The Good: Character development, Good performances
The Bad: Very light on plot developments/originality
The Basics: The Walking Dead Season 5 is a season that takes time to develop the characters viewers know . . . and makes for a season that holds up much better for binge watching than fans might expect!
Recently, I read an article that asserted that streaming television services like Netflix are ruining television. The crux of the argument was that television shows needed time and space to breathe between episodes and the relatively new trend of binge watching has destroyed that space. Some of the shows that the article cited, like works by Aaron Sorkin, do not suffer from being watched all together and many shows fare poorer when binge watched because viewers are much more easily able to catch inconstencies within the series. Bad writing is not the same as a show needing space to breathe. Interestingly, some of the most popular shows hold up better by binge watching as opposed to waiting weeks between episodes to get the next one. The Walking Dead Season Five is one such season of television.
In its fifth season, The Walking Dead actually returns more to its roots, though most fans seemed irked by the way it meandered and very little happened. Despite those complaints, the latest season of The Walking Dead has a lot in common, in terms of plot structure, with the first season of the show (reviewed here!). Like the first season, the primary characters in the fifth season find themselves fleeing a bad situation until they find a place that gives them some feeling of hope and security. Instead of working to establish the full cast, though, the fifth season of The Walking Dead fleshes out the characters who have joined the cast over the years and develops them with the changing world in which they find themselves. The fifth season of The Walking Dead picks up immediately after Season Four (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the fifth season without some spoilers on where the fourth season left the characters.
Opening in a box car at Terminus, the survivors who had been separated are (mostly) all back together and now facing a common enemy. Led by Rick, they attempt to mount a resistance against the people running Terminus. The residents of Terminus are cannibals and when Rick, Darryl, Bob and Glenn are taken to the meat processing plant, only a disruption outside the bloody plant gives them the opportunity to escape. Their escape is orchestrated by Carol, who catches up to the group with Tyreese at Terminus and liberates her friends. The group takes up refuge in a church near Terminus, where they are preyed upon by the survivors of the massacre at Terminus. The survivors split after a particularly bloody incident, with Glenn accompanying Abraham's group on a trip to Washington, D.C.
But when Abraham's group is forced to turn back and casualties within the group begin to mount, Rick's group struggles together to make it to Washington. The trip on the road is exhausting and leaves the survivors at the mercy of the elements and walkers. It also allows a scout from a nearby community to find and evaluate Rick's group. Approached by Aaron, Rick's group decides - mostly against Rick's wishes - to accompany him to the community at Alexandria. There, they try to find a new purpose and rebuild a society, but find the people who have been living there are unfortunately unprepared for all that the world has become.
The fifth season of The Walking Dead continues well the emotional journey of Rick Grimes. After struggling with himself to avoid his own darker instincts, Rick taps into them to help Carol liberate everyone from Terminus. What brilliance comes in the fifth season of The Walking Dead comes from the idea that it is impossible to utilize violence without it having a profound effect on a person. Faced with a good thing, Rick is unable to recognize it. The world might need Rick Grimes to keep some people alive, but Rick Grimes needs other people to help pull him back from "survival mode." In the fifth season, Bob, Michonne, Darryl, and Carl fill the niche vacated by Hershel, trying to remind Rick of his humanity and help him survive within a community.
The episodes in the fifth season of The Walking Dead are more cerebral, intimate and unsettling than most of the prior seasons. While the books in The Walking Dead series very quickly leapt into exploring the horrors of humans (The Governor repeatedly raped Michonne and lopped off one of Rick's hands!), it is the fifth season of The Walking Dead that most explicitly illustrates just how much humanity has degenerated. Opening with cannibals who make multiple attempts to harvest Rick and his people, the fifth season is upsetting with rapists in authority positions, cowards and the rising threat of people who openly hunt other humans.
The fifth season of The Walking Dead deepens the characters within Rick's group and introduces a few new ones. In the fifth season of The Walking Dead, the essential characters are:
Rick – Having managed to survive Terminus, he allies with Carol and together they lead the group out of danger. After encountering Father Gabriel, he and his group take up at Gabriel's church. He remains holed up at the church while Abraham leads part of the group to Washington. After they reunite following the attempt to rescue Beth, he inists on trying to get Noah home. He is wary when they are met by Aaron, but wants to keep the residents of the Alexandria settlement safe,
Michonne – Eager not to lose her humanity, she advocates taking up residence in Noah's community and then in Alexandria. She remains a formidable opponent and one of the few people that Rick actually trusts. She stands against Rick's authority when he is reluctant to join a society and start a new life there,
Glenn – Unsettled at Terminus when he is forced to kill a survivor who was harvested and is unable to accept life, he desperately wants to find a safe place for himself and Maggie. He pledges himself to Abraham when Abraham is committed to getting Eugene to Washington. When the group reaches Alexandria, he is disturbed by how the men who go out on supply runs are reckless. He finds himself at the mercy of a very human enemy,
Maggie – Relegated to a supporting role for much of the season, she is eager to find Beth. After the incident at the hospital, she is more or less lost. She is not impressed by Father Gabriel and when the group reaches Alexandria, she becomes a liaison to the local government,
Darryl – After Terminus, he and Carol are not able to resume their relationship. The rift between them gets worse after the hospital incident and he finds it impossible to assimilate after the group reaches Alexandria. He accompanies Aaron on missions to try to find more people worthy of Alexandria . . . though they discover a new threat instead,
Carol – The time on her own and with Tyreese after the fall of the prison made her into a badass and she is able to rescue her friends from Terminus. After reuniting Rick and Judith, she and Darryl go looking for Beth. She ends up wounded and at the same hospital as Beth, where she is bartered for after the tense negotiations Rick and Tyreese orchestrate. In Alexandria, she pretends to be demure and is able to recognize that one of the residents is abusing his wife and child and pushes Rick to deal with that,
Tyreese – Still unsettled by the girls Carol had to put down, he tries to keep Judith safe. His struggle to retain his humanity puts the rest of the group in danger after the fall of Terminus. When trying to rescue Beth, he advocates for a more peaceful solution than Rick's use of force. In trying to get Noah home, he finds himself put in a surprisingly dangerous situation,
Carl – He shows up. In Alexandria, he makes a friend again,
Beth - Following her separation from Darryl in the prior season, she awakens at a hospital. There, she struggles to survive rapist guards and a situation where humans are kept under a dangerous authority. Her attempt to leave allows Noah to escape and when Carol arrives, she has the chance to save them both,
Father Gabriel -A priest that Rick's people rescue after Terminus, he is a coward who puts everyone at risk. He is terrified by the brutality he witnesses among Rick and his people when Rick works to defend them from the cannibals and Walkers. In Alexandria, he betrays Rick's people,
Noah - A young man stuck in the hospital Beth ends up at, he has a family and community he desperately wants to return to. After the negotiations for Beth and Carol go sideways, he helps lead the group to his community. After that, he is eager to join the Alexandria community where he wants to learn new skills to be useful in the new society there,
Tara -The former aid of the Governor after Woodbury, she continues to search for redemption. She becomes Eugene's only real friend after his deception is revealed,
Abraham - The militaristic survivor continues to be obsessed with getting Eugene to Washington, with Rosita. When Eugene confesses to him, he wigs out and nearly beats Eugene to death. In Alexandria, he steps up as a leader of the construction crew and usurps the locals who are fearful and incompetent,
Sasha - Tyreese's sister, she becomes obsessed with killing walkers and keeping people safe after Bob's death,
and Eugene - A geek who insists he has the answer to the infection that has decimated the world, he uses Abraham to try to get the group to Washington. When Abraham's group faces an impossible herd of walkers they must get through, he confesses that he lied, which almost gets him killed. In Alexandria, his technical knowledge becomes useful to the people there.
The fifth season of The Walking Dead is slow and cerebral, but punctuated by intense scenes of blood and brutality. After a truly nauseating opening that is some of the most graphic throat-slitting and eviscerations the series has yet seen, the episodes become more tense without much in the way of real grossness. Following the struggle at the church, there is a long period before graphic gore returns to the screen. The season has a body count comparable with the first season, though because of the season's obsession with fleshing out the characters, viewers are likely to get hit pretty hard by the main-cast deaths in this season.
On the acting front, the fifth season of The Walking Dead is pretty much flawless. All the performers know their characters and they hit their marks, easily creating the horrific world following the zombie apocalypse. The new and guest stars gel well with the established cast and the season holds together remarkably well, despite very little actually happening.
Ultimately, the fifth season of The Walking Dead is a rare season of television that holds up better on multiple viewings and when watched all together fleshes out the characters much better than it initially seems. This is a season that puts the essential characters in a setting where the series could conceivably end and does it well-enough that viewers actually care about them. Instead of trying to top the plot tension of the prior season's finale, The Walking Dead evolves to a place where the viewers care enough about the survivors to want to see them rest, succeed, and build something truly safe and enduring.
For other works from the 2014 – 2015 television season, please check out my reviews of:
Orange Is The New Black - Season 3
Sense8 - Season 1
Grace And Frankie - Season 1
Agent Carter - Season 1
Daredevil - Season 1
The Newsroom - Season 3
House Of Cards - Season 3
Doctor Who - Season 8
True Blood - Season 7
”Shadows” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
”City Of Heroes” - The Flash
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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