Smile, walker stalkers! Despite its grim resolution, the first half of its fifth season saw The Walking Dead build upon the success of its outstanding fourth year as it plunged ever deeper into the psyches of the zombie apocalypse’s survivors, while delivering all the thrills its fans have come to expect. Narrowing the list of things we loved about these last eight episodes to a mere ten was no easy task, but if there’s one thing this show has taught us, it’s that easy only gets you killed.
Rick “One Chance” Grimes
Respect (and an MVP Award) must be paid to the former deputy officer, who’s come a long way from when we first saw him ride proudly through post-apocalyptic Atlanta in full police uniform atop a horse. If there were any doubts as to whether or not Andrew Lincoln was right for this role, they’ve been all but extinguished by the skill he’s shown in portraying a man who’s faced the madness within himself, made peace with it, and channeled it into his role as a father — not only to Carl and Judith, but his entire group. Some might have reservations about the calm with which he so bloodily terminated the Terminus refugees (in “Four Walls and a Roof”) or shot and killed Officer Lamson (after hitting him with his car in “Coda”), but there’s no question that Mr. Grimes got the job done.
And speaking of Terminus, has any hour of The Walking Dead offered as much suspense and chills as the horrorfest that was the season premiere? Set almost entirely within the confines of what was once believed an oasis of security, “No Sanctuary” saw the Terminians reveal the full extent of their depravity, lining Rick and his friends up like cattle before a chopping block, about to beat them senseless with a baseball bat before slicing their throats open. Until fate intervened in the form of one very empowered woman…
Carol to the Rescue!
And has any character on television evolved so dramatically over the course of five seasons as the widow Peletier? After growing almost too detached for her own good last year, and preemptively killing off infected survivors during the prison’s influenza outbreak, Carol was cast out of the group. But when Rick and co. found their lives dangling by a thread at Terminus, it was Carol who raced to their aid and went full Rambo on the Terminians. Doing it all without a shred of hope she’d be allowed back into the group. Fortunately, Rick recognized her for the hero she was.
Bob Cracks Up
After conquering his alcoholism last season, and allowing himself to love and be loved by Sasha, Bob Stookey, upon surviving Terminus, embraced hope for the group and mankind. Which made it all the more tragic when he was bitten during a food run in “Strangers”, an incident he kept from Sasha and the group until he was captured by the few remaining Terminus survivors. His cries of horror upon discovering they’d consumed his leg quickly gave way to howls of laughter as he informed them they’d eaten “tainted meat,” a moment that comic book fans had been waiting to see. When returned to his friends, he accepted his fate with the kind of dignity we’ve seen all too few of the show’s dying display.
Last season, we met Abraham and witnessed his unwavering determination on his mission to get Eugene to Washington. But in season 5.1, we got to know the ex-sergeant, and learned of the torture he once endured when his rage frightened his wife and children away, driving them straight into the jaws of a horde of walkers. We completely sympathized when Abraham poured all of his focus into Eugene’s “cure” for the Walker virus. And shared his grief when the truth behind that solution was finally revealed (in “Self Help”).
Kudos to director/producer/makeup god Greg Nicotero and the folks at KNB for continuing to create walkers so exquisitely detailed they’re as beautiful as The Walking Dead‘s autumnal Georgia landscape. The show’s kills remain as varied as its undead, offering us the glories of still hungry undead melted into street asphalt (in “Crossed”) — and Daryl using the head of one to fend off an attacker — as well as the POV of a piece of glass as it slices a zombie’s head open (in “Coda”).
Tara Sneaks a Peek
After scolding Eugene for spying on Rosita and Abraham while they’re having sex, the Governor’s former ally can’t resist her own appreciation for the “female form” and hilariously steals a brief glimpse of the pair before giving them some privacy (in “Self Help”).
Beth Feeds Joan
While searching Dawn’s office at Grady Memorial Hospital for a key, Beth is accosted by the sleazeball Gorman. But, upon spying the body of Dawn’s former servant Joan (who killed herself to escape the tyrant), she goads him on, smashing a glass jar on his head before letting a fully zombified Joan devour him. The cunning Beth exhibited here, and in deducing how Dawn and her staff routinely manipulated people to satisfy their every whim, added to the gut-punch shock of her story’s end in “Coda”.
Silence Is Golden
Like Mad Men, another peerless AMC drama, The Walking Dead is an atypical show in that what remains unsaid by its characters is just as important as what’s spoken aloud. Case in point — Daryl and Carol’s trip to Atlanta (in “Consumed”). The two say very little to each other, mumbling a few words here and there, while conveying everything with a small glance or action — like the dropping of the abuse-survivors self-help book — as they soldier on in an effort to find Beth.
The Lollipop Kid
While the two new key characters we met in these last eight episodes were polarizing (the dangerously delusional Dawn) and annoying (the guilt-ridden and fearful Father Gabriel), Dawn’s former ward Noah proved himself a worthy ally, first to Beth — offering her a piece of candy and then a plan of escape from Grady Hospital — and then to Daryl and the group when he helped them find their friend. Since Noah was convinced his own people were safe in Virginia, might he be the light that guides the group to a safe haven in Alexandria in season 5.2? We’ll know when The Walking Dead returns in February.
What are your favorite things about season 5.1? Let us know in the comments below!