In recent years, The Walking Dead has primarily used the back halves of its seasons to decompress and transition to the next arc, with the more dramatic movements and climactic showdowns to follow in the subsequent fall season. Thus, after the explosive midseason finale, the remainder of Season 5 sees the group finally leaving miserable Atlanta behind them, making new friends(?), and settling into a new environment, while the new big bad lurks in the background. That said, the second half of Season 5 does contain a few major moments for the series.
Episode 10, “Them,” sees the main characters at a low point, starving and withdrawn from one another, as they trek on foot toward Washington, D.C., recent losses to their party having taken a heavy toll on the group’s morale. There’s a telling shot where we see the survivors trudging onward, listless to the likewise oddly apathetic zombies in the background merely keeping pace with them. This all culminates in a speech where Rick finally name-checks the title of the show: “We do what we need to do, and then we get to live. No matter what we find in D.C., I know we’ll be okay. This is how we survive: We tell ourselves that we are the walking dead.”
Of course, anybody who has really been paying attention surely figured out a long time ago that the title was referring, not to the zombies, but to the hollowed-out survivors. Still, it feels a momentous milestone for the series. One also gets the impression that, with the characters just now figuring out who they are, the show might still only be getting started, with no end in sight nor any clear destination.
This is then followed by one of the strongest moments in the season, as the group, having taken refuge in a barn, has to mass together to brace the barn door against a horde of zombies, all while a storm rages around them. It might even be the most powerful image in the entire series. So far, I’d say it’s between this and that time Rick ate a guy in Season 4—two moments that strike very different notes emotionally, but which both serve to prove just how fearsome is their will to survive.
The rest of the season focuses on the group trying to integrate into the Alexandria Safe Zone, and here we get the tantalizing twist that, after all the times the main characters have been the hunted, they might now be entering this peaceful community as the predators, the danger, maybe even the straight-up bad guys. When Rick suggests to his team that they might have to take the town by force, because it is going to waste in the hands of its weakling citizenry, it’s an unsettling callback to the debates Rick himself had with Shane back on Hershel’s farm in Season 2, only now Rick seems to have come around to Shane’s way of thinking.
The other great moment of this half-season comes when, Rick, the newly appointed sheriff of the Alexandria community, after having to be pulled off the wife-beating scumbag he was pummeling in a public spectacle, responds by drawing his gun on the unarmed civilian leadership, and delivering his most deranged speech yet:
“You still don’t get it. None of you do! We know what needs to be done, and we do it. We’re the ones who live. You!—you just sit and plan and hesitate. You pretend like you know, when you don’t! You wish things weren’t what they are. Well, you wanna live? You want this place to stay standing? Your way of doing things is done! Things don’t get better because you want them to. Starting right now, we have to live in the real world.”
Yep. If they’re not already on CafePress, I hope someone will get to designing some “Shane was right” T-shirts.
In fact, it’s basically a variation on the “we are the walking dead” speech that Rick gave to the group in the barn. But, whereas the barn episode, which rallied the group’s will to survive, was, I think, meant to be inspiring, this incident casts a lot of doubt on the soundness of Rick’s leadership. On that note, I should say, it feels like Rick has been crazy more often than not through these first five seasons, so I don’t know why the Alexandrians were so eager to invite him into their community to begin with.
But things follow a predictable course, when Alexandria quickly begins to unravel internally, just as Rick called it. If Rick (and, by extension, Shane) is not wholly vindicated, nevertheless the demurring Alexandrians are proven to be totally wrong and complete idiots, who, like every other non-predatory survivors on this show, were only surviving by dumb luck. And so it falls to Rick to browbeat them into submission, in order to prepare them for the real threat we know to be coming—the mysterious “Wolves,” who, so far, seem like every other predatory gang the group has crossed paths with.
Will the arrival of the Wolves help to remind Rick and the viewers alike what separates our protagonists from the depraved evils the group has faced, or have our “heroes” merely become another gang?
Rick seems to appreciate the distinction between living and merely surviving—hence how he is able to survive while being “dead.” But Rick and the rest will die someday, as shall we all. As they die, will they, as Tyreese did, contemplate how they lived, and wonder if they went about it the right way? Perhaps such philosophy is a luxury left to the dying. While they survive, such thoughts are quickly set aside.
What else happened in Season 5? Well, even with Tyreese’s death in the midseason opener, the show was apparently still over its self-imposed “black guy quota,” so naturally recent addition Noah had to come to a brutal and senseless death, which also rendered Beth’s death the previous half-season all the more senseless. On the bright side, Morgan is back, and it looks like he will be joining Rick’s group. Personally, I thought this character had run his proper course ending with his reappearance in Season 3, but I guess the show wasn’t done with him. And I know it’s an awful thing to say, but I hope the addition of Morgan as a regular means that the preacher man is next up on the chopping block, because, brother or no, that dude is seriously the worst.