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“The Walking Dead : Season Five” has been a mixed bag for me. I liked the first half of the season because there was a certain brutality to it all, and the showrunners weren’t trying to be overly artistic or take themselves too seriously. Some of that did return in the latter half of the season, but at times I was frustrated by the fact that the people in charge thought they were visionaries again, and started to try to make the characters more complicated and layered than the quality of the writing allows them to be. Nonetheless, it’s been a good season, and any annoying aspects towards the end were mollified by how great the finale turned out to be.

“The Walking Dead” is to television what “The Fast and the Furious” is to film. It’s not a high standard of acting or writing, but at times it’s very entertaining, and that’s enough to get people with their bums on seats. There’s nothing wrong with knowing your limits, and there’s nothing wrong with being mediocre if what you’re delivering is still enjoyable, but there’s something very wrong about trying to make a work of art and ending up with something that’s barely worth sticking on the fridge.

Some of the writing in the latter half of the season has been truly dreadful, and the new characters have often felt very one-dimensional as a result. Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) are ridiculously dull, and the overacting on show from both of the actors playing the roles has been laughable. Furthermore, the group from Alexandria are all very predictable and lack real depth, particularly Pete (Corey Brill), who was just there to move the story along by getting under the skin of Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Carol (Melissa McBride), and was less of a character than a plot device.

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However, it hasn’t been all bad and I’d be lying to myself if I said that I hadn’t been excited to watch each episode, it’s just that sometimes this show lets itself down when it comes to character development. Having said that, Carol is a layered character now, and the season has seen Melissa McBride flourish in the role. A lot of people were already saying that after the mid-season finale, because she had undergone a transformation which saw her turn into a fighter rather than the victim. At that point I disagreed, because I didn’t think that the change was gradual enough, or that it was done with enough care. I felt as though a switch had been flicked and she’d gone from being one person to another, which wasn’t entirely believable.

I’m glad that she’s still being developed and that the show is persisting with giving her a greater role, because now that we’ve seen her be a powerful and pragmatic member of the group for a few more episodes, I think that it suits her quite well, and I’m able to buy into her transformation now that she is more careful with her decisions. Melissa McBride has really grown alongside the character, and when I’m watching her I’m more immersed in the story than with any other character.

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Glenn (Steven Yeun) has also developed this season, and now that he’s within a community of weak people he shines as someone who’s battle-hardened. When “The Walking Dead” began he was a runner for the group and he was brave, but he wasn’t a strong and intimidating person. Now he comes across as though he’s in control, and he’s really come into his own. Steven Yeun is a good actor and I wouldn’t have said that before this season, so that’s a big plus for the show going forward.

This season has had a compelling arc, and there’s been a clear underlying theme that’s made things better than they seem in isolation. The whole season has been about how the group, but mainly Rick, can’t go back to the way things used to be, and this has constantly been reaffirmed as things have progressed. Season five began with the group escaping from Terminus, and ended with their infection of the Alexandria Safe Zone. They’ve gone from chaos and near death to what should’ve been a civilised and normal life, but they clearly haven’t adapted as well as they might have hoped.

This season has told us from the start that there is no going back, and Rick stated it again in the mid-season finale, but there’s been other moments that are slightly less explicit which have given off that same impression. Just before the group were approached by Aaron (Ross Marquand), Rick told the group that the world wasn’t going to change, and said ‘we are the walking dead’. That’s a great line just by itself, but it wasn’t just a nod to the comics, it was a foreboding warning to the audience that the group aren’t an unlucky bunch of travellers anymore, they’re vicious when they need to be and they bring destruction with them wherever they go, just like any other zombie horde. They’re as broken as the world around them, and just like that world, it might be too late for things to get fixed.

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When the season began the group were being tortured at Terminus, but it ended with them acting as destructive invaders. They did to the Alexandria Safe Zone what the unnamed group from the first episode flashback did to the people at Terminus, although not in such an intentional or evil way. They’ve torn the place apart and left the people wounded; that’s what happens to people who try to live in this world as though nothing has changed. People can’t change the world back to the way it was, rather, this world changes people – the group are past the point of no return, and to try to go back is to face annihilation from someone else who doesn’t want to.

Rick was turning into a bit of a psycho by the end of the previous season, after all, he did rip a person’s throat out with his teeth and gut a man like a pig! But he did that for all the right reasons and although the means were excessive, the end was necessary. This season he’s gone a step further and almost lost what was left of his humanity, so again it doesn’t look as though he can go back to the way he was before the dead took over the earth. He’s still made out to be the good guy, but good guys don’t act like he does; in my opinion he’s causing all the problems right now, so he shouldn’t get any brownie points for eventually solving them.

The theme was clear from the first half of the season, but the way that the season ended definitely re-established it. Morgan (Lennie James) appeared in the very first episode of the first season, and is a reminder of who Rick used to be, so for him to appear just as Rick reached his lowest moment demonstrated to the audience just how far gone the character actually is. Morgan is a beacon of hope for Rick as a character, and I could see his introduction sparking a change in the group whereby the theme of this season gets turned on its head, because he had slipped into craziness the last time we saw him, but it seems like now he’s as right as rain (or at least as sane as a man can be in a world filled with walking corpses).

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I could definitely see Morgan acting as a catalyst for Rick to change into something like a normal human being again, reminding him of the man he once was, and making him realise that he owes it to Carl (Chandler Riggs) and the memory of Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) to take a step back and regain his humanity. Morgan can tell Rick about how much he misses his son and his wife, and how it’s not too late to change, and because he’s a lot like Rick, or at least the man that he used to be, I could see him getting through to him. I think that’s got to be his role going forward, and I thought that could be seen through the line that one of The Wolves said at the start of the episode; ‘everything gets a return’.

Either way, I’m glad that Morgan is back on the show, because he reminds me of a time when “The Walking Dead” was still exciting and promised so much. Morgan is still one of the show’s most memorable characters, and part of one of its best moments, in which he couldn’t shoot his wife, even though she was a dangerous and lifeless zombie.

The season has ended in an interesting place, not only because the Alexandria Safe Zone is a great setting, but because the characters are all in the balance as far as their mental states are concerned. It’s been really fun to see how the characters have reacted to being thrown back into a functioning society, because they’ve been wandering a living Hell for so long. I had my reservations initially, because to me it felt like Woodbury all over again, but I think it’s different enough that those comparisons die away. There have to be plenty of places like this left in the world, so the fact that the group has come across another isn’t sufficient to warrant criticism, and it’s from the comics so it’s fine with me.

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The Wolves are lurking on the horizon and by the look of it they could be a formidable foe. I hope that it doesn’t take too long for season six to get going and for them to try to take the Safe Zone, if that’s the direction that the series is going to go, but I also hope that if things have to go badly in the Safe Zone, it doesn’t just get destroyed like Terminus did. I don’t want the group to move on straight away next season, I want them to have time to build before everything gets ruined again.

All in all it’s been a pretty decent season, but one problem that’s been apparent from the very start of the series is that none of the important characters have been killed. A couple have bit the dust in the past, most notably Shane (Jon Bernthal) and Lori, but in this season there wasn’t a single death that I actually cared about. This takes a sense of urgency out of the show and makes it seem less realistic. I don’t mind that some of the bigger characters in the show get a pass, because I want to see my favourite characters live on; I don’t want Carol, Rick, Glenn or Daryl (Norman Reedus) to die, and the shock value wouldn’t be worth it to have them gone. However, I think that the show has to do away with Carl, Michonne (Danai Gurira), or Maggie (Lauren Cohan) next season, or it will start to lose credibility (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – please let it be Carl! He’s such a waste of a character it’s time to let him go).

I enjoy “The Walking Dead”, and this season is no exception. I like creative zombie kills (not the pinpoint headshots), and I like the melodrama between the characters when believable performances are given. I don’t think that it’s worthy of a fraction of the praise and attention that it gets, but it’s a guilty pleasure that I’ve stuck with for a very long time. This season has been good, maybe even great at times, but the quality of writing often lets it down. If it were perhaps half the length then I think it would work much better, but the producers like money, and that’s just that. Overall, it was a well-crafted season of television, but it wasn’t up to the standard of other big name television shows like “Hannibal”, “Game of Thrones” or “Breaking Bad”.

6.5/10

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