Editor’s note: this review will contain some spoilers. I will try to keep them to a minimum, but they’re be there nonetheless. You’ve been warned.
And just like that, the first half of AMC’s The Walking Dead season five is over, and it’s been a bit of an uneven ride. I’ve praised the show for the strides its made in storytelling and character development in the last season and a half or so, but it’s still got its share of frustrating aspects. Probably the biggest of those is the fact that the show often feels as if it’s not progressing toward anything.
Granted, this could very much be by design. After all, where exactly are these characters supposed to progress to? It could be argued that they’re only real goal is continued survival. I think that’s a perfectly fine way to structure a story like this, but the show is still built around a more traditional plot development, which makes things feel strange.
That’s exactly what’s happened this season. We spent a lot of time setting up this big conflict between Dawn’s group at the hospital and Rick’s group. We’ve invested a lot of time in Beth, and seen the ways she’s changed as she realizes – painfully slowly – how things work at the hospital. We’ve had plans, successes, and setbacks. But at the end of the episode, we’re left pretty close to where we started, only with no chance left of getting Beth back. I liked the plot with the hospital, but the whole thing ended up feeling really circular to me.
That said, there was still a good deal to like about this episode of The Walking Dead. For instance, I loved that we picked up right where the last episode left off. Bob is on the run, but still cuffed, and Rick is in hot pursuit. That makes a lot of narrative sense, and I was glad that the weren’t going to try to milk that cliffhanger too much. I also loved how brutal Rick was in the conflict. His character is being developed in interesting ways; it’s not often you see a “good guy” whose primary means of success are derived from wanton violence. It makes his character a lot more complex, and his actions much harder to justify.
We also get some nice scenes with Dawn and Beth, as the former tries to school the latter in the way she thinks the world works, justifying her dubious decisions the whole way. I don’t think anyone was surprised when one of her minions just happened to show up to hear particularly incriminating evidence, and certainly no one was surprised when that same minion was shoved down the suspiciously open elevator shaft. There were some predictable moments here, but I quite liked the way Dawn saw her world, and her place in it. It made her a much more effective villain than all of the other bad cops in the hospital.
Of course, her being a villain still revolved around those bad cops, who seemed to be evil just for the sake of it. Dawn’s big character moments came from trying to justify their horrendous actions through the aegis of stability, but their lack of character motivation torpedoes things a bit. I don’t mind bad guys doing bad things, but real people need some sort of motivation, even if it’s as simple as the corruptive nature of power. I really wish this had been established in some meaningful way.
But hey, how about that hostage exchange? That was a really nicely done scene. I loved that it was staged in a narrow hallway with a bunch of closed doors on both sides. I was waiting the whole time for those doors to open and more bad guys to come pouring out. I also found to oddly cantered camera angles a really nice touch. I’m no expect on the language of cinema, but I found that they made me as a viewer feel tense and unsettled during the entire scene, and I really appreciate The Walking Dead being able to pull that off so effectively with nothing more than shot composition.
This was also the moment where the show found a brand new way to be creepy, with Dawn demanding Noah be “returned” to her, and then everyone arguing about the young man as though he were a thing instead of a human being. It was extremely unsettling, as was Noah’s all-too-quick acquiescence of the trade, as though he just accepted it as his place in the world. Perhaps it’s because I recently watched 12 Years a Slave and Django Unchained, but this little moment really got under my skin, and felt like a very well done commentary on the state of race in America, especially following everything that’s been happening in Ferguson.
And then there was that shocking moment. Yeah, you know the one. Beth, completely overwhelmed with helplessness and anger, lashes out at Dawn with the scissors she had stuffed into her cast earlier. There’s no real build up, no drawn out tension. Beth simply acts, and Dawn immediately reacts, putting a bullet through Beth’s head and destroying all semblance of accomplishment we might have had from this plot arc. To be honest, I’m not sure what I thought of this. Unfortunately, I had it spoiled for my by a Facebook comment, but it still felt powerfully frustrating, and I want to give the writers credit for doing this on purpose.
Of course, I do have a couple more complaints. The first is, once again, Gabriel. After sneaking out in the last episode, he finds his way to the school and see’s Bob’s leg, crawling with maggots. He stands around long enough to get a sizable horde of zombies in hot pursuit, and then flees back to the church. He can’t make it back through the crawl space, so he’s forced into the “deeply ironic” situation of pounding on the doors, begging for help. I’ll be honest here: I hated this. It was far, far too pat to see Gabriel get put into the exact same situation as his parishioners were, and all the worse when Carl and Michonne rescued him, showing us in the most simplistic terms that they are, indeed, better people.
And then there’s Maggie, a character I really, really want to like. Beth has been missing the entire season so far, but the only character to react has been Daryl. Beth’s only remaining family hasn’t been given any time to react to the kidnapping and the fact that Beth has almost certainly been killed. I wouldn’t mind that too much, but for the fact that The Walking Dead wants to use Maggie as the big emotional thrust for the episode, first reacting with elation that Beth is still alive, and then with heart-wrenching agony when Daryl carries her body outside. Sorry, show, but you haven’t earned this. You have to set these things up for them to have any real weight. And, yes, you could argue that her lack of reaction before was intentional, and that it was showing how much these characters have had to numb their feelings in order to survive. But, again, that has to be setup. What we saw was simply the lack of reaction before, not intentional numbness or putting on a brave face.
I’m glad the hospital plot is over. There have been a lot of good moments, but there’s been a lot of stupidity too. Now, the group is back together and there’s no clear direction with DC off the table. I’m definitely interested to see what they choose to do next. My guess is that they go searching for another strong, defensible place to call home, but I guess we’ll see when The Walking Dead returns in 2015.
Oh, and yes, I did stay tuned for the after credits scene. I’m absolutely thrilled to see more of Lennie James on the show. The guy is one of my favorite actors, and I really hope he becomes a regular here.
Gabriel was “reborn” and hopefully he stops being the liability he has been since he showed up in the show.
Hospital story arc was finished well, not going to drag on for the rest of the season.
Group is back together and going…. somewhere…
And Morgan is on their trail, interested to see where they take this.
I have enjoyed season five so far. They have handled things well, not much wheel spinning and they seem to be getting through things better.
What I particularly liked about this episode was the subtle Rick character development. At the beginning, he deals with the fleeing cop scenario pretty fairly and efficiently, gave him plenty of chances to stop and then “finished” it as opposed to letting him get munched by zombies. Then when the exchange stuff happens, I expected him to empty his clip… but he didn’t. My brother has been worried that they were turning Rick into a mindless killer, but this episode showed to me that Rick is still a good guy who knows what he has to do to keep things going.
I hate these mid season breaks though… kills the flow, two months down time is enough for me to forget a bunch of the stuff that happened in the first half of the season, been a pet peeve of mine since season two.
Yeah, I’m really not a fan of the big breaks either. It’s a real drag on the show. I think they do it as a way to bring in tons of viewers for two premiers and two finales every season, rather than one.
This episode was great. I think it was a bit slow, but oh boy, it saved the best for last. I cried, really, at the end, and actually felt somewhat sorry for Dawn. In my humble opinion, I don’t think it was her who shot Beth. Her gun was aiming from an angle, meaning the bullet should’ve gone through the bottom of Beth’s jaw and exited at the top of her head. Plus, you couldn’t hear it, but I think she mouthed the words “I didn’t do it!”. And since she’s been shown to be intelligent and level-headed, I doubt she’d go in denial. I think it was one of the officers behind her.
I also agree with you about Maggie. I mean, your freaking sister is gone! Forgot about her?! Jesus. I liked her character, but now it’s falling a bit flat, and I think it’s kinda dragging Glenn down too.
Otherwise, the episode was awesome. Like Mad mentioned, Rick’s character development was done well. I loved the hospital arc, and even though I feel sad it’s over, now we have the road clear for the Alexandria Safe-Zone. This is highly possible, because Kirkman hinted at Aaron’s or Paul “Jesus” appearance, saying an important gay character would appear. It’s nice that the two groups have come into terms, and I kinda wish they could’ve formed a community together.
Now the long wait begins…
Good thoughts here, callofgaming, although I think you’re reading into Dawn a bit too much. I think she shot Beth; the angle may have been odd, but they also showed it after the shot was fired, meaning she could have easily moved her hand.
I really wish the last episode was dragged out over 2, with the last few filler episodes compacted down. That way they could have addressed some of the issues Dave mentions and drawn out more tension.
I liked the hospital hall scene, but jumping from “call your boss” to the exchange took the moment away slightly. A build up on tension in the hospital between Dawn and the others would have helped the whole situation after her death (She’s dead, that’s cool, off you go no problems here. Sorry I don’t buy it). It was also disappointing that no one joined our group, we will need more zombie fodder.
2 episodes would have given us some time to sit with Maggie. A scene with her and Glenn covering her feelings to make the ending with her a little more reasonable. My worry now from the next halfs clips are that she’s going to have a nervous breakdown, over something she didn’t care about for the majority of this season.
Darryl was far more important to me at the end. His face as he carried her out was the key, after all he’d done to find her, after his time with her, he got her back for a split second and then it was over. This guy should be the one in a mess.
Ricks getting more bad ass, I think we’re going to see him transform into a more governor type role. Once they find somewhere ‘safe’ he’ll go darker and darker to save them no matter what. A hero with no boundaries is strange, in a good way.
Beth is gone, and good riddance. It’ll bring a reaction from the group and she really didn’t present any benefit to the show, other than her singing.
The less said about the Rev. the better.
I’ve enjoyed this half but the middle dragged and the end suffered for it.
Side note: we now have 4 black guys, 50% of which have limps, white guys are all fine though….
I can’t find a whole lot of fault in any of your thoughts here, Mark. For once, I think we’re in agreement (although I hated Beth’s singing, so, so much).
It’s completely mind boggling that no one at the hospital joined up with the group. Not even Percy the old guy. I also felt like there was going to be a bigger payoff with that doctor. With Bob dead now, Rick’s group is fresh out of medical professionals.
Remind me, what happened to Padre Gabriel that he’s limping? For some reason I completely forget that.
Morgans going to struggle. He’s got a map to Washington (through the zombie field) whilst our group is in Atlanta. Yep Atlanta. 5 seasons in and they’re still in Atlanta, loads of them have died – perhaps it’s time to move on…
I don’t think they’re going to end up very far from Atlanta; I think the show gets a lot of breaks from the state of Georgia to film there. It would be nice to see them move on to another climate though; I still want to see winter in the zombie apocalypse. A proper one like we get up here in Michigan.
Gabriel stood on a nail when he cut a hole in the church and went walkies.
Oh that’s right. Thanks for the reminder.
I’ve stepped on a lot of nails in my day. God does that hurt.
I thought it was more of a hang over from the first season. First season launched Halloween, and was only six episodes long, so easily fit into the gap we had. Now with longer seasons, we get this massive break… although you are probably right in that they keep it this way so they get the multi premier/finale set up each season.
And perhaps a bit more time to get the next season filmed? 🙂
Good point on buying time. It probably helps with cash flow too. This can’t be a cheap show to produce.
My replies are showing up as new comments…. guess it’s not working quite right yet? 🙂
Unfortunately not. I think nested replies are only working for people who are logged into the site. I’m still trying to find a fix for it.
It was her, I just saw it again.
To be fair, I think that was just a instinct reaction, you can tell from her face as soon as she shoots that she didn’t mean to, probably due to the situation and how unexpected it was.
I completely agree that it was a simple reaction, not a conscious choice.
Actually this break over the holidays makes sense on an economical level. This is the worst rating period of the year from mid November to early January.