The Wolves are at your door…
*The Walking Dead Season 5 Spoilers Incoming*
Zombies, heartache, Daryl Dixon fangirling, Crazy Rick – The Walking Dead season 5 had all the usual trappings of AMC’s big hitter, but this time around it came with a consistency which the show has rarely captured previously. It’s this consistency that made season 5 ultimately a successful year for The Walking Dead, possibly its best yet, however the lack of aim, focus, and end goal continues to be a sticking point, and holds the show back from from reaching its full potential.
The season was very much a tale of two halves. The first half saw our band of survivors in dire circumstances, held captive by the man-eating residents of Terminus (the ‘Those who arrive survive’ posters were more than a little misleading), whilst meanwhile Beth had captors of her own at a hospital back in Atlanta where it all began (they really haven’t made it very far). The second half of the season took a more focussed approach, as Rick and company made their way through the wilderness, finding their new safe haven, Alexandria.
Back in my review of the season opener I voiced concerns over issues that the show has had in the past with its pacing, but thankfully that was something that generally was done right this time around. For the most part, gone were the episodes filled with a lingering lack of urgency, and in was a sense of direction in each of the two distinct halves of the season. Sadly, having said that, five seasons in we’re yet to have any sort of hint as to where this is all leading. What is the ultimate goal? And why should we continue watching these characters float from place to place, from disaster to disaster? The problem with the show (and comic) being so open ended, is that, well, there is no natural ending. It’s not beginning, middle and end storytelling, it’s beginning, middle…and who knows what!
So why do we all keep coming back in our droves? The characters! Whilst there is a tendency to under-develop the supporting cast, the main characters Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Carl (Chandler Riggs), Michonne (Danai Gurira), Glenn (Steven Yeun), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Carol (Melissa McBride) and, naturally, Daryl (Norman Reedus) are all excellent, and they all got their moments to shine.
Rick’s development as a leader has been fascinating to watch over the course of the 5 seasons, and by the time the season closes we see him at his most wary, most paranoid, and most crazy. The things he’s seen and done have driven him to a point where he teeters on the brink, without ever losing the trust of his friends. It’s an interesting line that the writers have him walking, where he has almost become the cause of his own suffering. His complete lack of trust puts him and the rest of his friends in danger, but also ultimately saves the town of Alexandria. Parallels have been drawn between where Rick is in season 5, to where Shane was in season 2, and it’s easy to see why. Whether we see Rick’s paranoia and self destruction have major consequences down the line remains to be seen, but his character is more intriguing now that he ever has been previously, in no small part due to an continuously assured performance from Lincoln.
Egging Rick on somewhat is the World’s worst influence, Carol, who has gone from a meek housewife, to a strong leader, to full on hardcore badass. One scene in which she threatens to tie a small child to a tree and leave them to be eaten by Walkers is particularly chilling. She’s not only fully in Rick’s corner (despite being banished by him in season 4), but she is actively encouraging his crazy. It’s an interesting dynamic considering the relationship between the two characters last season. Rick has gone from being incapable of accepting Carol’s actions, to taking her words as gospel.
As is the tradition for The Walking Dead, their was also the matter of character departures. Beth’s death in the midseason finale came as a surprise in particular. Having seen such a large portion of screen time focussing on her exploits at the hospital it seemed as though the show’s writers were setting her up to be a more prominent character, before pulling the rug from under our feet. The biggest takeaway from the hospital story thread was the introduction of new character Noah (Tyler James Williams), who again seemed to be getting set up for a bigger role before falling victim to the season’s most gruesome death (they really upped the gore ante this time around).
Meanwhile Tyreese’s (Chad Coleman) death in the excellently trippy episode “What Happened and What’s Going On”, combined with the earlier death of Bob (Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.) sent Sasha spiralling into sorrow and self pity, with her arc being one of the most interesting of the season, thanks to Sonequa Martin-Green’s strong performances. My only gripe with her story is that she didn’t kill Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) – that guy is just the worst. In a season which introduced Ross Marquand’s superb character Aaron, and developed the likes of fairly new arrivals Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt) effectively, Father Gabriel never really got going, and by the end of the season he had become an infuriating liability – he has to go!
The Walking Dead is not a perfect show by any stretch, but the universe that has been established, and the moral dilemmas that come about as a result of that universe continue to provide some outstanding television. This, along with the latter part of the season’s fresh feel due to the Alexandria storyline – which still has much left to offer – means that it is a show that keeps on giving. Moving forward there is a lot to look forward to, including the big bad of the franchise, as well as Morgan’s reunion with Crazy Rick. But in the long haul, the show needs direction, purpose, and a goal to aim towards – long term planning, rather than short term thrills.
An improvement on season 4, the new season of The Walking Dead was the most consistent slice of zombie filled goodness yet. Concerns over the show’s future direction remain, but with some of the comic’s best content yet to come, and The Wolves coming for Rick and the gang, I have confidence that The Walking Dead will continue getting better.
Rating (out of 5):