The mid-season finale of The Walking Dead’s fourth season was hands down one of the most electrifying, suspenseful and jaw dropping episodes of any TV show ever. After finally putting to bed the struggle between Nick and Woodbury’s charismatic but psychotic Governor, the latter half of the show saw our heroes heading towards a mysterious refuge known as Terminus.
As they headed towards salvation, the season finale unsurprisingly yanked the rug out, as Rick Grimes and co. discover the haven to be community of cannibals that’ve just trapped them in a storage container – presumably for when they’re feeling peckish later. With Rick proclaiming that their captors ‘don’t know who they’re screwing with’, this fifth season was always going to kick off with a bang. But while the season premiere kicks things off in predictably spectacular and grisly fashion, it’s all taken off the boil for the remainder of this comparatively directionless arc as gore-laden zombie action is eschewed in favour of shining a spotlight on the group members’ crumbling sanities.
As far as zombie-themed stuff goes, The Walking Dead has always been somewhat of an oddity. Sure, it can stump up enough viscera to make your last meal want to do an encore, but generally it’s one hell of a slow burner – albeit one that has always paid off by smashing the walls of your comfort zone down when you’re least expecting it. While Season five offers the characters plenty of flesh to chew on, the balance between calm and chaos that has made the show so engrossing is a little off. It’s not disastrous, don’t get me wrong, but it’s sometimes painfully slow as they continue to build suspense for a comparatively little payoff.
The crux of the season sees Rick sensibly deciding that maybe Terminus wasn’t the best place to settle down and try to rebuild society, leaving him and his cohorts to hit the road for an alternative settlement where they can wait out the whole zombie business in peace, all the while trying to regroup with the members of the group that got separated or went missing during the events of last season. With the bloodthirsty events of Season 4’s prison battle all chipping away at the heroes’ collective psyche, the season sees things getting darker and darker until we’re not entirely sure if the heroes are actually that heroic anymore. It’s a sensible, fresh direction in which to take the show considering the last two seasons saw the gang face off against another group with more villainous intentions.
The issue here though remains the pacing. It may be the right direction for the characters but, with little else going on around them, it becomes a case of watching a very slow degeneration of people as they edge ever closer towards savagery. It’s far from bad, but it could admittedly do with some more of the show’s trademark action just to pep things up a little. It’s particularly frustrating at two points when the show builds up to two massive confrontations that you’d expect to play out for the rest of the season – only for them to be dealt with within an episode or two. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just feels that, like the walkers themselves, the show seems to be ambling around without anything juicy to sink its teeth into for the most part, and two golden opportunities are pissed away.
In all though, Season Five is fascinating stuff and has been lauded by some as the best season of the show so far. In terms of character development that’s definitely the case, but in other areas it’s nowhere near the standard that’s been set before. It’s one that’s likely to polarise the show’s fans in terms of whether or not they’ll be happy with the change of pace, but the bloodlustier among them won’t feel too hard done by as The Walking Dead remains one of the best shows on TV right now.
Overall Verdict: A change of pace for a show that still offers greatness. Hopefully Season Six will see the groundwork laid here pay off.
The Making of The Walking Dead
The Making of Alexandria
Reviewer: Jordan Brown