I’ve made exactly the same mistake as I did last year in failing to review the two halves of the season separately. The writers seem to have fully committed to pretty much telling a complete story/scenario each half season, with just a cliffhanger to carry over in between. There will be spoilers in this review for the series so far, it’s just too hard to talk about without giving away key story directions.
It’s hard to remember that this season actually started out with most of our heroes locked in a train car. A huge amount happens in just 16 episodes with the group swinging back and forth between the far extremes of hope and despair. At varying points this season they thought they were going to be eaten by cannibals, thought they were on their way to Washington to deliver a cure, thought they were going to starve in a storm swept barn and found themselves in a seeming paradise of a community with walls, showers and children playing in the streets. In overall numbers they’ve grown, but the loses of Tyrese, Bob and Beth don’t feel like a fair exchange for the likes of Gabriel and residents of Alexandria.
With all that going on, and getting on for twenty characters to cover, it’s not really surprising that depth and subtlety went out the window a bit. I just wish it hadn’t. Characters and audience all desperately needed more time to really appreciate what was happening. The relentless mood swings made it very hard to fully comprehend either the hope or the despair and left me rather more removed from the characters than I’ve felt in past seasons.
Thankfully the writers and actors are actually pretty good at creating fully developed characters even though each one gets relatively little screen time. Compared to something like Game of Thrones with its cast of dozens of disparate one-note characters, The Walking Dead has a powerful ensemble of complex and evolving characters and relationships. Not all the new characters have been a complete success (Gabriel, yes I know he’s traumatised, but what a waste of oxygen), but it’s sometimes hard to remember how little time we’ve really spent with Abraham, Rosita, Eugene, Tara and Bob. Even Sasha and Tyrese are relatively new additions, and Michonne’s only been around since season 3!
Of those that have been there since (nearly) the beginning, it’s hard not to get worried that one day Daryl, Carol or Glenn are not going to be so lucky. With the exception of Beth, I just wasn’t as moved by the deaths this season as I have been in the past. It felt like we barely met Noah before he was going through the great revolving door of death, and with the exception of the particularly gruesome details, it was a bit hard to care. I’m certainly not wishing for the deaths of favourite characters, but without them it risks the series becoming too safe.
I’m really happy about the group’s arrival at Alexandria, I think it could be a really interesting new chapter for the series and a welcome relief. It doesn’t have to be easy settling in to Alexandria (and it really hasn’t been so far) but I need the characters to have hope. We’ve spent a long time dealing with them fighting day-to-day on the road, or against somewhat ridiculous super-villains. I want to see them approach a new challenge, building a community and really starting to live rather than just surviving. They had a tentative look at this while they were in the prison but under constant threat of the Governor it just didn’t work. That said, I wasn’t overly enthused with the introduction of The Wolves, a gang of survivors who seem to have given up on their humanity. It just felt a little too close to the cannibals we started the season with.
I really don’t think this was the strongest season of the series and there were certainly times me attention wandered. But with the ratings still through the roof and clearly plenty of scope for stories, I don’t think it’s going anywhere for a while. Even with this season’s dip it’s still one of the most creative and original series on television at the moment and I can’t wait to see where they bounce to next season.