March 30, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “The Walking Dead”


Under showrunner Scott M. Gimple, this fifth season of THE WALKING DEAD became steadily better as drama than the series has ever been, drawing closer to deserving its phenomenal level of ratings as still (even after the arrival of Empire) TV’s biggest non-football success.  Gimple and his team have greatly improved the show’s eternal pacing problems, and its balance between gory violence and sessions of existential angst about the nature of humanity.  But The Walking Dead can still be very, very dumb, and that fact was unfortunately showcased by tonight’s season finale, written by Gimple and Co-Executive Producer Seth Hoffman, and directed by Greg Nicotero.

The decision to have one of the minor characters casually step away from the Alexandria gate so that woeful, suicidal Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), such a muddled loser that even zombies have little interest in eating him, could leave the gate open and allow walkers to step right in (even though apparently only a single one took the stroll inside, luckily for everyone)–this was lazy, high school level plotting.  And the succession of characters who nearly died in the episode’s last few minutes, only to be spared, became downright silly–at one point, Glenn (Steven Yeun) literally had two walkers inches from his throat, and the show simply cut away from him, and then when it cut back, he was fine, with no explanation of how he’d gotten away.  In the end, the human body count of the episode was fairly low for a finale, the only notable casualties being noble Reg (Steve Coulter), his throat slit by wife-beater Pete (Corey Brill), and then Pete, gunned down by Rick (Andrew Lincoln) with the approval of Reg’s wife, Alexandria leader Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh), who promptly abandoned her nonviolence position once it was her family being murdered.

Also not a good sign:  the foundation laid for Season 6 with the introduction of the wolfpack, yet another group of feral roamers who feed the unwary to their pet zombies after monologuing at length.  (They have, however, apparently learned how to soothe the savage walker with music.)  If this group is going to be next season’s Big Bad, they run the risk of being something of a familiar yawn.

On the other hand, at the end of last season, it seemed as though Season 5 would be all about the cannibals at Terminus, and Gimple and his team got our heroes and the show out of there faster than a walker could stagger to lunch, so we shouldn’t underestimate their ability to surprise.  In addition, one very promising development for next season is the fulfillment of the long-teased return as a regular character of Morgan (Lennie James), who has apparently been studying martial arts movies between seasons, and who has become increasingly zen-like even as Rick has become more savage.

Despite the flaws of the finale, this was largely a fine season.  The surprisingly speedy resolution of the Terminus storyline kept things off-balance, and the characters felt well-drawn even as they went back on the road.  The Alexandria story, for the first time presenting Rick and the rest of the show’s protagonists as the representatives of violence rather than civilization, was well-played and for a while intriguingly ambivalent, with special honors to Melissa McBride’s Carol, equally convincing at pretending to be a cookie-baking suburban matron and at plotting the violent overthrow of the local government.  Lincoln, too, has taken Rick a long way from his initial voice of reason character, and has done so quite convincingly.

Considering its ratings and the fact that by its nature, The Walking Dead can easily rid itself of any actors who threaten to raise costs too high, the series can conceivably go on just about forever, and AMC already has an LA-based spinoff poised for a summer premiere, which will establish Walking Dead as a virtually year-round franchise.  In a way, the fact that the show is still flawed is comforting–it would be almost unseemly for such a hit to also be without defect.  Despite the improvements, that’s not likely to happen anytime soon, as The Walking Dead, like its titular characters, seems to be in perpetual need of more brains.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."