Spoiler Warning for Season 5A of The Walking Dead – Spoilers Lurk Within!
Aaaand breathe. By now, every fan of The Walking Dead may have just about come to terms with the events of the mid-season finale, if not entirely accepted it and begun a petition. It was a gut punch amid a season full of gut punches and I feel this season in particular is one that started on an upswing and continued in this vein as it unfolded. There are so many different elements to talk about from this first 8, so I’ll try and get to as many of them as I can, while keeping this short and sweet…unlike this intro.
There’s More Than One Leader
I feel this first half of the season really belonged to four characters – Carol, Daryl, Abraham and Beth. These were the characters that the standalone episodes of the season chose to focus on and both the writers and the actors knocked it out of the park. Whether it was Carol singlehandedly saving the group from Terminus, Daryl going to painstaking lengths to get his trusty crossbow back, Abraham discovering that the mission that was his sole driving force was in fact based on a lie, or Beth well and truly shedding the farm girl personality we met in Season 2, each of the characters deservedly got their chance to shine in a show that’s ensemble has grown at an exponential rate. I think it speaks to the richness of storytelling that The Walking Dead offers and is a testament to the writers of the series that they can juggle so many characters and different threads to the story without it ever feeling convoluted or too dense, a balancing act that is skillfully managed by showrunner Scott M. Gimple.
Sure, I’ll admit that there’s times I’m a little disappointed when I find out there’s going to be three episodes in a row without Rick, Carl or Michonne, but this is part of what helps the show stay fresh and (I hope) lengthen my favorite character’s time on the show.
There is no doubting that this series has transcended beyond the requirement that most shows are bound by – to have one leading character that traverses the audience through the journey of the show. The Walking Dead may have started with Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln – in captivating form as always) but it’s no longer his story, nor is he the sole hero of the piece. The character development on this series is unrivaled in current television, and if it means I need to go a few episodes without seeing Lincoln or Danai Gurira chew up the screen then so be it.
The Lights Are Burning Out
Two of the characters that I’d say provided the most optimism, hope and light amongst the show were Bob (poor Bob) and Beth. Now that both these characters are gone, the show just got a lot darker. And it shows no signs of trying to light any more candles for us in the second half. To echo something Norman Reedus said to describe the loss of Beth (Emily Kinney), “It was really sad to see that candle burn out.” I’m paraphrasing slightly but I think what Reedus touches on here is a theme that ran throughout this first 8 and came to a head in the mid-season finale with the death of Beth and established that the series is getting much, much darker.
Just to be clear, despite the odd light moments, the show has never been a happy watch not by a long shot. It’s always been a pretty brutal show to digest and has always been growing steadily darker. But from the very get-go this season within the opening of “No Sanctuary” we entered a very different world and an entirely new phase of the series; we entered Cannibal Phase.
The scene in Terminus, with the baseball bats, the throat slitting, the pig-trough and Gareth with his clipboard has been one of the toughest scenes, for me at least, to sit through. It’s just horrific in every possible way; from the cavalier attitude of the Termites to the actual act of what they’re doing. Scott M. Gimple has spoken in interviews and on The Talking Dead about the idea behind Terminus as a look at “Institutionalized Evil”, and it’s something that gives me genuine shivers even writing about it. For a few seasons now, it’s clear that people are the real threat in this world and this season so far has cleared up any doubts I may have had that maybe this wasn’t the case.
Moving past this scene, and the punishment, however deserved, what Rick and Co. deliver to Gareth and his Hungry Hippos was astonishingly brutal, and if we hadn’t been with our group since the beginning, it wouldn’t have been easy to swallow at all. The most interesting thing about this though is that, whether deliberate or not, it echoes a scene in a church from Season 2 of the show, where Rick hesitates before killing a walker, but in Season 5 hacks away at Gareth right in front of a friggin’ priest standing at the altar. It demonstrates a terrifying evolution not only of Rick but of the series as a whole, and if the theories that are swimming around the web regarding Rick are true, then any light the show may have is fast disappearing.
It’s Colder Inside
Perhaps directly linked to my previous point, this first half of the season seemed to demonstrate strongly that perhaps places that have adapted and tried to maintain some semblance of order in this new world are often worse than taking your chances on the outside. I’m of course talking about “The Worst Hospital in the World” (poor Percy).
The hospital that Beth was taken to was chilling and with absolutely no redeemable features whatsoever – it even went as far as to ruin lollipops in the apocalypse. At first glance, it may have seemed that it was a safe haven, with police and doctors trying to maintain some normality and the structure that existed before the walkers arrived. By the end of “Slabtown” and indeed “Coda” however, it’s pretty clear that you’re better off outside than trying to pretend and ignore that things have changed – another nod to this theme of institutionalized evil that started with Terminus and really makes you question whether there is a place in this world where our characters can find safety and sanity. It paints a bleak picture for the series, but there may still be hope.
Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going
We’ve been through the mill this season, from losing Bob and Beth, not to mention the possible trajectory of Rick Grimes into Gareth/Shane territory (now a guy who’ll ram a fleeing police officer, shoot him in the head, and then ask him to pipe down). I’m not sure I’m emotionally prepared for the path we’re heading, but rather than lament on times gone by, we should instead look forward to the future and the exciting prospects the second half of the season has to deliver. What is Morgan up to and will he catch up with our group? How is the group (particularly Maggie and Daryl) going to recover from losing Beth? Will the group ever find a safe place? Having read a fair bit ahead in the comics, I’m really excited by some of the material that may be getting used in Season 5B as hinted at in the promos. There are a few moments in particular that could prove very exciting and emotionally devastating. According to Robert Kirkman appearing on the midseason finale of The Talking Dead, the show will stay fresh, saying: “We’re going to see a very different show in the back half of the season”. I’m excited and really looking forward to the conclusion of Season 5.
Father Gabriel is my only complaint about this first half of the season. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve grown a little less tolerant for characters this far into the series that don’t have a grasp about what’s going on and have to learn the rules of this new world, putting the group in unnecessary danger in the process. I’m not writing off the character just yet and am excited to see him develop. I don’t want to end on a sour note so….
Why It’s Still The Coolest Show On TV
Among many points already touched on, one of the coolest things about the series is that the walkers continue to evolve and remain fresh, scary and downright gross, something that’s no mean feat when you’re in your 5th season of a show that doesn’t have a multitude of, for lack of a better word, “monsters” to rotate through. The “rotters” were a supremely cool evolution of the walkers and special praise goes to Greg Nicotero and his team for continuing to create walkers that still look awesome and gross us out at the same time.
There’s one moment from this first 8 though that, for me, show why it’s still the coolest show on TV. It was Daryl Dixon, fighting for his life, driving his fingers into the eye sockets of a biting walker, ripping it off and bashing a guy over the head with it. I mean, no other show on TV can do something as cool as that.
Mainly though, this first half demonstrated the richness of storytelling the series has to offer and balances character-driven stories with some serious action, thrills and moments you can’t wait to talk about with your friends.
Here’s to 5A. See you in February.
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