A Wanker’s Literary Reaction: Walking Dead Season Finale

by thethreepennyguignol

It’s been a buggeringly long week, and it’s not even halfway done yet, so I apologise if I’m not up to my usual levels of blinding brilliance this week. I’d also like to draw your attention to the newly-added Blog Directory (just scan your eyes up a bit), which I’ve added to dredge up some of the long-lost blog posts and make them easier to find, as well as to make finding your way around the weird but well-I’m-sticking-with-it-now design of the Guignol. Now, on with the rant!

So, season five of The Walking Dead finished this Sunday. As you might have guessed from my increasingly bitter posts on TelePlayTime, I’ve had…mixed feelings about this series (oh, I’m going to stick a big fat SPOILER WARNING here for anyone who hasn’t seen the whole season but was still stupid enough to click on that link). The series continued in it’s quest to kill off all the interesting new characters (Gareth, Bob, Noah) while preserving the decent characters whose arcs have essentially nowhere else left to go (Maggie), or who the writers have no clue how to write for (Sasha- seriously, I refuse to believe that the great Sonequa Martin-Green is what’s stopping me from getting invested in the lazily-written OMG SASHA GOES MENTAL subplot), or who they’ve just thrown in to satiate the fans of the comics without any clear plan of how to make them a compelling part of the story (Father Flopsweat). After powering through the potentially brilliant Terminus plotline in a few episodes so we could spend a few full episodes with Beth almost tipped me over the edge, but then they killed her off and set Emily Kinney and her gorgeous voice into the wild once again, thank utter Christ (confession: a close friend of mine started watching TWD over the last few weeks, and she mentioned to me that she didn’t get why I loathed Beth so much. I vaguely remember explaining to her politely that she was watching the show wrong when I was pretty slammed last weekend. I hope that didn’t happen. Sorry Ellie, again). Then the team arrived in Alexandria, and Abraham got to say things like “Motherdick!” before he fought a pack of zombies and Noah got his face literally ripped in half and all was good again.

The last two episodes have left me with really mixed feelings, probably because I’ve watched them several times in order to write those scripts, and The Walking Dead is a brittle, brittle creation that tends to shatter into dust under any sort of scrutiny at all. Firstly, there was that abuse storyline, performed with some nuance by an increasingly impressive Alexandra Beckenridge (shout out to the American Horror Story peeps), as Rick positively leered over this married woman only for the plot to make his slightly creepy flirtation 100% okay because she was being abused and hey, it turned out she wanted Rick anyway, even though he outright states that he wouldn’t have intervened in any other situation, and it’s really just because he wants to get his dick wet (look, I watched that scene about four times in a row, and it was so creepy and grim that I just started making up my own dialogue, shut up). Tensions were building in Alexandria, or at least the writers liked to think they were. The incredible speech Rick gave at the end of the penultimate episode was the high point of the season, properly deranged, utterly beyond the pale, performed with violent gusto by Andrew Lincoln at his gruffest and most bloodied. It seemed to point to an explosive finale, as the tinderbox of plot machinations came together to create something that actually looked to be pretty good as long as you didn’t think about it too hard enough. It seemed like the death of a major, first-season character was near, and in fact, I went into this episode wanting a bloodbath of some kind, and some Lennie James for my buck.

And I got plenty of the latter. But the episode seemed oddly muted for a season that started out with Carol blowing the fuck out of an entire community and blasting her way in there like a pixie-cut Rambo to save her friends. They slotted a lot into place for the next season (which will contain an episode written by Stephen King- get it up you!), but the episode itself felt like a midpoint, not a satisfying ending. I was delighted with Lennie James’ Morgan, continually played with the kind of understated excellence that proved a magnificent contrast to Andrew Lincoln’s articulate descent into utter madness, and his encounter with one of the Wolves at the start of the episode was by far the best thing they pulled off. But stupid plot machinations got in the way of the show pulling any real punches- Glenn finds himself under a pile of rabid zombies, only for the show to cut to commercial before he could fight them off; he appears later, uninjured. We’re repeatedly told by Rick’s group how little the Alexandrians understand of the outside world, and how much they need to be educated and dominated by the incomers, despite the fact that they’ve created a functioning community that’s actually somewhat thriving given the situation, and Rick and company have basically failed to do anything close to that. I will never deny that this show has some awesome character moments and some superb actors under it’s belt, but it’s also in the habit of telling us one thing then refusing to back it up by actually proving it through actions. The jaw-droppingly stupid Alexandrian who decided to just leave a gate open, allowing zombies to wander in, was so dumb I flat-out refuse to believe it wasn’t part of some sort of ploy. And sure, we got a couple of deaths at the end- alcoholic wife beater and Hercschel 2.0 provided the dry episode with a little bloody lubrication-but I wanted the show to go out with a bang (or a bite). Specifically, I wanted to see a fan favourite go. I would have welcomed it- Glenn was surely ripe for the culling, and finishing off Carol would have been a great way to spark of next season’s actions and bring an abrupt halt to the Machiavellian-comic-book level of evilness they’ve been hurling at the incredible Melissa McBride of late.

It sounds cynical, and it is, but The Walking Dead has been hitting the same plot points over and over for the last couple of seasons- is Rick evil or good? What do you have to do to survive and also keep your humanity in a situation like this? Why do TWD writers seem so intent on mowing down all the black men in their show, except the boring ones?-and the best they can do is to present them in an interesting or shocking or exciting way. This episode kept things relatively muted, but simply doesn’t have the narrative clout it once did that would carry the quieter episodes along. It feels like the show has tried to pump itself into an early puberty, pushing itself to be something that the writers just can’t keep up with, and it’s straining at the seams trying to be the grown-up, clever, thoughtful show the people behind it so want it to be. And, until they cull a few of the overworked first-season characters, they’re stuck treading water with the same characters, the same relationships. The season five finale wanted to show that radical change was on the way for The Walking Dead, but all they proved is that killing off fan favourites is still far less acceptable than having mutilated, naked dead chicks hanging off of trees.

But goddamit, I’m still looking forward to season 6.