Recurring Cast: Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Stephen Yeun, Melissa McBride, Danai Gurira, Michael Cudlitz, Lauren Cohan, Chandler Riggs, Chad Coleman, Josh McDermitt, Sonequa Martin-Green, Tyler James Williams, Alanna Masterson
Season Five starts pretty terribly. Take the first two episodes and you realise that not much happens. The first episode hides this well, because a major character death keeps the episode ticking over, even if it is fascinated with flashback sequences and shoe-horning David Morrissey cameos into the show. The second episode has no excuse, simply showing the group, trudging along, lost in their misery. This is where the Walking Dead hits its biggest problem. You see, every character has this tragic backstory. Rick lost his wife giving birth to his daughter. Daryl has no one. Sasha has lost so many people she is losing her sanity. On paper, these are interesting to explore, but as the episode tries to slow down to just feel sorry for everyone, it turns out it is surprisingly hard to care. You see, when the worst has happened to everyone and we are left with only extreme emotions to watch, every moment of anguish or grieving character results in the same effect. Lots of crying on screen, lots of silly decisions putting people in danger, lots of lying down in graves of potentially dead zombies… New characters are the ones to suffer as it almost seems mandatory to have new guy Noah have an emotional breakdown at some point, just so we can see what this character is really about, but two seconds in and we realise that falling to your knees and sobbing looks pretty much identical to the last four and a half seasons. By the end of those two episodes, we are just praying for something to happen, anything to take us away from the monotone misery of it all.
Then something does happen. Something rather interesting. And also very frustrating for this poor critic as suddenly this review gets rather hard to tackle properly without straying into spoiler territory. Immediately I want to discuss how Rick is slowly becoming Shane, how certain characters reset in the light of this new event… but to properly talk about it robs the viewer of discovering, first-hand, these moments for themselves. What I will say is that the writers begin to play around with the imagined evil rather than actual evil. This becomes clear in the third episode, when a newcomer shows up. He does the usual spiel of ‘I know a safe haven, where we have a community free of Walkers’. We’ve done this before. Woodbury, Terminus… even Rick’s own sanctuary, which is the closest we’ve come to perfection, went wrong by the end. Therefore the episode is spent picking apart on our fears and predictions. What’s the catch? Is this newcomer up to something? The episode is a brilliant piece of writing, where the fore-shadowing yo-yos from a light at the end of the tunnel to monstrous and then surprisingly talks its way into being perfect again. It is almost like a mysterious contract where we are so obsessed with the loopholes, that we find it impossible to trust what could be the ideal scenario. And that’s where we find the moral of Season Five of the Walking Dead. Perhaps, after all this time, out there in the thick of it all, Rick and his group have become the bad guys.
Yes, the Walking Dead is interesting this time around, but that necessarily equate to good. The pessimists in the audience will begrudgingly recall Season Two. Dissecting the benefits and downsides of community is interesting and all, but it does keep the zombie side of things at bay. Certain episodes are about readjusting and keeping the animalistic side of yourself at bay, which is all fine and dandy, but we are here to see some Walkers get murdered. An abusive husband sub-plot crops up that is simply not what we want to see. Interesting, especially in the last episode, but a drunken bully isn’t quite the same as a group of cannibals, is it? However, that isn’t to say the Walking Dead hasn’t learnt from its mistakes. It takes the story outside of the safe haven just enough times that the Walkers are still scary and still have an effect on the plot. Perhaps we have to stick with this slower side of the Walking Dead and just take happiness from the smaller moments: Daryl whipping three Walkers heads off in one attack, a tense showdown in a revolving door, Carol calmly threatening a ten year old boy with the silky smooth voice of a sociopath…
Final Verdict: Great in places, dull in others, average overall. Perhaps this is the bar we should expect from the show. However, key fore-shadowing hints on a great Season Six. Outriders, anyone?