AMC’s hit zombie series “The Walking Dead” ended its fifth season on Sunday, to record numbers and mostly positive response. It was the kind of season that warranted a 90 minute finale, one that tied up loose ends (Rick finally took care of Pete) and then raised more questions (who/what are the Wolves?).
The show has always been hit-or-miss in terms of storytelling, often finding it hard to balance intimate character moments with bone-crushing, flesh-eating zombie mayhem. This season, however, was a different story. Coming off of Season 4’s character-centric second half, where the characters were split up into separate groups until eventually being reunited in the cannibal-run Terminus, “The Walking Dead” seemed to be heading in the right direction but hadn’t quite hit the nail on the head.
Heading into Season 5, it had a lot going for it, but also mighty heavy expectations. For the most part, it reached those expectations, serving up equal portions of action and character development. There’s also things it could still improve on. As we (already) prepare for what’s to come in Season 6, here’s what “The Walking Dead” got right in Season 5…and what it still needs to work on.
What We Ate Up
So Beth Turned Out To Be Cool
One of the many highlights of Season 5 was that characters who hadn’t really been given a lot of screen time/lines/reasons for us to care had their moments to shine. No other character is a better example of that than Beth, who was at the forefront in the first half of the season. If you had told us that the innocent, bed-ridden farmer girl from Season 2, who sang more than we’d like her to sing, would have one of the strongest character arcs the show has seen — well, we would have had even fewer reasons to trust people than Rick does. Turns out, though, that’s exactly what happened, and while she may have had her head blown off at the mid-season finale, we still can’t help but think how cool of a character she’d still be, had she lived.
The Tension Rises
Season 5 wasn’t without a healthy dose of hair-raising tension. The series has always driven for those nail-biting zombie moments–is this when a character bites the dust? That was never more apparent than in the finale when Glen was about to get eaten by a hoard of zombies (and miraculously got away off screen?). It was hair pulling-good.
But some of the tensest moments of the show didn’t even involve zombies, such as the Rick vs. Pete storyline. When it was finally dealt with, it was ever so satisfying, both because Pete deserved it but also because the show had done such a good job of raising our blood pressure during every confrontation between the two. The show proved that it doesn’t need walkers to keep us on the edge of our seats.
Man Is the Deadliest Animal
“The Walking Dead has always done a decent enough job of reminding us that even in a post-apocalyptic world full of zombies, man will always be the biggest threat. That was never more apparent than in season 5, which showed just how evil us humans can really be, and reminded us that no one is safe. The Governor was the big bad of the series for a season and a half — he did his fair share of damage (beheading Hershel will always leave us scarred) but overall his character arc was so prolonged that we ultimately got restless with his story.
“The Walking Dead” hit its stride with villains this season, first with the Terminus cannibals in the first half and then with Pete and the Wolves in the second half. The cannibals may not have lasted long, but the time they had was memorable, kicking off what would be the show’s best season. Perhaps it’s a stretch to call Pete a “villain,” but his antics caused a lot of hysteria for Rick’s group. And while we don’t know much about the Wolves, their time in the finale was awfully creepy and intriguing. We want more.
This speaks for itself. The character’s return has been hinted at for some time and was eagerly anticipated — it’s about time he was reunited with Rick. We just have to wait until next season to find out how it goes down now that Morgan has seen Rick in full execution mode.
What’s Still Decaying
Despite its impressive tension this season, the show still manages to drop the ball when it comes to pacing. For a 90 minute finale, one would think there would be more time to flesh out the remaining loose threads. Glenn’s revenge/Rick’s “trial”/Pete’s reckoning/Morgan’s revenge all happen within the same time frame and while it had us biting our nails everything probably could have been spread out a little better.
Emotions? What Are Those?
It seems as if the writers at one point completely forgot Beth was Maggie’s sister, until Beth was dead. Yes, Maggie’s reaction to her sister’s death as Daryl carried her body out of that hospital was heart-breaking, but up until that point Maggie didn’t really seem to care that she had been separated from her sister for so long. Nor was there a lot of emotional fall out in the following episodes. Going into Season 6, characters have to show just a little more reaction when something life-altering happens to them.
Yes, No One Is Safe…
…but it’s often questionable, how the show offs characters sometimes. Two main characters were killed in back-to-back episodes this season — Beth in the mid-season finale and Tyreese in the second-half premiere — and while Tyreese’s episode was very good (even artsy, which is a word we never thought we’d use for “The Walking Dead”) it was rather surprising that the show would get rid of two characters so quickly.
Then there’s Noah, whose death was simply a shock factor. We understand that in the world of “The Walking Dead” that no one is safe, but Noah had no real emotional connection to anyone for it to be believable that his death would have an impact. Nor was the audience really invested in his character enough to care.
Fleshed Out? Not So Much
While it was great to see some characters get the spotlight they deserve — Beth, Tyreese (despite his unexpected and abrupt death, the episode was a highlight for the character), even Bob in the first half of the season — some characters weren’t fleshed out enough to warrant the big investment the finale made in them. Sasha and Father Gabriel are interesting, but their opposing story lines — both of them struggling with inner demons in different ways — weren’t as much of a hit for the season as others, especially when much more interesting things were going on in the finale. Going into Season 6, if the show wants us to care about certain character arcs, there needs to be more emphasis on why we should care.
What were your favorite aspects of Season 5? What are some things it could do different going into Season 6? Let us know your thoughts!