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The Walking Dead Season 5: The End Of Plot-Required Stupidity?

Ross Lincoln | 13 Oct 2014 15:35
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The episode concludes with all of our heroes, save Beth, being reunited. Again. (Seriously, they need to stop using the breaking of the fellowship as a plot device. It's happened too many times to work.) After many months apart, they're all relieved to be together , but more importantly, they've reached the acceptance stage of grief, evidenced by Tyrese, who sadly intones that he killed Baseball Cap Cannibal because he "had to". Hopefully, this means no more pointless time-wasting as they continue not to learn from their experiences.

All in all, it's a better than expected episode from a series that seems to enjoy nothing more than just aimlessly spinning narrative wheels and relying on lazy plot contrivances to advance the story. Here's hoping this is a sign of things to come this season.

PARTING THOUGHTS:

  • About those one-liners: You get the impression that Rick (or the writer) had been waiting his whole life for the perfect opportunity to drop them. Even so, it was satisfying as hell, not least of which because it implies our characters had finally figured out what kind of world they actually live in. What kind is that? The kind where everything, human and zombie both, is probably trying to kill you. Throughout four seasons, we've seen the survivors constantly struggle with that reality. I'm not complaining of course - rest assured, if you dropped me into a zombie apocalypse I'd need a change of pants within seconds. There is going to be a steep learning curve for anyone who wasn't already John Rambo prior to doomsday. But our heroes have been trudging through the apocalypse for going on three (in-universe) years now, and yet they have consistently acted in ways that, were full blown plot protection not in effect, they would have been killed 50 times over.

    That's why it was refreshing to see Rick's survivors so quickly able to assess the situation at Terminus, and even after being routed by the cannibals and imprisoned, regroup and start planning their next move, and yes, deliver incredibly silly one liners. Maybe Rick and Carol have been secretly coming up with hardcore lines to say whenever they need to seem even more badass, but that kind of thing makes way more sense than the insufferably monotonous character study the show seemed to think it was before. If this signals a tonal shift, we might be in for a good season.

  • Dr. Porter didn't get much screen time, but we did finally see the other survivors demanding he explain just how he thinks he can cure the zombie apocalypse. He delivered a credible-sounding monologue full of sciencey jargon, but he came off more like Kenny Powers than Neil Degrasse Tyson. Of course, people who've read the comic know where this is going...
  • In an episode so violent it included a towering explosion that sent dismembered zombies flying in the air, and multiple throats being cut, it was strange that Baseball Cap Cannibal's death happened offscreen. I hope this doesn't mean he'll be back later to prove, again, how stupid Tyrese's unwillingness to kill is.
  • Gareth, by the way, escaped the destruction of Terminus and since he's signed up for the season, rest assured he's been positioned as the season's villain. That's an interesting and somewhat hopeful turn of events. The whole episode, clumsy and heavy handed as it was, managed to firmly establish why he's a villain, make the transformation understandable, and set up a real contrast. The cannibals were victims who learned the wrong lessons from being victimized. He and his friends banded together for safety, but reinforced their own growing lack of humanity until being monstrous was easy for them, so long as they saw everything in terms of "us" and "not us". They were right to be wary, somewhat paranoid and ruthless in protecting themselves once threats became clear, but they were wrong in that they decided they had moral carte blanche to simply kill anyone they want. Rick's survivors, on the other hand, have managed to keep ahold of their humanity, their family dynamic keeping them from going too far. If the face off of that tarnished idealism against simply giving in to selfish awfulness is where this season is going, I'm on board.

Bottom Line: At last, The Walking Dead appears to be moving away from the plot reset problem and just-because bad decisions that have plagued the series since the first episode. Better, with the Terminus group's Gareth set up to be the season's primary villain, it looks like the show might finally be able to examine the core concept of "struggling to maintain your humanity while doing whatever it takes to survive," without implying that any evidence of thinking ahead or pragmatism means you're about to become Hitler. The season's themes are clearly foreshadowed in ways that are both subtle and hilariously over the top, and it's a goddamned relief to see black comedy balancing out the painfully dull moping that normally passes for character development.

Recommendation: Do you need one? This is the most popular show on basic cable, mainly because we all love watching zombies chomping down while survivors murder each other. Even so, If the frustratingly dumb behavior of the survivors, or the show's unrelenting dullness pushed you away, (as they did for me), season 5 looks like it might just be a course correction.

NEXT WEEK: "Strangers," written by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, in which it appears our heroes go looking for Beth.

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