Warning: This review may contain traces of spoilers, and may have come into contact with spoilers from movies, comics and other TV shows.
The Walking Dead has successfully recovered from episode 4, which I consider to be the weakest episode so far, with episode 5. Man, what a killer episode. It starts strong and just gets better and better, leading to a great reveal in the final moments. I’m just going to go ahead and start talking about all things spoilery under the cut, so you might as well click “read more” now and spare yourself the suspense!
Things start off strong, with Rick broadcasting to Morgan (at least, he hopes Morgan is listening) using his walkie-talkie at dawn, as he promised in the pilot. After a few minutes, we’re back at camp as the survivors of the zombie attack that concluded episode 4 behind busting undead heads and burning the bodies. Andrea refuses to leave Amy’s body so that she can be buried, though, and it’s causing distress amongst the other survivors. When she pulls a gun on Rick before he can even say a word to her, the gravity of the situation really sets in. Not only that, but it’s soon revealed that Jim was bitten during the attack, and people are immediately divided as to whether or not they should kill him before he turns. Soon, Amy wakes up as a zombie and Andrea apologizes to her for never being there on her birthday before shooting her in the head.
These moments of dark, sad character development give the episode a really strong foundation. Watching Glenn fight to keep the pile of dead zombies and the pile of their fallen comrades seperate, or Rick hold Daryl back when he tries to kill Jim, saying “We don’t kill the living,” do a terrific job of reminding us that The Walking Dead is just as much about the living. The characters are desperately clinging to their humanity, and even though we only got to know Jim in any capacity in episode 4, the show is so well done that I honestly felt sad as he talked about how he wanted to be with his family again. And, in true Walking Dead fashion, these sad moments are punctuated with awesome zombie gore.
Most of the episode is dedicated to these moments between the characters. Rick decides that the best course of action would be to try and make it to CDC headquarters, and there are many conversations between Rick and Lori, Rick and Shane, and Lori and Shane about the benefits and pitfalls of making the journey there. In the clip that I featured on Sunday, we see the consequences of one of those conversations.
But what we don’t see is the end of that scene, wherein Dale notices Shane pointing the gun at Rick. Once again, the stage is set for Shane to finally go crazy and find his life ended by a bullet – the source of which is a matter of some debate.
On a related note, Dale has rapidly become my favourite character. Jeffrey DeMunn plays him incredibly well, and I love the way he provides a conscience and a voice of reason for the group. Even Rick isn’t as level-headed as Dale.
The episode begins to wind down as the survivors leave their camp, heading for CDC headquarters (to the tunes of…the score to 28 Days Later? Sure sounded like it…). Jim can’t take the journey, however, what with his slow decent into becoming a zombie, and he requests that they leave him by the side of the road. Of all the great parts of this episode, I think Jim’s final moments with the survivors are the absolute best. I’ve honestly never seen a character in a zombie movie decide that he just wants to be left to turn. The Walking Dead continues to surprise me.
This review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the final moments of the episode, which are totally new material that’s never seen in the comics. Things start to get unusual at around the 37-minute mark. Suddenly we’re in the CDC headquarters, where we find out that there’s only one man left alive inside, still conducting research. There’s trouble, though, when he inadvertantly spills some caustic liquid while doing his experiments and the whole lab goes into lockdown, destroying his research in the process. He’s left depressed and alone, without any hope, getting drunk on a bottle of wine when Rick and company turn up on his doorstep. The episode ends with him opening the doors to the CDC. All I could think is “WHAAAAAT?” I have no idea where this storyline is going. I think it’s awesome, but I sure hope that it doesn’t derail the series and keep them from exploring some of the many, many terrific plot arcs from the comics. I don’t mind a little divergence from the source material, but I don’t see why they’d want to divert things too much, since the comics were so damn good. And where the heck has Merle Dixon gotten to? It’s like they’ve diverted from their divergence. As always, I’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
One final note is that this episode was written by Greg Mazzara who, rumour has it, was just fired by Frank Darabont along with the rest of the writing staff. If the rumour turns out to be true, I’d say it’s a damn shame, because I really liked this episode. Here’s hoping there’s no truth behind this rumour.
5 out of 5