Season Five of The Walking Dead sees Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and company continuing to face the dangers of trying to survive in a zombie-apocalyptic world. The season was split between two distinct storylines: the hospital and the safe-zone Alexandria, and while the latter was definitely the more entertaining venture, this season seemed to finally strike the right balance between the shows action-packed episodes, and its penchant for more character focused, slow-burn storytelling.
The season starts with the group escaping from the clutches of their cannibal foes at Terminus who had captured them in the previous finale. This is mostly thanks to the compete badassery of Carol (Melissa McBride) who does a complete Rambo, and essentially saves them single-handedly. From here the group agrees to split, with Glen (Steven Yeun) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) deciding to escort Eugene (Josh McDermitt), alongside Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Rosita (Christian Serratos), to Washington D.C. so that he can create a cure. The rest stay put in a church to face the remaining Terminus members that have begun hunting them in retaliation for their escape.
Meanwhile, Darryl (Norman Reedus) and Carol set out to track down the kidnapped Beth (Emily Kenney), who finds herself facing her own problems. Awaking in a functioning hospital, Beth is forced to work as a nurse by the brutal police officers that run it. Dawn (Christine Woods) is the merciless officer in charge, and plays what could be seen as a parallel to Rick’s own storyline, and the possible future that could have been for him. While Dawn’s role as big bad for the first half of the season was a little rocky, and the hospital storytelling tended to highlight the main issues that sometime plague the series, the tragic ending that followed was a reminder that the show can still effectively pull the rug out from under you.
From there, Rick and friends set out looking for a new place to re-group and possibly settle down but, while the group has faced the dangers of travelling on the open road before, this is undoubtedly the most desperate and defeated that we have ever seen them. Facing not only starvation and dehydration, but also the emotional toll of losing some core members, it’s only Michonne (Danai Gurira) that stands up to Rick that the group can’t possibly hope to keep going on. It’s Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) that ultimately suffers the worst here, as she develops a form of PTSD after all of her loss, which makes her a threat to not only herself but also the group as a whole.
Luckily, they come across Alexandria: a safe haven, completely protected against the atrocities of life in the walker-apocalypse. The people of Alexandria welcome them with open arms, especially their leader Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh), who can see the value of having people who have survived the outside world and could be used to protect their peaceful community. Of course, having been sheltered this entire time from what it now takes to survive, Rick soon finds that the Alexandrians are both ignorant and naïve to what must be done to protect themselves from walkers and other survivors alike, and he soon plans to take drastic measures to ensure the group’s safety.
Carol goes on to prove again this season that she is one of the most complex and important characters that the show has to offer. She would easily be the MVP of the season by not only having saved the group multiple times, but by also being the only one willing to do what needs to be done in order to ensure everyone’s survival. And while McBride finds herself in the centre of most of the action, her performance is quite often so understated but portrayed with such strength, that it’s hard to believe she was once relegated to being not much more than a background character in the first season.
While this season continued to have moments that left you questioning poor character and story choices, it was a vast improvement over those previous. The many story elements of The Walking Dead that each showrunner has attempted to continually tweak and change over the years seemed to have finally mesh together under Scott M. Gimple’s reign, including the fleshing out of characters that had previously been all but ignored. For those who have resisted the zombie craze over the last few years, now might be the time to finally jump on board, otherwise risk missing some of the most entertaining storytelling currently on television.