I love Walking Dead. I didn’t at first, I’ll admit that- for a few years in the middle I was staring in disbelief at people as they said it was the best show on TV.
“What?” I’d declaim. “That bunch of pansies?”
It seemed to me that Rick and crew were weak. They failed repeatedly. They were not survivors.
But things changed. I gave it another go at season 3, and I liked what I saw. I’ve liked it ever since, and I liked season 5 plenty too, despite a series of whiffs, languishments, and echoes that it took to get to the badassery.
I’m going to explain all the problems I felt there were in season 5 shortly, particularly about how the cannibals were squandered, but first here’s a broad thesis to get us warmed up:
Walking Dead has changed the way we do zombies.
I love it. In the past, looking at Romero’s early zombie stuff, even through 28 Days Later, up until Zombieland which had the old ‘double-tap’, but very little fighting, zombies were slow shufflers that couldn’t be stopped.
You didn’t fight them. You ran. You barricaded yourself in a mall, or a bus, or whatever. Just being touched by them, being near them, was enough to get yourself infected.
I always found this the height of boredom. As a kid I just mentally switched off. OK, if you’re doing tower defense, then bloody do tower defense! Make that mall impregnable! Gear up! Take the fight to the enemy! Don’t be so damn crouching and pathetic!
In these movies, conflict inevitably came from within. The zombies were the pressure cooker and the people inside were a stew bubbling until someone freaked out, opened the gates, attacked the others, went mad, and brought the whole thing crumbling down.
In essence, these were stories about people being undone NOT by the zombies, but by their own intrinsic weakness.
Ugh. I had no time for that. I hated it in the same way we all came to hate stories of moles in 24. Every season there was a damn mole, and you’d just end up thinking a- ‘this is so damn boring’ and b- ‘when is CTU going to clean up its act?’
Walking Dead in season 1 offered glimmers of how it might reverse this trend. Rick Grimes in season 1 wakes up a bad-ass. He gets on an F-ing horse! He tools up with gear! He rides into the city!
Then he flounders, loses the horse, crawls under a tank, and falls in with a gang of idiot, weak, racist, douche-bags, so soft it is hard to believe any one of them has survived this long.
They go live in a trailer in a wood! Their defense against the dead is a bit of fishing line with some cans tied to it!
These people were revoltingly soft. They almost all died at the end of season 1, almost by choice. They almost imploded under the weight of idiots in their own group. A wife-beater, a wife-cheater, a mad racist, all of that.
After the maudlin mopery of season 2, things picked up. Walking Dead changed the dynamic, from being about crying over spilt milk and fostering in-group conflict, they started to GET HARD.
I think this is a significant and awesome development in the genre. Zombies were no longer much of an enemy in themselves. How could they be? They totter. They have skin and bones as soft as lasagne. They mass and make a bad situation worse, but the fascinating thing became where the bad situations came from.
They were no longer caused by in-group weakness. They didn’t require our heroes to be weak or pathetic somehow for a conflict to blow over. Instead, our survivors started coming up against other survivors who were also hard, necessitating a raising of their game.
The Governor was exactly this. They had to man up to deal with him. They had to draw together, buckle down, and GET HARD, yeeha! Of course there was still some insane mopery, because that seems a legacy even the Walking Dead can’t shake off (I’m thinking Rick’s really annoying ‘madness’ and telephone call from the dead after his wife dies). There was just so much more kicking ass going on.
Killing zombies all damn day was background noise. Rick squaring off with the Governor in a barn, laying it all out there, making life and death choices like a leader we can all respect, that is what it is about now.
That’s what I love. It’s also how Walking Dead has changed zombies. It’s about a solid, heroic in-group, trying to walk the line of humanity in a brutal world, full of intensely dangerous people.
Season 5? **full of SPOILERS**
Season 5 opens with our crew locked in the train car at Terminus, with Rick having just said something like: “They don’t know who they’re messing with.”
It spreads from there into four discernible parts:
1- Mopping up Terminus
2- Separating and wandering and reuniting
3- Beth at the hospital
4- ‘Safe’ in Alexandria
Part 1 was the whiff, as it was FAR TOO SHORT. 2 was the echo. 3 was languishing in a holding pattern. 4 was rocking again.
PART 1- TERMINUS
This just should have been more thorough. It was so grotesque, to listen to this hipsterish asshole chat about banalities while he was eating living people. It was truly revolting, and perhaps that’s one reason they foreshortened the arc.
Our guys bust out through some real luck.
This bit should have gone on and on. If you had to kill some main characters, like Tyreese, whose death was also squandered and meaningless, let it be here. Let us hate these bastards even more.
Then try to make us sympathize with them. The few tiny flashbacks we got on the Terminans backstory were delightfully juicy. Give us some more! Keep it rolling, keep it going. I wanted to see this story play out. I wanted our heroes to have to really RISE to this challenge, like they did with the Governor.
In this case though, they got bailed out. It was a cop-out, like Trashcan Man in The Stand. Boom, Carol saves the day. One woman army. It may be possible, but it was very far from satisfying. I wanted to be forced into their heads. I wanted to see their choices as they made them. I wanted to see the Terminans take their choice to GET HARD and push it over the line.
They denied us that, despite building up to it for so long, and why? Why, really? So as not to blow their load for other sadistic enemies to come? (Wolves?) So as to hurry us aong so we can get to
PART 2 – Separating and wandering and reuniting? ?
This whole bit was pretty much a waste of time and raw filler. It echoed tropes we’d spent most of the previous season watching. they spread out, they get back together. They split up. to be honest, I never believed that hick tit knew anything about how to solve the infection anyway. Seems like Rick didn’t really either. Only the red-head muscleman bought in, and that was because he was a suicidal nutcase seeking meaning in his life.
Who cared, really? Who amongst us in the audience actually wanted them to find any kind of ‘rescue’? So all this was pretty blah. But, at least it got on the move, while at the same time Rick et were dealing with-
Part 3- Beth at the hospital
I’ll say outright, this wasn’t terrible. It was quite fun, if a little difficult to believe. If they really believed salvation was going to come, then why weren’t they seeking it out? If they thought helicopters were going to come from Washington or the UK or somewhere, why didn’t they get in a tooled-up convoy and go find it?
Still, it would’ve been fun, if we hadn’t just been shorted completely on the cannibals and exposed to so much wandering. It just wasn’t the time. I didn’t want to deal with another dystopia when I felt so thoroughly that the previous dystopia had still not been dealt with. Seriously, why did they rush Terminus?
Rick could have had some awesome conversations with them. Trying to strike a deal of some sort. Being forced to do all kinds of awful shit. Anyway. We come to:
Part 4- ‘Safe’ in Alexandria
All of this I loved. It just rings so true. It ties in with the thesis I banged on about above- these people have gotten so hard they have maybe lost something essential. Rick is turning into Shane. He killed a cop in handcuffs with his car, executed him, then told him to shut up.
He is on the edge. They all are. they’ve got PTSD something awful, and they’re coming apart at the seams with paranoia and evilness. They can’t help but kick people around. It is so good to see Carol developed like this, after her husband beat her so badly. Now she’s holding the knife. She will use it.
Rick is back to executing. It’s all going down, because this is the price of being hard. You have to be hard, but to be hard you have to change. You have to be vigilant. You have to do dark things. Don’t you?
This beautifully mirrors real world events. Security is constantly being threatened by psychos, and we have to decide how we’re going to respond. In the new Avengers movie trailer, Ultron says something like that: “You want to be safe. but you don’t want to change.”
Rick et al embody an understanding that change is necessary. They are fine-tuning the line they walk daily. This is the key point where Walking Dead transcends, to me. Through actions, they raise brilliant philosophical points about what it is to be human.
It’s not the boring episodes by the road-side where characters chat to each other interminably about they feel, or talk about faith in God, or any of that, it’s how they act in the face of appalling circumstances. How they band together, and how they determine how much smack to lay down, or whether another approach is best.
I adored Rick’s final lines of the season:
“I was wondering how many of you I’d have to kill, to save you.”
Yes! They’re on a great path. I can quite happily forgive almost all the echoing via wandering and re-uniting, the boring ‘bottle’ episodes of chat, for moments like these.
Squandering the cannibals is harder to forgive. It makes me worry they will squander the Wolves they’ve been building up for most of this season, just as they built up the Terminans. I hope they don’t. I hope, as with the Governor, that they build up the wolves as characters, and give us something to really fear. Give us something to man up for.
They squashed our fear of the Wolves a bit already, with allowing Morgan to take them out already. Every time you raise someone up, you downgrade someone else. I wouldn’t have done that for him. I would have kept them mysterious, up through the trap. Morgan can just turn up and have that look on his face for Rick still. We can see his bo-skills later.
Still. It should be good. these are actually the first out-and-out Mad-Max-looking sadists we’ve come across. Or at least the worst and most organized ones. Don’t squander them, please!