[This is a review of The Walking Dead season 5, episode 15. There will be SPOILERS.]
At the end of The Walking Dead season 4, Rick and his fellow survivors found themselves the guests of another group who had managed to create for themselves a community of sorts. It was a community based on luring weary, unsuspecting folks looking for sanctuary to their doom, but it was still the start of a small, functioning community. In fact, one of the most surprising things about Terminus was the sense of efficiency and togetherness its cannibalistic residents exuded. And still, by the time the season 5 premiere was over, Rick and the gang had managed to bring the whole thing crashing down.
There is a nice sense of symmetry as the end of season 5 approaches. After having been welcomed into the idyllic community of Alexandria, Rick and (some of) his group have given the residents of this efficient and functioning community a reason to think twice about those they just welcomed into their sanctuary. The only difference is: Deanna and her fellow Alexandrians aren’t guilty of noshing down on humans like tasty cattle; they are not really guilty of anything aside from inaction – which, in the eyes of Rick and a few others is tantamount to an egregious and dangerous sort of weakness (as we saw with Nicholas).
Either way you cut it, whether it’s a group of bloodthirsty cannibals or a party of well intentioned but inexperienced individuals, bringing Rick Grimes into your community is not the best idea. And as the penultimate episode of season 5 reaches its bloody and intense climax, it becomes clear that even the members of Rick’s group are starting to see the caustic nature of their leader.
That is an interesting approach for the series: to paint the character that (notions of the program being an ensemble aside) serves as its ostensible protagonist, as something of an equal opportunity destroyer of post-apocalyptic microcosms. But the thing is, even while Rick is making a series of bad decisions (by threatening to kill Pete, and then whipping out his stolen revolver at the most inopportune moment possible), an unknown threat looms on the horizon that may prove Rick’s intention to be right, even when his actions are wrong.
In essence, Rick’s decisions still come from a place that is demonstrative of his understanding of the larger world. The effect, then, is a graying of the series’ perception of Rick as neither a hero acting in the best interest of the groups he’s sworn to protect, nor is he a complete villain or blight upon any community foolish enough to welcome him within its walls. It is a compelling place to put Rick that serves to underline his very specific journey over the past five seasons. And the fact that Rick’s status doesn’t necessarily paint him in a good light becomes one of the more persuasive aspects of his current position.
It is far more persuasive than the other major threads that feature prominently in the Alexandria storyline. Those would be, of course, the ongoing, but poorly defined Jessie/Pete/Rick triangle, Sasha’s ongoing struggle with grief that leads her into battle with a group of walkers (only to get angry when Michonne and Rosita show up to lend a hand), and Carl’s flirtation with Enid.
These threads suffer from the show’s inability to spend the appropriate amount of time developing certain storylines. Yes, domestic violence is something that would most definitely set Rick off – and given his current state of agitation, it’s clear that Rick would immediately go into kill mode in order to resolve the situation. What doesn’t ring true is how the storyline announces that Rick is doing this out of the feelings he’s developed for Jessie. Aside from an improper, but nevertheless chaste kiss, there’s no real indication that these two have that kind of relationship. The show tells the audience that they do instead of demonstrate it – severely undercutting the intended potency of Pete and Rick’s conflict.
Meanwhile, Sasha seems to be on the same “never stop fighting” wavelength as Rick. Both are acting in what appears to be an irrational manner that, from the look of what Daryl and Aaron discover and the increased prevalence of walkers with “W’ carved into their foreheads, will likely prove to be somewhat prescient. The only problem with Sasha is that, she hasn’t been allowed much contact with the rest of the group. That’s part and parcel of what the character wants right now, but it doesn’t grant much in the way of potency into her arc. There are glimpses of it when Michonne and Rosita show up, but even then the episode keeps from exploring Sasha’s standoffishness in a way that is more meaningful than simply foreshadowing what’s coming next.
‘Try’ sets the stage for a conflict that may or may not mean Rick and his group (or maybe just Rick) are about to be exiled from Alexandria. It is one that has been building since Rick first announced his intention to take the town from its residents if they didn’t prove worthy of it. In a way, that conflict feels like it came too soon, as The Walking Dead was on the verge of uncovering some interesting things about its characters and their overall journey that were worth exploring. Things like the question of whether or not society can be rebuilt, and who is best suited to handle that job.
When you consider the cyclical nature of the series, it was inevitable that things would go this route. Still, it would have been interesting to see those questions explored more before the whole thing threatened to come crashing down.
The Walking Dead will conclude season 5 next Sunday with the 90-minute ‘Conquer’ @9pm on AMC. Check out a preview below:
Photos: Gene Page/AMC