The Walking Dead season 5 just rounded off half of the season about 2 weeks ago, and will be off air until February 2015. What better time, now that the dust has settled, to delve into my thoughts on the season so far. Firstly, let’s address the fact that it shouldn’t be okay for any awesome TV show to have a mid-season finale. These breaks have become the norm, but they really shouldn’t be; they’re kind of like the 2-part, final segment of a trilogy: very unsatisfying.
This is something that AMC has made a part of their distribution model for some time, along with ridiculously bold spin-offs that are based in the same universe. For those of you who don’t know, Better Call Saul (Based on the earlier life of Saul Goodman from the Breaking Bad universe), and a Walking Dead spinoff (or companion series, as it’s been called) that will feature all new characters based in the same universe, are already in the pipeline at AMC’s studios. I digress, back to TWD season 5 (part 1)…
This season had one of the most explosive first episodes. It felt like I’d just watched a season finale, not a premiere. The action was there right from the start, along with all the suspense, and a satisfying resolution.
By the time the credits rolled, the main crew who had been held hostage is rescued from the wretched Sanctuary by Carol, and Tyreese gets his fighting spirit back (somewhat).
What makes season 5 so amazing, is that it’s not static – it keeps on moving. Season 2 had us stuck at that damn farm (just after we’d had a thrilling on-the-go first season), and season 3 (and a large part of season 4) at that damn prison (and sometimes the Governor’s place). In all honesty, season 3 and 4 kind of merged into one large unsatisfying blur in my mind.
What makes season 5 awesome is that while there were a few places that were considered static (i.e. the church and the hospital), it never felt as if we were stuck in these places in the last 8 episodes, even though some of the the main characters (Beth, and for a while, Carol) were being held prisoner at the hospital.
This pace managed to make it all the way through to the final episode, culminating in a rather gut-wrenching fashion (more on this later).
Bursting our bubble
The elements of Sanctuary and Grady Memorial Hospital are very important, especially the post-episode scene in episode 1 revealing details of Gareth and the people of Sanctuary’s past; and the story about how Dawn killed Slabtown’s previous leader who had gone off his rocker.
These elements speak of a journey to the present moment. We often forget that everyone who is still alive in the universe of TWD has gone through a lot of shit. Rick and the team are not the only people who have lost loved ones, who have had to kill, who have had countless sleepless nights. It’s a shared hell, and every living soul gets a taste. It’s the very reason Rick and the group ask any living person they meet those 3 important questions.
To a certain degree, one can almost (if not empathise, then) understand how each of these groups (Sanctuary and The Grady Bunch – yes I just did that) and their core characters became what they are in season 5.
This makes the TWD spin-off a bit more palatable for me. Let’s wait and see how that turns out though.
What’s the plan now?
After Eugene breaks under the pressure and announces that he isn’t a scientist and there is no cure, the whole world seems to stop. Abraham pummels him into oblivion a moment later, and everyone is left with dead-stare.
What do they do now? What is the actual plan now that Washington isn’t what Eugene was making it out to be? I feel like ending the season with this major arc unanswered was brilliant. We get to see the group re-unite, which is great, but it’s on really bad terms in that Beth is dead, and there’s no more hope for a new world which is an idea that had been keeping many of the survivors alive with meaning, beyond survival.
I have the feeling we’re not going to get an answer to the next big mission very soon; perhaps by the end of season 5 we may. Until then, I’m positive that the TWD writers will have some awesome character dynamics to play around with in the wake of what I’ve just discussed narrative-wise. Speaking of characters…
The Walking Dead season 5 has brought about amazing character development thus far. Although I won’t cover all of the characters here, I will point out a few I found to be quite interesting.
We’ve seen what I think (subjectively) is the complete evolution of Carol to become strength personified. She’s been through so much, it’s hard to empathise because few of us have experienced anything that can be compared to the amount of grief and suffering she’s gone through.
Carol’s reconciliation was well-constructed. It’s almost hard to believe that Carol could have come back from it all; from being left out there alone in the wild. But she made it back, and pulled off the most badass rescue we’ve seen.
Carol has become a favourite because of how much she has grown since season 1. From a timid, abused woman, to a Joan of Arc type figure, she’s made strides since the outbreak began. She even addresses this during one of the episodes, describing the way they’ve all changed in a very pragmatic manner. But it’s not a good description. She speaks of how the journey takes so much out of and away from them as people: “Everything now just consumes you“.
What I enjoyed most about episode 1, and the first few episodes that included the threat of Gareth and his crew of cannibals, was how visceral it all was. Now I know that visceral is kind of a term used to describe most episodes of TWD, considering the narrative, but what Gareth and Sanctuary brought to the season in the early stages was the most raw portrayal of the human threat, beyond kill or be killed: kill or be eaten.
As a side note, I must add that the cinematography in episode 1, especially the bit where Gareth’s crew is systematically clubbing all the prisoners right at the start, is some of the most spine-tingling work I’ve seen in TWD so far.
Gareth takes a piece of the crew when he exits at the end of episode 3: a piece of humanity from half of the group, while the rest watch on in horror as Rick, Michonne, Abraham and Sasha massacre Gareth and his cronies in the church, in a highly unceremonious manner. This is echoed as the group splits not long after this.
Officer Dawn Lerner
The most complex character this season wasn’t Rick and his borderline Shane-ness, or Carl becoming a man, or even Beth stepping up and becoming fully independent. No, the most complex character from The Walking Dead season 5 was one we just met this season: Dawn Lerner.
Slabtown was one of the hardest episodes of TWD to watch, not because of zombies, but because of the intense rape culture at Grady Memorial Hospital. Dawn is constantly trying to balance the power dynamics at Grady to ensure that everything she and her team have worked so hard to keep around does not go to shit. On top of this, Christine Woods does an amazing job of playing this character with an almost always indecipherable expression somewhere between pain and aggression.
Her character plays into the notion of remaining in one place or moving constantly. If TWD has had one really strong recurring theme that we all tend to overlook, it’s that people start to go nuts and clash like hell when they’re in one place for too long in this universe. It’s happened at every place the crew have stopped at, and the dynamics at Grady Memorial are a testament to this too. It’s the trade-off for a “safe haven“, protected from the walkers. Catch 22 of note.
Who is Rick Grimes now?
So earlier I mentioned Rick Grimes’ Shane-ness. I’m pretty sure I saw a headline the other day asking whether Rick is the new Shane of the group. As you may remember, Rick and Shane face off in an open field at the end of season 2, and Rick eventually puts Shane down…. that’s how raw it is.
Since then, Rick has experience a lot of loss and trauma, and has had the dead-stare for quite some time. In the final few episodes of this half of season 5, you really see this showing, as he doesn’t hesitate to kill Gareth, or even one of the Slabtown police hostages who runs away in the mid-season finale.
But just how far gone is the noble Rick Grimes? I think that the show runners are doing a really good job of blurring the answer out, because Rick is a completely different person when he is with his children, or talking to members of his group.
Rick was made purposefully ambiguous in season 5, even though his actions were often extreme (i.e breaking a guy’s back by driving over him and putting a bullet in his head moments later). The fact of that matter is that we expect people who act like this to kill indiscriminately, but Rick doesn’t do that. He’s vicious, but he still has purpose that drives him: the safety of his family and friends.
I think we’ll have to wait for the second half of season 5 to see what’s in store for Rick.
Reverend Gabriel Stokes
This clumsy, helpless man of God is is completely unreadable. It appears that he’s isolated himself since the start of the outbreak, and as a result he doesn’t do too well around people in general.
What makes me really suspicious is that he’s been at the center of some stupidity that’s put the lives of others in danger, and also that engraving on the outside of the church. I guess the most dangerous thing about him is that his vulnerability just seems way too much to be realistic; but perhaps it’s understandable since he’s been solitary for a few years now.
Beth returns after being missing for quite some time. It’s a breath of fresh air, as she’s come to signify hope and innocence for us all, characters and audiences alike. She’s the wide-eyed girl who fought her demons, and won, and has come out more strong-willed than ever.
And then she dies.
In the most pointless way imaginable. Someone has actually started a petition on Change.org to bring Beth’s character back, highlighting the fact that she was an empowering figure for women, and to all those suffering from depression.
Some extras this season
When the Priest (played by Seth Gilliam) showed up, I got really excited. Another person from The Wire. Chad Coleman (Tyreese) and Lawrence Gilliard Jr. (Bob) were also a part of the hit HBO series. Let’s just say I will lose my mind if Idris Elba and Michael B. Jordon show up.
The Faux Pas
Some of you may have heard the news that The Walking Dead (or their social media team, at last) apologised for creating a post that had a major spoiler for the finale.
I’m going to give the details here, because if you’ve read this far, you can’t complain about spoilers. The Walking Dead Facebook managers revealed a major spoiler directly after the U.S east coast airing ended, not considering the fact that west coast and international viewers who had not seen the episode would also be exposed to this season-defining spoiler.
They posted the image below, with the caption “RIP Beth“. All I can say is that if you are managing social media for a show this big, there’s really no room for a mistake like this. Heads need to roll – this isn’t Sons of Anarchy for crying out loud!
Overall, I was highly impressed with the first half of The Walking Dead season 5. Awesome character introduction and development (of new and old characters), an exhilarating pace to the whole narrative, and enough questions left unanswered going in to the second half of the season.
About the Author: Stephen is co-founder of BTG Lifestyle. Filmmaker and critic who sometimes wishes the zombie apocalypse would just happen already, so we don’t have to deal with normal petty things in everyday life.