Blu-Ray Review: The Walking Dead, Season Five

Published on October 9th, 2015 in: Blu-Ray, Current Faves, DVD/Blu-Ray Reviews, Horror, Reviews, TV |

By Less Lee Moore

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I think it’s safe to say that a lot of people are sick of zombies. And yet, The Walking Dead continues to be one of the most popular shows on television, even producing a spinoff (Fear The Walking Dead) that’s gotten some good buzz. There are those who might be tempted to just give up on the show—and zombies—altogether. Yet The Walking Dead remains one of the most compelling and innovative dramas on television.

Season Four’s overarching theme was a question: “Do you get to come back from the things you do to survive?” This time around, however, The Walking Dead reminds everyone that you can run from walkers, but you can’t run from your own past, no matter how much the events of that past have changed you.

On the surface, the people of Terminus (like Gareth, Martin, and Mary) seem to understand this, creating a shrine to fallen comrades with the words NEVER FORGET painted on the walls. By doing unto others what was done unto them, they think they’ve learned an important lesson about life in this new world. Rick Grimes and his people do unto others as well, killing out of self-defense and self-preservation. What they don’t do, however, is mercilessly slaughter people for the sheer thrill of misplaced revenge. They don’t sink to that level; they don’t become their enemies (and the allusions to the current debate over wartime torture are quite obvious).

The person who most exemplifies this theme of running from the past is probably Father Gabriel Stokes, one of the most infuriating characters on the show (although gum-chomping Martin and smack-talking Gareth are more despicable). Like Eugene, he is both a coward and a liar, but unlike Eugene, his fears and deceptions manifest themselves in more dangerous ways (and that’s saying a lot, considering that Eugene put glass in the fuel line of the school bus).

Tyreese’s character arc this season is perhaps more troubling: like both Eugene and Gabriel, he doesn’t want to kill and he tells lies to hide his failings, but we have already seen the strength he possesses so it seems as if his inability to reconcile those feelings with his actions has broken him beyond repair. As much as Sasha insists that she and Tyreese are not the same, she has also been broken, in a way that plays out a bit like Rick after he lost Lori in Season Three, where the only thing keeping him alive was unbridled rage.

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Although not as expansive in scope as Woodbury in Season Three, the events at Grady Memorial Hospital are just as horrific, showing that evil isn’t always consistent in the way it manifests itself. While some viewers may have found themselves frustrated with the way Officer Dawn Lerner vacillated between pure villainy (kidnapping, assault, indentured servitude, arranged rapes) and surprisingly sympathetic acts (killing Officer McDonnell yet saving Beth), these fictional occurrences are not so different from the real world we live in. Although the parallels between this story line and real-life events (the Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby revelations) may not have been intentional, one can’t help but be reminded of the insidiousness of misogyny and how it can destroy women from the inside as well as through exterior forces.

The microcosms that Dawn and Gabriel create for themselves prevent them from coming to terms with what’s actually going on in the world, or as Abraham puts it to the residents of Alexandria, the epitome of self-delusion, “there’s a vast ocean of shit that you people don’t know shit about.” Alexandria presents itself as an eerie doppelganger of Woodbury. It’s self-contained, self-sustaining, and ostensibly safe, but hides some ugly secrets. The latter half of Season Five feels a bit like an Alternate Universe fanfic about The Walking Dead. It’s bizarre to see Rick and company cleaned up and trying desperately to attain some level of normalcy in Alexandria, like feral animals brought into a rescue organization who might literally bite the hands that feed them.

Yet this apparent contradiction ties back into the theme of this season. Everything that has happened to them has shaped them and they know they can’t and won’t forget, not just because it makes them who they are, but because to do otherwise would be suicide.

This makes the world of Alexandria that much more surreal and the residents—particularly Deanna with her talk about “civilized society”—that much more irritating. The anachronistic existence of a coddled, suburban elite would be hilarious in the world of The Walking Dead if it weren’t so damn pathetic and problematic, especially when the false bravado of people like Nicholas and Aiden gets people killed who didn’t deserve to die. That said, not everyone in Alexandria is a naïve idiot. The unexpected, but completely believable, rapport between Daryl and Aaron (my favorite new character) is touching to see, particularly after Daryl has witnessed so much personal loss.

Last season introduced a few new characters who provided some much-needed levity to a show that is so frequently grim, though to be fair, there isn’t much to laugh about in the zombie apocalypse. This season, Abraham, Rosita, Eugene, and Tara continue to be significant, revealing that they possess both strengths and weaknesses, which means that they fit right in with Rick and the rest of his flawed family, both those who are blood relatives and those he’s adopted along the way.

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Carol continues to be one the best characters on TV, regardless of gender. She’s a warrior queen who equals (and often exceeds) Rick in terms of leadership and the ability to cut through the crap and get shit done. Temporarily clothing herself in the role of Suzy Homemaker (a part of her past that no one has ever seen) is a smart move when it allows her to devise a way out when things get bad and a scary one when she terrorizes poor Sam. This is not the same Carol who searched for Sophia for an entire season, and one suspects that event informs her refusal to bond with Sam.

Every season of The Walking Dead witnesses the death of at least one beloved character and this time around there seemed to be even more than usual. Bob is a character who serves as a beacon in both life and death, but it’s never clear whether or not his single-mindedness is what gets him killed. Tyreese’s demise seemed inevitable since the last season, almost as if he was already dead and we were just watching his ghost onscreen. While Beth’s transformation from scared innocent to battle-scarred badass makes her loss tragic, the more emotionally eviscerating loss is that of Noah, who more than anyone seemed to epitomize the idea of hope, of a future beyond the gruesome visage of the world in which the show takes place, even more so than the residents of Alexandria, no matter what losses they think they’ve suffered.

It’s obvious that the residents of Alexandria who pose the most trouble—Nicholas and Pete—had deep-seated problems before everything in the world fell apart. And as Glenn (whose sparing of Nicholas’s life on multiple occasions surely qualifies him for sainthood) points out, “People like you are supposed to be dead, except that these walls went up just in time.”

So what of The Wolves? What went wrong in their minds and hearts before the walkers showed up that helped shove them towards their terrifying trajectory? Reminiscent of The Governor in their penchant for torture and trophies, they are the kinds of people to whom Rick was referring when he told Deanna that exiling people is dangerous. Although there are only two of them, it’s obvious that their particularly brand of crazy will prove to be a significant factor in the upcoming Season Six. On the other hand, the redemption and return of Morgan is as joyous as the actions of the Wolves are upsetting, and seems to indicate that the events of the show have come full circle.

Season Five of The Walking Dead was released on Blu-ray by Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada on August 25. Season Six premieres on AMC on October 11.

Special Features:

Bonus Features—Audio commentary tracks with cast and crew are provided for Episodes 1, 5, 9, 12 & 16.

Featurettes— Each episode gets its own segment of “Inside The Walking Dead” as well as “The Making Of The Walking Dead.” There are four “Journey” featurettes on the characters who died this season: Beth, Bob, Noah, and Tyreese, plus two “A Day In The Life Of…” featurettes for actors Michael Cudlitz (Abraham) and Josh McDermitt (Eugene). “The Making Of Alexandria” is about the community itself, while “Rotters In The Flesh” covers practical effects. Finally, there are deleted scenes from Episodes 3, 7, 8, 12, 13, and 14.

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