*Warning: Review contains spoilers*
Just last season, it was beginning to look like “The Walking Dead” was beginning to find itself after having a massive amount of difficulty in not only coming up with an engaging plotline, but also developing its characters beyond the flat, one-dimensional survivalists that they’d been throughout the first three seasons. We finally saw the conflict with The Governor built up in a somewhat slow, but intriguing way, eventually coming to a head in a grand mid-season finale that kept everyone on the edge of their seats. Meanwhile, it also took its time to start exploring the characters in a way that it should have been doing all along. Even the second half of the season, which represented a sharp drop in quality, found time for character development (“After”) and spellbinding storylines (“The Grove”). Though it had started to falter again, we were left with a little hope for the future, for it had appeared as though those behind the show had discovered what was missing and had started to inject it where they could. Now we come to season five, where we can at last see if the upward trend continues, or if they allow the show to fall back into its former disastrous ways.
As you probably remember, at the end of season four, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his band of survivors were in a tight spit, having been captured by the cannibals of Terminus. Luckily for them, Carol (Melissa McBride) mounts a grand rescue mission that sees them all safely recovered, as well as most of the cannibals dead. After an emotional reunion, the group once again finds themselves on the road, where they come upon a priest, Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), who is in need of rescuing. They take shelter in his nearby church, which they use as their new base while they search the surrounding area. On one of these searches, Darryl (Norman Reedus) spots a car that looks exactly like the one that had kidnapped Beth (Emily Kinney), causing him to follow it to see if he can find out what happened to her. We soon find that she has been taken to a hospital in Atlanta, where she is being forced to help another group of survivors who have taken refuge there.
After a tragic rescue attempt, the group is once again on the move. One day they are approached by a stranger by the name of Aaron (Ross Marquand), who wants them to come “audition” to become part of his group of survivors in Alexandria. Rick is, of course, extremely suspicious, but is eventually persuaded by the rest of the group to give Aaron the benefit of the doubt. As it turns out, Alexandria is a walled community where the residents are just trying to get back to life as it was before the outbreak. They have power, water, and all the comforts of home. Members of the group are even assigned jobs, with Rick and Michonne (Dunai Gurira) becoming constables and Darryl becoming a recruiter. At first, Rick and his friends appear to acclimate quite well, that is, until he decides that the residents of Alexandria have become a bit too complacent, leading Rick to plan a takeover should it become necessary. Eventually, tensions between Rick and his new neighbors come to a head, forcing the town’s leader, Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh), to consider exiling him from the community, something Rick isn’t about to let happen.
After the glimmers of hope witnessed in season four, it’s sad to have to report that the show has once again fallen back into its old ways, where we find that the showrunners are lost and struggling to find something to occupy the characters’ time, in addition to them being unwilling to develop the characters further than the stand-ins they have become. There’s no denying that the season starts off with a literal bang with the epic rescue of Rick and co. from Terminus, but it’s merely the start of a common practice in these first eight episodes in which we find the show distracted from doing anything worthwhile, an unfortunate occurrence that is all too clear in the completely unnecessary Beth storyline.
Not only does it lead to a plot that contains no engaging material, but it also takes away time that could have been used to examine the other characters as they try to get their bearings after the traumatic Terminus incident. As Beth is no more developed than any of the other characters, there’s no emotion to be found, even when she is randomly killed off in the mid-season finale. Instead of the shocking and heartbreaking event that the showrunners were hoping for, it ends up being hard to elicit more than a shrug of the shoulders, particularly because you can tell exactly what they’re trying to do: reenergize the failing dramatic element of the show. However, it wasn’t the first time they tried this ineffective maneuver (Bob becomes a victim of some of the remaining cannibals), and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
As we head into the second half of the season, we find the show drifting further away as the characters start another period of wandering about. Right away, in the ninth episode, the folks at the helm felt the need to kill off another character in order to get things moving. Unfortunately, just like with Beth’s random death before, all we can do is shake our heads as Tyreese makes his random exit. After another filler episode of traveling, we are treated to one decent plot element in the form of the mysterious Aaron. We don’t know who he is or if the group can trust what he says, leading to the season’s first bit of actual tension, an unexpected relief in a wilderness of uneventful wanderings.
As the group comes to Alexandria, there is once again hope that the plot will move forward, but just as Rick finds that the people of this community are far too complacent, it becomes far too clear that the show itself has also become far too complacent, stranding the characters in a new plotline that, thus far, has gone nowhere. Gone is the grander sense of conflict that we got with The Governor, now replaced with the audience waiting to see if loose-cannon Rick is going to cause any more trouble, a plot device that, seemingly needless to say, is not nearly enough to drive the show forward. Also gone are the strong, character-driven episodes of season four, stories that had us caring for these people in this terrible situation, allowing us to see them for more than the lifeless characters they had previously been.
Taking a look at the season as a whole, it’s hard to say that there was a truly gripping episode out of the entire batch of 16. As mentioned previously, the season premiere (“No Sanctuary”) starts off with a bang, and is a rather entertaining episode, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “gripping.” In fact, the closest this season comes to that criteria is “The Distance,” where we, like the rest of the group, can only wonder what Aaron’s true intentions are and whether he’s telling the truth or not. Over half of season four had featured pretty good episodes, making it rather easy to recommend, but with season five, we find a rather disappointing ratio of merely 2/16, which makes for an extremely weak season. As we head into season six, it becomes something of a toss-up. Either the showrunners will notice that this past season has been noticeably lacking and go back to basics in an attempt to improve, or they’ll stay in their complacent zone, causing the show to continue to decline in quality. Let’s hope they make the right call.
“The Walking Dead: The Complete Fifth Season” comes to Blu-ray in a 1.78:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of the usual excellent quality. The show continues to be rather dark and gritty, but once again, the video is perfectly sharp, bringing out the gloom of this apocalyptic world. The 7.1 Dolby TrueHD audio impresses as well, giving you all elements from dialogue to effects in outstanding quality, making for a definite improvement over its original television broadcast. Overall, the show has been given the same great treatment that we have come to expect from these releases.
Audio Commentaries: Commentary tracks on certain episodes that include cast and crew giving you bits of interesting behind the scenes information. Like most commentary tracks, they have their down spots, but there are some neat things to be learned here.
Deleted Scenes: About 16 minutes of deleted scenes that were easily cut from their respective episodes, but if you’re a die-hard fan of the show, you may find it interesting to see what didn’t make it into the final cuts.
Inside The Walking Dead: 16 brief featurettes that have the cast and crew exploring the story and characters from episode to episode. What they have to say is not particularly interesting given the show’s struggle in both of these areas, but it is a somewhat intriguing look at the season from beginning to end.
The Making of The Walking Dead: Another set of 16 featurettes, this time featuring the cast and crew discussing the actual making of the show. These are far more interesting than the previous featurettes as they contain lots of behind the scenes footage in addition to the commentary from those involved telling us how certain sequences were done.
The Making of Alexandria: A ten-minute featurette that explores the making of the Alexandria community. There’s not a lot to be learned here, so it’s not particularly worth watching.
Beth’s Journey, Bob’s Journey, Noah’s Journey, and Tyreese’s Journey: Four brief and superficial featurettes that explore the character arcs of these four characters that were killed during the season. Easily skippable.
A Day in the Life of Michael Cudlitz and Josh McDermitt: Two eight-minute featurettes that follow these two actors around for a typical day of shooting. Again we are treated to a good amount of behind the scenes footage, making them both worth checking out.
“The Walking Dead: The Complete Fifth Season” represents a major step down for a show that had seemingly finally figured out what it was missing. Slipping back into its old ways, this past season returns to the unengaging storylines and the flat, lifeless characters that had plagued its first three seasons. It’s painfully clear where the show needs to make improvements (as it had been for its first few years), which begs the question of why the people in charge don’t do so. Until they buckle down and realize that a group of paper-thin characters wandering around with nothing interesting to do doesn’t make for particularly captivating television, the show will only continue to suffer in quality. Most of season four was a step on the right track, now they just need to find the right footing once more.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
Recent Theatrical Reviews: Inside Out, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Avengers: Age of Ultron
Recent Blu-ray/DVD reviews: Insurgent, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete First Season, X-Men: Days of Future Past (The Rogue Cut), Ex Machina, The Cell, House of Cards: Season Three, The Lazarus Effect, Run All Night, Wild Tales, Jupiter Ascending, American Sniper, Cymbeline, Mortdecai, The Pyramid, Fifty Shades of Grey, Goodfellas (25th Anniversary Edition), Lost River, The Last Five Years, Inherent Vice, Mad Max (Collector’s Edition), The Missing: Season One, Echoes, Turn: Season One
Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.