AMC's The Walking Dead Season 5 is finally the zombie apocalypse show fans have dreamed of.
I'm as happy as the next zombie fan that AMC's The Walking Dead exists. But if we're being entirely honest, I think we can agree it's been a bumpy ride. Oh, the first four seasons had some great moments, but they relied more on forced, one-dimensional conflicts than actual organic character development. Andrea sleeping with yet another charismatic villain? The Governor misleading allies for yet another prison attack? Nobody can hear zombies until they're three feet behind you?
Season 5, on the other hand, is a giant wake-up call for what this show could be. As far as I'm concerned, the premiere was zombie apocalypse perfection without a single scene out of place. AMC followed that up with a fantastic original storyline about well-intentioned police officers who became kidnappers and fascists in the new world. Finally, we returned to Walking Dead's comic book roots with the Alexandria Safe-Zone, the one place that didn't become a dystopian hellhole - something that threatens Rick's worldview more than anything he's faced so far.
Fair warning: From here the review will move into spoiler territory. If you haven't watched The Walking Dead Season 5 so far, I'd recommend catching up with our past reviews or watching the episodes on AMC, iTunes, or Amazon.
More than any previous storyline, The Walking Dead Season 5 showed us how much everything - and everyone - has changed. Rick went from being a well-meaning cop trying to keep his humanity to a hardened survivor who cares little for anyone outside of his new family. Carol remarkably transformed from a battered housewife to a post-apocalyptic badass - exactly the character that Andrea should have been. Meanwhile, Michonne changed from a distant loner to the most optimistic personality of the group - someone who realized she actually needs to be around human company.
And perhaps the best part of Season 5 was that it stopped relying on plot-required stupidity to advance the story. Rick, Daryl, Michonne, Glenn, and the entire crew are called survivors for a reason after all - because they survived what destroyed everyone else. Season 5 truly let these characters become badasses, and it was glorious. Studying your enemies instead of rushing in blindly? Check. Turning the tables on cannibal ambushes? Check. Clearing zombie-infested areas with tactical precision while watching your back? Check, check, check.
And that's why the last-half of Season 5 - despite being slow-paced - is still incredibly powerful: Rick and his crew have to face that they might be the monsters. Seasons 1-4 usually let our heroes keep some shred of their humanity, but the Governor, Terminus, and Beth's death carved all that away. Now the survivors are incredibly effective fighters, but are no longer suited to peaceful society - as represented by Aaron, Deanna, and the Alexandria Safe-Zone. These characters - Rick and Carol in particular - lived outside civilization for so long that they cannot accept Alexandria at face value. When Aaron approaches offering peace, Rick threatens to kill him. Upon entering the city, Carol steals weapons and traumatizes the child who spotted her.
The Walking Dead is finally offering deeper and more interesting conflicts than "post-apocalyptic gangs fight for resources". Can people who survived horrific circumstances return to normal lives? Do they have anything to contribute to people who haven't shared their experience? Does the new world really need Rick Grimes?