the Glenn situation was different. He died a gruesome death in the comic, and as such was destined to perish on the show as well. His TV death, while unfortunate, was expected. Not killing him would have thrown a huge monkey wrench into the plot engine.

Carl's a completely different story though. He's still alive and well in the comic to this day, some three years or so after the All Out War storyline. By senselessly killing him off, Gimple just flushed the next three years of comic book continuity right down the shitter. THAT'S why I'm so angry.

See, Carl played a HUGE role in at least two major upcoming comic book storylines. SPOILERS AHEAD! After the All Out War arc, Rick captured Negan and locked him up inside a makeshift Alexandria prison. Carl then struck up a secret friendship with Negan, who took a shine to the lad and began offering him advice. Eventually Carl came to think of Negan as a surrogate father (!).

After that the Alexandrians encountered the Whisperers, a group of deadly weirdos who wore the skins of zombies in order to move unseen among them. Carl had a romantic relationship with the daughter of the Whisperer leader, much to the chagrin of his father.

The comic also seems to be grooming Carl to take over as leader after Rick's inevitably killed off.

With TV Carl now dead, I have no idea how the series can possibly proceed with ANY of these storylines. I really don't see any way it can. A few seasons back, TV Andrea was killed off long before her comic book counterpart was. Michonne then inherited all of Comic Book Andrea's storylines. But Carl has no such analogue on the series though. 
Who could possibly take over for him? Enid?

To put his senseless death in perspective, imagine if back in Season 1 of Game Of Thrones, the producers had killed off Daenerys Targaryen. Then imagine the problems they'd have going forward with the series without her there to nurture and train her dragons. THAT'S how much Carl's death torpedoes The Walking Dead.

Gimple may well have just shot himself in the foot here, and all for the sake of a ridiculous mid-season climax "shock ending." I simply cannot understand what Gimple was thinking here. Why the hell would he pull such a bone-headed and potentially catastrophic move? 

Most fans believe Carl was killed off because actor Chandler Riggs wanted to leave the show to attend college. That is simply not true. 

In a recent interview, Riggs said that leaving the show was NOT his idea. He admits he was planning on eventually going to college, either once the series had wrapped or by attending classes during the show's down time. Plus he just bought a house in the Atlanta area (where the show's filmed), proving he wasn't planning on going anywhere. The decision to kill off Carl was 100% Gimple's. Riggs didn't even find out he was getting the boot until he was rehearsing Episode 6 (The King, The Widow And Rick)!

According to Riggs, "It was devastating for me and my family because the show has been such a huge part of my life for so long. For a few days, we didn't know what to do." Rigg's father even took to Twitter, where he expressed his outrage in a since-deleted tweet. Said the elder Riggs, “I never trusted Gimple or AMC but Chandler did. I know how much it hurt him. But we do absolutely know how lucky we have been to be a part of it all and appreciate all the love from fans all these years!”

So if Chandler Riggs didn't want to leave, why in the name of Lucille's blood-splattered handle did Gimple kill him off? According to Gimple himself, it was for "story reasons." SPOILERS AHEAD! At the end of the All Out War arc, Rick and Negan have an epic hand-to-hand battle. Rick ends up slitting Negan's throat, but doesn't kill him. There's then a two to three year Time Jump, and we see Negan sitting in a makeshift Alexandria prison. 

Gimple couldn't understand why Rick wanted nothing more than to kill Negan before the TimeJump, but didn't want to after. In order to explain this "hole" as he called it, Gimple decided to make Carl into a humanitarian figure who saw the good in people and believed everyone could learn to live in peace. Having Carl die would then make Rick realize his Gandhi-like son was right, and cause him to spare Negan.

So basically Gimple just killed off a major character, ruined the entire series and pissed off legions of fans, all to fix a very minor plot hole from the comic. Brilliant. 

To make things even worse, there was no "hole" in the comic to begin with! Gimple's version of the storyline is NOT how it actually played out! 

In the REAL comic version of the All Out War storyline, Rick and Negan have an epic hand-to-hand battle. Rick eventually gets the upper hand (heh) and slashes Negan's throat. Negan retaliates by twisting Rick's leg until it snaps (ouch!), and then passes out. Rick refuses to finish him off though, saying he's better than Negan. He then declares the War over. Rick tells Dr. Carson to patch up Negan, and later we see him chained up in the makeshift Alexandria prison. Negan asks Rick what happens next. Rick tells Negan that he'll be forced to watch as Alexandria and the other communities thrive without him. 

See? There was no "hole" that needed filling. Gimple just torpedoed his own series for no good reason! What an incredibly stupid and short-sighted decision. 

If he absolutely had to eliminate a character for shock value, why not kill off Baby Judith? It's not like the show hasn't killed kids before. Plus she died in the comic way back in 2008, so she's been living on borrowed time for years. Killing Judith would satisfy Gimple's bloodlust, it would teach Rick a lesson and best of all, Carl could go on to fulfill his destiny. And it wouldn't tear the show a new asshole.

Unless Gimple's got something epic planned for Episode 9, Carl's death is also a huge letdown. He didn't sacrifice himself to save a bus full of orphans. He wasn't attacked while heroically defending his community or his family. Instead he was accidentally bitten—offscreen, mind you— while walking along with Siddiq two episodes back! Talk about anticlimactic!

Maybe Gimple's decided to stop following the comic book plots so closely, and killing off Carl was his way of announcing that to the audience. I honestly hope this isn't the case. We've seen what happens when he veers away from the comic, and it ain't pretty. That's how we got things like the Grady Bunch story arc and the Garbage Pail Kids, both of which are arguably the WORST additions to the series in its eight year history. Better he should stick to the comic.

You have no idea how angry I am about Carl's death, and how livid I am at Gimple right now. It's to the point where I'm seriously considering not watching the show anymore. I'm not the only one either, as the series' ratings have been steadily plummeting all season. There's even an online petition demanding that AMC fire Gimple from the series before he ruins it altogether! I can't say I disagree. It's clear he doesn't know what he's doing, and doesn't understand the basics of storytelling or script writing. The sooner he's gone, the better.

Just our luck— Scott Gimple appears to be the only male in Hollywood who's never sexually harassed anyone, so he can't be forced to resign in disgrace.

As if the Carl debacle wasn't enough, this entire episode was a mess in terms of editing, pacing and storytelling. How the hell did the Saviors get out of the Sanctuary? How did Rick and Carol escape when the Saviors rammed their SUV, but Jerry didn't? Where the hell did Morgan come from? More on all that below.

The Plot:
Gimple reeeeeally flashbacks, flashforwards and flashsideways, which makes it hard to write plot summaries. 
I'll try to simplify things as much as I can.

Rick, Jadis and the Garbage Pail Kids approach the Sanctuary. To Rick's surprise, the courtyard, which was previously filled by a huge herd of walkers, is now completely empty. He calls his snipers on his radio, but no one answers. Suddenly the Sanctuary opens fire. Rick dives for cover, while Jadis and her people hightail it offscreen and out of the episode entirely. Suddenly Carol and Jerry roll up in an SUV, rescue Rick and drive off.

Cut to a FLASHBACK, of Rick and Carl walking along a road. This scene takes place shortly after Carl first encountered Siddiq, way back in Mercy. Carl tells Rick he shouldn't have chased off Siddiq, as eventually everyone's going to have to stop fighting and learn to live in peace. Rick scoffs, but Carl says that's how it's gotta be.

In the present, Rick thinks about Carl's words as he rides along in the SUV. We see Negan whistling his little Savior tune as he also drives somewhere.

Meanwhile, Aaron and Enid need something to do on the show, so to that end they've decided to visit the Oceansiders. Aaron hopes to convince them to join Rick's fight against Negan. I'm sure they'll be happy to help after Rick stole their entire cache of weapons last season. Enid spots a distillery in the distance (?) and tells Aaron to pull in, since they shouldn't arrive at Oceanside empty-handed.

Cut to a bit later, as Aaron drives a distillery truck full of booze and Enid follows behind the car. They stop for the  night near the Oceanside border. During the night they're 
surrounded by a group of women who say they shouldn't have come. One of them knocks Aaron in the head (I think?), causing Enid to wildly fire her gun. Unfortunately she shoots Natania, the leader of the Oceansiders. It's not clear if she killed her or not.

In Alexandria, Michonne and Daryl prepare for war. Carl sits in his room, ominously writing a letter to his dad. Later we see him lowering supplies into the impossibly spacious sewer system underneath the community. Suddenly, Negan's voice is heard over a bullhorn, as bellows for the gates to be opened, or he'll kill everyone inside. This is at least the third time he's done this since he first appeared last season.

Cut to the rest of the vast Savior army, as they all make their move. Rick, Carol and Jerry drive along as their SUV is rammed by a car full of Saviors. Well, I guess it's the Saviors, as nothing's ever really clear in this episode. In the Kingdom, another group of Saviors invades. King Ezekiel snaps out of his funk just in time to run out of his theater and hide.

Meanwhile, Jesus and Maggie are leading a caravan of vehicles back to the Hilltop. Maggie says it won't be long before the Saviors are forced to surrender, and this ugliness will all be over. Just then they come to a tree blocking the road, and she realizes just how wrong her previous statement was. Suddenly their caravan's surrounded by Saviors, led by Simon. Another Savior brings out a beaten and battered Jerry (?), forcing him to kneel as he holds a gun to his head. Just how the Saviors captured Jerry but apparently not Rick or Carol is left to our imaginations.

Also puzzling is just how the hell the Saviors are suddenly back in force, after being on the ropes for the past four or five episodes. Last we saw of them, their Sanctuary had been invaded by a massive herd of hungry walkers, who were treating the place like a post apocalyptic buffet. Suddenly one episode later the Saviors are back to their old Season 6 tricks.

Anyway, Simon approaches Maggie's car and tells her that even as they speak, the Saviors are taking over Alexandria and the Kingdom. He says they won't be destroying the Hilltop though, because it's a farming community (it is?) and they need it. 

He tells Maggie she can cooperate with him and keep on producing for the Sanctuary, or he can kill her right now in front of all her people. Just to show he means business, he pulls out a coffin and threatens to toss her into it after he kills her. And just to show her he means even more business, he kills a Hilltop redshirt named Neal. Maggie wisely agrees to cooperate. She asks if she can have the coffin to bury Neal in. For some reason, Simon says (heh) yes.

At the Kingdom, Gavin addresses the citizens and say that from now on everything they have belongs to Negan (which has been the case all along, right?). Gavin gives them five minutes to turn over Ezekiel, or he'll start killing them one by one.

Cut to Ezekiel setting fire to the Kingdom's fuel supply, which causes a huge explosion. In the confusion, the Saviors scatter to try and put out the blaze or something. Ezekiel pulls up in a school bus to rescue his people. He gets out as the bus drives through the gates to safety. He sees Carol approaching the gate (how the hell she got there, we'll never know) and locks her out. He tells her to save his people and runs back toward the Saviors.

Back in Alexandria, Carl helps everyone sneak into the sewers, or out the back gate or something. Honestly it's not quite clear where they're going. Michonne says they should stay and fight, but Carl says to let Negan have Alexandria, and they'll start over somewhere else.

Meanwhile, Negan's still waiting impatiently at the gate, yelling for Rick to come out so he can torture and kill him. Carl appears on top of the fence and says Rick's not home. He offers himself to Negan as payment for what Rick did to the Sanctuary. He says he doesn't want to die, but he will if it'll end the war and bring about peace.

Carl's words actually impress Negan. Just when it looks like the two of them might reach an understanding, Daryl, Michonne and the rest of the Alexandrian convoy bursts through the wall. Negan roars with anger, thinking Carl was just trying to distract him so the Alexandrians could escape. Carl tries to tell him that's not true, as he really does want an end to all the fighting. Negan yells, "Bombs away!" and the Saviors start lobbing extremely powerful mortars into Alexandria, blowing up dozens of houses. Carl half slides, half falls down the ladder and seemingly hurts his ankle. He limps away from the fence, tossing smoke bombs along the way to cover his escape.

Back in the Sanctuary, Eugene enters the infirmary and wakes up the ailing Father Gabriel. He's apparently had a change of heart, because he tells Gabriel and Doctor Carson this is their big chance to escape the Sanctuary and make it to the Hilltop. He tells them he may have incapacitated a guard (by giving him laxatives) and "accidentally" drops the keys to a getaway car next to them before hurrying back to his room.

Outside Alexandria, Daryl, Tara and Rosita pull off into the woods. A pursuing Savior caravan approaches, led by Dwight and Laura. Dwight stops in the middle of the road, which puzzles Laura. Just then she realizes what's going on, as Daryl and the others open fire on the Saviors. Dwight ducks for cover, shooting many of his own people himself. Laura shoots Dwight in the arm and gets away. The rest of the Saviors are all killed.

Daryl, Tara and Rosita approach Dwight, who's their Savior mole. He tells them that Eugene's the one who orchestrated their impressive and magical escape from the walker-infested Sanctuary. They take Dwight and all the Savior weapons and leave.

Inside the Kingdom, Ezekiel surrenders to the Saviors. Morgan, who's apparently a teleporter, suddenly appears outside the gate and hears what's happening.

Maggie and her caravan return to the Hilltop. Amazingly they're apparently on the honor system here, as neither Simon or any of the other Saviors accompany them. An enraged Maggie marches to the makeshift prison, drags out Asshole Savior (who we last saw in The King, The Widow And Rick) and brutally executes him. She then has his body stuffed into the coffin, writes "WE HAVE 38 MORE. STAND DOWN" on the side and tells Jesus to leave it where Simon can find it. Um... that seems like a really bad idea, but what do I know about running a community in a zombie apocalypse?

In Alexandria, Negan and his men finally break down the gates, and have a good old time blowing up the various buildings inside. He tells his men to find Carl and bring him back alive.

Rick enters Alexandria, having come from... somewhere. He enters his house (one of the few still standing) and finds Negan inside. The two have an epic battle, as Negan nearly brains Rick several times with Lucille. He tells Rick he plans to turn Carl into one of his top lieutenants. Rick reaches for his gun, but Negan pushes him out the window. Rick falls to the ground below, as Negan escapes.

Michonne stumbles through the ruins of Alexandria. A Savior tries to grab her, but she kills him, and then keeps on killing him as she slices him into tiny pieces. Rick finds her and they embrace. She and Rick enter the sewers, where the remnants of Alexandria are hiding, including Dwight and Siddiq. Rick's relieved when he spots Carl and Judith.

His relief turns to horror though, when Carl lifts his shirt to reveal he's been bitten on the stomach and is going to die. Apparently he was bitten a few weeks back when he made friends with Siddiq, and there's nothing anyone can do to save him.

God damn you to Hell, Scott Gimple.

• Honestly I'm so pissed at Scott Gimple right now that I don't even want to write about the show anymore. I'll try and scrape up a few thoughts that I wrote down during the episode.

• We Have A Title!

As Rick & Carl are walking along in a flashback, they have the following conversation:

Carl: "Why are we fighting them? So it isn't like how they want it, with everyone working for them, everyone living for them? We're fighting so it's all of us working together for something more than just killing other people."

Rick: "Well, you think we're gonna be out there, picking strawberries with Negan?"
Carl: "If that's what it takes. It's more than just hope. What, are we just gonna kill all of them? Finding some way forward, that's harder. That's something more. Dad, that's how it's got to be."

• I think I'm starting to understand why Rick so desperately wants the Garbage Pail Kids and the Oceanside residents to join his cause. It's so they can serve as redshirts and cannon fodder in the upcoming war with Negan rather than his own people.

• I'm growing very weary of the "Concerned Cast Faces" montages in nearly every episode this season.

• I'm very confused by nearly everything that happens in this episode. Last week Negan himself declared that the Sanctuary was on the ropes. They were running out of food & water, and a massive walker herd shuffled inside and started chowing down on the residents.

• Kudos to actress Deborah May, aka Natania of the Oceanside clan (who first appeared in the Season 7 episode Swear). She got paid to show up for literally two seconds in this episode!

• As Carl slowly dies from his secret walker bite, he writes a farewell letter to his dad. I was going to make a snarky remark about the weird-ass way he writes "Dad" on the envelope, which very much resembles the penmanship of a five year old.

But then it occurred to me— of course Carl would have atrocious penmanship! He was seven or eight years old when the zombie apocalypse started up. He probably hasn't had the time nor the need to write much since, so his writing skills are likely frozen at kid level! It makes perfect sense.

Do I think the producers intentionally included this subtle little character trait in the episode? No. No, I do not. They're not talented enough to think of something like that. But it does accidentally fit in nicely with the world of the series.

• Credit where it's due— it was a nice bit of misdirection to have Carl fall off the ladder after talking to Negan. That way the audience thinks that's the cause of his subsequent limp, and we don't suspect he's been weakened by a walker bite.

• Not that it matters now, but how hard would it have been for one of the characters to scavenge a drug store and find an eye patch for poor Carl, so he didn't have to constantly wear that dirty bandage around his head? Were they afraid he'd look too much like the Governor?

• We don't see any zombies in this episode until the forty nine minute mark. That's gotta be some kind of record!

• Apparently there's a vast network of magical seven foot tall sewer pipes underneath Alexandria, which are perfect for hiding in during invasions by insane warlords.

• As I said earlier, this episode is a narrative nightmare, as absolutely nothing in it makes any sense. Watching it made me feel like I'd somehow missed a couple of important episodes. Here's just an example of the puzzling plotlines:

— When we last saw the Sanctuary, it had been overrun by a huge herd of walkers, who were munching on everyone inside. Suddenly in this episode, the Saviors have somehow escaped their doomed Sanctuary organized a large thre-pronged attack on all the "good" communities. 

So how the hell did they escape? The only explanation we get is that Eugene came up with a solution to save them. One that is apparently none of the audience's business, as we never find out exactly what it was he did. There was a vague line or two about using music to draw the walkers away, but it was pretty weak sauce. I'm betting his plan was kept a mystery because not even the writers know how the hell he did it.

An even better question— where did all these additional Savior troops come from? There are suddenly hundreds of them again. They couldn't have come from any of Negan's outposts, because Rick and his people have been systematically wiping them out all season. So how could Negan have another vast army at his command in this episode?

This isn't just a minor little glitch, it's a MAJOR plot hole. We really needed an episode to show us how Negan's army escapes and rebuilds itself.
— At one point Rick, Carol and Jerry are driving along in their SUV. Suddenly their rammed by an unseen car, which presumably belongs to the Saviors. 

A bit later we see Simon's group has captured Jerry and is threatening to execute him. Sometime after that, Carol shows up at the gates of the Kingdom, just in time for Ezekiel to lock her out. And at the end of the episode, Rick somehow wanders back into the ruins of Alexandria.

So how did Rick and Carol escape from the Saviors, but Jerry was captured? Once again, I don't think the writers could figure it out either, so they just decided to gloss over the matter and completely ignore how it happened.

We've never been sure just where these communities are in relation to one another, as the show's always played fast and loose with its geography. Sometimes characters can go from one community to another on foot, other times it takes hours to drive between them. Never has that been more true than in this mystifying episode. 

— Simon intercepts Maggie's caravan, shoots one of her people to make a point, then tells her to go back to the Hilltop and start producing food for the Sanctuary. A bit later we see her caravan arrive at the Hilltop— alone! The Saviors don't send an escort along to make sure they go back, nor do they post a couple guards to prevent anyone from trying to escape. Apparently Simon's a very trusting soul, and assumes Maggie will do exactly as she's told.

• The scene where Simons confronts Maggie was either an example of some of the WORST editing and blocking in the history of TV, or was a lame attempt at misdirection. I'm honestly not sure which. 

Simon leans into the window of Maggie's SUV and threatens her. Note how he's on the passenger side of the vehicle, looking in at her.

We then cut to a shot of a Savior holding Jerry hostage, clearly in front of Maggie's SUV.

Simon then raises up, points his gun to his right, which means he's aiming it squarely at Jerry. He then pulls the trigger.

We then see that Simon actually shot Neal, a Hilltop redshirt who was sitting in the back seat of the SUV behind Maggie (!).

See what I mean? How the hell did Simon aim at the front of the car and hit someone behind him? It's obvious that the producers wanted us to think for a second that Simon had shot Jerry, which would have been another big shock. Because of the way the scene was blocked, they couldn't figure out a clever way to fake that though, so they just had Simon kill Neal by aiming at Jerry and hoped we wouldn't notice that it didn't make any sense.

• Many viewers were understandably puzzled by the final shot of the episode, where it was revealed Carl'd been bitten on the stomach by a walker. There was no such attack anywhere in this episode, so when did it happen?

Well, it didn't happen here. He was actually bitten two episodes ago, in The King, The Widow And Rick. We just didn't realize it then. Back in that episode I said the following:

Carl decides to bring Siddiq back to Alexandria. Along the way they run into some walkers, and Carl suggests they "free their souls." He quickly gets in over his head and is almost bitten several times before taking them out. Well, that was all... weird and pointless!
Looks like that scene wasn't so pointless after all!

At one point, Carl's attacked by two walkers at the same time. He shoves one away, while trying to deal with the other. A second later, the one he shoved moves its head down toward Carl's side. We don't see it clearly, but I'm betting this is the exact moment he's bitten.

Carl shoots the two walkers in the head. He wearily raises up, and his right hand moves down to his side, almost as if he's checking for.. injuries.

He then rises up, as Siddiq asks if he's OK. A very stunned-looking Carl stands motionless for a few seconds, then mutters, "I'm OK."

In hindsight it's obvious he knew right at that moment he was a dead man. It didn't register to the audience at the time of course, because no one in their right mind would ever think the show would kill off such an important character who still had so much more to do.

• By stupidly killing off Carl, Gimple didn't just ruin the next three years' worth of comic storylines, he also nullified a big part of his own work as well! The Season 8 premiere Mercy, like all of Gimple's scripts, is filled with multiple timelines, flashbacks and even flashforwards.

At one point we see an older, gray haired Rick wearing an obviously fake beard waking up in bed. This scene is obviously supposed to be set after the infamous Time Jump from the comic.

In this flashforward, Rick and his family are apparently living an idyllic life, after all the Negan unpleasantness is over. Rick's "wife" Michonne is there, along with a Baby Judith, who's no longer a baby. Oddly enough Carl even walks by in this scene (Sorry about the picture quality here. Carl walks by the camera very quickly, and this was the best shot of him I could capture. It definitely IS him though).

So thanks to Gimple, this scene obviously can no longer have anything to do with the Time Jump, unless that's supposed to be the ghost of Carl. Apparently this was all just a dream or fantasy Rick was having at some point. 

Admittedly the scene is very dreamlike, as it's shot in gauzy soft focus, complete with overexposed heavenly lighting. Does this mean that Gimple was planning on killing Carl from the beginning of the season? I doubt it. The scene fits the Time Jump so well, I can't imagine it was ever supposed to be anything but. I don't believe for a minute that Gimple would shoot a dream sequence that looked just like the Time Jump just to troll the audience. He's not capable of that kind of subtlety.

So what does Carl's death mean for the Time Jump? Are they even going to bother with it on the show now? Is there any point in doing it without Carl?

• So that's The Walking Dead mid season finale. Tune in next year to see if I even bother watching the show after this.

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