Past reviews and reflections of previous seasons of “The Walking Dead” have always been fairly easy to write- in my own experience- because the story arcs have been relatively similar throughout the years. The surviving group takes up residence somewhere they believe to be safe. It turns out not to be safe at all. They encounter the designated “bad guy” of the season- be it living or undead- they prevail, although they typically lose one or two members of the group along the way- and the audience is left with a cliffhanger ending to keep us coming back the following season for more. It’s a simple formula, but it works- and it’s entertaining.
At the end of season four, Rick and the remaining members of his group (sans-Carol, Tyreese, Judith, and Beth- who were elsewhere,) were preparing to fight their way out of a train cart after being ambushed and subsequently captured by the shady folks at the slaughterhouse disguised as a sanctuary, Terminus. Rick’s final line, a call to arms in the form of “they’re screwing with the wrong people,” left fans counting down the days until the season five premiere last October to see just how our favorite band of survivors would escape in one piece.
This past season, concluding just over a week ago, had the distinction of breaking away from the aforementioned storytelling formula- firing on all cylinders from the first agonizing, brutal, and bloody minutes of the season premiere and rarely losing momentum. There were a lot of losses amid the chaos, of course- and more than one designated “bad guy,” which made for a lot of intersecting story arcs and character development- but did the show suffer as a result of too much going on at once?
I’m putting my review, which includes a LOT of spoilers- behind the “Read More” tag, so if you haven’t seen the season finale or haven’t quite caught up with the show just yet- don’t proceed!
Otherwise, let Eugene’s seductive gaze guide you in.
Within the first five minutes of the fifth season’s premiere, what was long speculated (and feared) about Terminus turned out to be accurate: the residents, led by hipster-turned-smirking scumbag, Gareth- were cannibals- and Rick and Co. were next on the menu. It didn’t look good- with Bob, Rick, Daryl, and Glenn lined up against a trough while the two butchers of Terminus inched their way closer and closer towards them as they bludgeoned and bled out some nameless red-shirts (and poor Sam, the bleached blonde hippie that Rick and Carol met in season four while out looking for supplies to aid in the flu epidemic that had broken out at the prison,) one by one. Despite Bob’s pleading and Rick’s slightly over-confident threats to murder Gareth- the group needed a miracle. A Hail Mary. An angel, if you will.
And their prayers were answered by Carol- who was undoubtedly the shining beacon of bad ass light in season five after making some tough calls and really breaking out as a fan favorite in the latter half of season four. In fact, it was Carol who displayed true awareness to her surroundings and fearlessness as she helped lead the group alongside Rick after single-handedly rescuing them from (and taking down) Terminus, joined Daryl on a dangerous rescue mission to Atlanta to save one of the group- and finally reached “flawless” status in Alexandria, the walled-in community filled with weak, naive survivors (and where we’ve ended this most recent season,) where Carol switched into covert mode- playing possum as a timid, harmless, cardigan-wearing housewife in order to fool the locals and get a better understanding of the strangers and how they run their “too good to be true” cul-de-sac at the end of the world.
While some characters have made questionable choices this past season- Carol was hands down the MVP from start to finish. Her evolution has been so fascinating and wonderful to watch over the years- but while the writers have really taken the character to a whole new level that no one saw coming (and Melissa McBride has pretty much stolen every scene she’s in,) they’ve fallen short with other characters- specifically the main man himself, Rick Grimes. This is in no way a reflection of Andrew Lincoln’s talent- but rather a critique on material that I don’t think was necessarily planned well in comparison to other seasons.
Here’s my problem with season five: the pacing was off. It was really rushed, and felt very sloppy at times. Terminus, a destination that took an entire half of a season to reach- was decimated in less than an hour- and the surviving cannibalistic residents, who went on to maim Bob and attempt to kill some of the others after hunting them down- were murdered within the first couple of episodes- making the arc feel pretty anti-climactic when there was SO MUCH that could have been done with them. Gareth was an interesting, complex villain. I would have loved to see more of him.
Then there was the Grady Memorial/Atlanta storyline, which revealed what had happened to Beth following her abduction in season four from right under Daryl’s nose and introduced a whole new crop of characters- some good, like new arrival Noah- but most of them bad. Beth, who was predominantly featured in two of my least-favorite episodes in the entire series- was once again thrust into the forefront as she struggled to adapt to working under the watchful eyes of the hospital’s creepy, rapist cops- and Dawn, the leader of the hospital’s group of survivors- and who bobbed and weaved between being an actual despicable villain and a woman on the edge who was just trying to keep it together in the hopes that they would all be rescued someday. It was infuriatingly frustrating trying to figure Dawn’s angle out. She would beat Beth one day for disobeying her, and then try to protect her from the advances of some of the disgusting officers under her command the next. In one episode, she was vile- and another- she garnered sympathy. It was like the writers couldn’t quite figure out what direction to take her until the mid-season finale, when Beth’s impulsive actions led to Dawn accidentally killing her- only to be promptly taken out by Daryl as retaliation. Another waste of what could have been a really complex villain to touch upon.
From there, the group headed North to Richmond- first to try and find Noah’s family (as Beth would have wanted, since they had become friends.) which proved unsuccessful as his former community was attacked by an ominous and then unknown group of survivors- and where they also lost Tyreese along the way- then towards Alexandria after a few hard days on the road where they were scouted out by their recruiter (and one of the newer characters introduced this season that I actually like,) Aaron. By the time Rick and Co. reached Alexandria and attempted to become integrated in their unfamiliar community- there were less than a handful of episodes left in the season.
Which brings me back to my contempt for this season’s Rick Grimes. With the exception of Sasha, who is suffering from some serious PTSD following the deaths of Bob and Tyreese- instead of focusing more (rather than barely scratching the surface) on how the rest of these characters adapted to life within another “secure” community, came to terms with the things they’d done in the days and weeks leading up to it- and grieved their multiple losses (Bob, Beth, Tyreese- and then Noah, shortly after their arrival,) and sure- began to understand that the residents in Alexandria are not properly equipped to handle life in the post-apocalyptic world- we were instead treated to a sub-plot pulled straight from the comic books where Rick falls for a married woman, Jessie, within Alexandria’s walls and clashes with her abusive husband, “Porch Dick” Pete. Because of the pacing of the season- it felt as though Rick met Jessie and then was IMMEDIATELY teetering on the edge of going into full-blown jealous, possessive Shane mode and murdering Pete before he even knew of the abuse. It felt so out of character, so forced, and so rushed- that it left me, and many others- scratching our heads in confusion and wondering why it wasn’t just saved until next season since there was already so much going on.
Rick’s obsessive guy-with-a-crush subplot wasn’t the only one thrown in. Just as most of us had suspected that Terminus was filled with cannibals, a story-arc involving Maggie, Glenn, Abraham, Rosita, Eugene, and Tara beginning a trek towards Washington D.C. while the others stayed behind to clean up the remains of Gareth and his Terminus pals and wait for Daryl and Carol to get back from their own trek into Atlanta to look for signs of Beth- revealed that Eugene was, in fact, lying about being a scientist and did not actually have a cure for the undead outbreak. Such a lie would surely result in Eugene getting picked off right away- but thankfully he showed some signs of heroics by the end of the season- stepping up to save Tara and Glenn after a supply run gone awry. After Abraham and his “Washington is the priority” mentality beat the hell out of him for his deception, first- of course.
Then there was Morgan- who made his triumphant return since season three’s “Clear” in an after-credits scene in the season premiere, re-appeared in an after-credits scene in the mid-season finale, and finally got some actual screen time in the season five finale where he was reunited with Rick in the episode’s final moments after Rick killed Pete in front of Alexandria’s residents following Pete initiating a drunken, bloody rampage that resulted in the accidental death of one of the community’s more respected citizens. Morgan had all of three lines throughout this season- but it was thrilling to see him back and seemingly in a much better mental state since his last appearance on the show.
Finally, another threat/villains were introduced by the season’s end- The Wolves- who were the previously mentioned ominous group that had torn through Noah’s former community in Richmond, and who are making their way towards Alexandria. Their tactics, sort of revealed through a series of traps that have nearly ensnared members of the group over the course of the latter part of the season and through a brief encounter with Morgan (where he kicked their asses but didn’t kill them,) has shown their unhinged and ruthless- so naturally they will be one of the big baddies in the impending sixth season.
Was I entertained by the fifth season? Of course I was. Yes, the writing, the multiple locations, and the numerous villains throughout this past run tended to make the story seem convoluted and the characters pretty confusing at times- but there were some great scenes and overall enjoyable episodes that come to mind. One of my favorite episodes, the one where Noah returns to what’s left of his home and where Tyreese is ultimately bitten and dies (entitled “What’s Happening and What’s Going on”)– may have been one of the most beautifully shot episodes I’ve seen, and featured some surprising cameos (like The Governor,) via Tyreese’s fever-induced hallucinations.
Even the season finale, which gave us a glimpse of the dangers ahead and finally brought Rick and Morgan back together within Alexandria- was intense and thrilling. I’m excited for October and the sixth season- and even for the spin-off scheduled to air later on this Summer- but here’s what I’d like to see:
– Less packed storytelling: Instead of cramming multiple storylines, characters, and locations into a handful of episodes, I’d like to see the writers pace things a little better to build suspense, give the characters some room to develop without it feeling forced (ala Rick,) and cut out the confusing dead weight like the Grady Memorial arc. There can always be blood, gore, new characters and shocking moments- but they don’t have to happen every ten minutes.
– Less Daryl Dixon man-pain: Daryl took Sophia’s death to heart. Daryl was devastated by Merle’s death. Daryl went completely out of character following the fall of the prison- and now, in season five- it looks like he might, MIGHT be ridding himself of the guilt from the deaths of Beth and many others with help from Aaron and his new found scouting position in Alexandria. Please- for the love of God- no more sad Daryl. Not for a while, anyway. Let him go back to being that bad ass with a heart of gold from season two/three. Mopey Daryl is insufferable. I’m tired of mopey Daryl.
And also- cut his damned hair already!
– More Carol; Just give me more Carol. I don’t care if she’s baking cookies, threatening to tie bratty kids to trees or blowing shit up. I just want more Carol. Period.
– Let The Wolves last longer than two episodes: Seriously. They’ve been built up since Richmond. Let’s get to see them and learn about them before we just axe them like Gareth, the Terminites, and Dawn. I want to be afraid of them- not forget about them before the mid-season finale because they were disposed of in record time.
– Kill off Father Gabriel: He’s the WORST and he needs to go already!
– Bring in Negan: Just kidding. I’m not ready for that. Unless he’s going to be the one to kill off Father Gabriel.
‘Til next April- that’s my review and hopes for the coming season!