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TV Waffle - The Walking Dead (Season Five)

A look back at the fifth season of AMC's hit zombie show.

Review by Nick Sauer

Note: Spoilers are everywhere as I will not even entertain the idea of trying not to reveal major plot points of the series. This is a review of the fifth season of one of the most successful shows on cable television so I offer no apologies.

The fourth season of The Walking Dead ended on what was easily the highest note of any season at the time. Most of the group had finally gotten together at the inviting yet mysterious location Terminus only to learn that the previously friendly enclave had turned into a cannibalistic commune. The dislike for these individuals was palpable, so I was very much looking forward to the beginning of season five to see what would happen. Unfortunately, the resolution to the cliff hanger pretty much lasted all of one episode as Carol comes to the rescue after sneaking into the compound as a walker. While this irritated me at first, I ultimately came to respect the decision as it definitely fit into the 'always keep your audience wanting more' method of storytelling.
After escaping, the group regathers at a church maintained by an enigmatic priest named Gabriel (more on him later). From here half of the group, led by Abraham, decide to get Eugene to Washington via the church's still functioning bus, as Eugene is a scientist who supposedly has a cure for the zombie virus. This leads us into this season's theme, which is one of rebuilding society and how to go about doing that in the post-walker world. As the one group makes their way to D.C., Carol and Daryl stumble across the car that captured Beth in the previous season. We learn that Beth is now back in Atlanta in a hospital run by a bunch of Atlanta police force and hospital staff survivors. Carol falls victim to the same group when one of the cops hits her with their car, incapacitating and, as a result, capturing her as well. The hospital society barely holds itself together under the leadership of an officer named Dawn with an extremely twisted system where the non-cops exchange sexual favors with the officers to secure their situation. 
Daryl returns to the church and a rescue plan is formed that first involves capturing some of the Atlanta police. This sort of works until one officer attempts an escape to warn Dawn. Rick prevents the excape by running down and ultimately killing the cop in what is clearly a major transformative moment for the character. The group that went to Washington returns in time for the rescue mission after the revelation that Eugene - surprise, surprise - is not the savior scientist he has claimed to be all along. The exchange, which was the mid-season finale, doesn't go quite as well as it could have, resulting in the deaths of both Beth and Dawn. The surviving officers, now out from under Dawn's borderline insane leadership, do make the offer to allow Rick's people to join them at the hospital, but this does not happen as the group leaves the officers and staff to form a new and hopefully better society.
Even with Eugene's revelation, the now reunited group decides that the nation's capital still holds the best chance for finding any sort of organized surviving society. The trip proves difficult at first as the group has started running out of vital supplies, especially water. Just as things begin to look hopeless, a well groomed survivor named Aaron approaches the group claiming to represent a walled community of survivors in Alexandria. While the group distrusts him at first, they eventually learn that Aaron is telling the truth and enter the Alexandria community. This is a return to civilization for the group, but they quickly realize that this community is not as secure as they believe themselves to be, not just from the walkers, but from other surviving groups of humans as well. This puts Rick, who is made the head of security for the town, in the awkward position of playing the part of the governor from two seasons earlier as he considers taking over Alexandria in order to protect them from these threats. This all comes to a head in the season's finale where Rick comes to his senses during a speech in which he solidly presents the case for Alexandria and his group having to come together and work together in order to not only survive but thrive in the new and dangerous world they now inhabit. 
What really punctuates this finale, and sort of drives home the degree of Rick's transformation, is the arrival of his old friend Morgan, who has been following the group's trail with the help of clues left behind by Rick. It was clearly Rick's hope that Morgan would eventually catch up to him. However, in the process of doing so, Morgan has taken a different path, one of a more peaceful nature, and he arrives just as Rick mercilessly executes a member of the Alexandria community at the request of their leader. This is obviously going to put a bit of a damper on their reunion.
Rick undergoes quite the transformation this season as he shifts from the man still trying to hold onto his civilized self to the full on Shane level of killing with minimal excuse, eventually coming back around to somewhere in between. However, as much as I liked this, I enjoyed even more the character development of Carol. Given the relative safety of Alexandria, we get to see her return to her native element of the invisible housewife, except this time it's a housewife with a horrifically dark interior. It really gave Melissa McBride a lot to work with and she responded magnificently. There is one scene in particular where she has a private conversation with one of Alexandria's children that has to seen to be believed.
Finally, as I mentioned earlier, I want to address Father Gabriel. I was really puzzled while I was watching, and remain so as of the writing of this review, by his inclusion in the series. He is very much a fifth wheel, caused by his largely isolated story line, which makes it seem like he has his own show within the series. This is further exacerbated by his often downright bewildering behavior and actions. I'm hoping that ultimately there is some sort of payoff for this character, as I really don't see any point for his addition to the already large cast. 
The fifth season of The Walking Dead finished on one of the highest notes of any season to date; a pretty impressive accomplishment given the solid fourth season cliff hanger. I can honestly say that I'm very much looking forward to the premier of season six more so than any other.

Find more from Nick Sauer at his site Fantastic Television