by Jon Partridge
An introduction seems redundant. The Walking Dead has become a TV phenomenon for AMC. Based on the comic book series of the same name by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard, it has become a ratings juggernaut, even spawning its own spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead, which began last weekend. Preceding the sixth season coming later this year comes this Blu-ray release of the show’s fifth season.
The fifth season immediately resolves the cliffhanger from season four where Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his band of survivors have been lured to and imprisoned by the cannibalistic residents of Terminus. Escaping this horrific ordeal, the group soon encounters a stranger who invites them to join a community that he and others have founded, Alexandria, a walled community maintaining traditional values that seeks outsiders who could add to their strength and values. They eventually accept the offer while maintaining their suspicions and begin to find that even when safe from the walking undead they are still haunted by their experiences. Rick’s beliefs in how the settlement should be run clash with those who lead Alexandria, who seem at odds with accepting his much needed experience.
In my previous review of The Walking Dead Season 4 I spoke of the show showing “new life,” moving away from the plot lines that seemed to stagnate for extended periods of time to indulge in weakly done character moments. Season 4 picked up the pace, shook off some of the maudlin feel, and bought the horror and intensity back to the show, and Season 5 continues this upward trend.
The show is at its strongest when it looks to explore aspects of humanity, how to preserve our integrity versus doing what it takes to survive. The introduction of Alexandria is a clever device as it provides a interesting contrast: the survivors we have journeyed with vs. a community of people who have been largely sheltered from the horror unleashed across the US. Deanna Monroe (Tovah Feldshuh), a former U.S. Congresswoman who founded Alexandria, is perhaps the most level headed figure in the show to date, perhaps a little too optimistic but still smart enough to recognize that Rick is perhaps necessary to the survival of what she has built.
Some in the settlement are realists and see how welcoming Rick’s group will strengthen them; others view them as barbarians and as much of a threat as what’s outside. The outsiders see the Alexandrians as complacent, completely unprepared to handle the reality of their situation and plot to take over, for their own good. It’s a very interesting dynamic that forms. This haven also allows the group to take a breather, look inward, and adjust to a different pace of life. The result is mixed, with some happily fitting in and others being unable to adapt; the handling of PTSD is effectively explored. The show isn’t just about survival now, it’s about living in this world.
As ever, the cast rise to the occasion. Lincoln continues his great work with his Rick treading that fine line between most clued up guy in the room and being barking mad. Chandler Riggs moved away from the stereotypical irritating kid and developed the shades of grey you’d expect from a boy who has been though such experiences. Perhaps more than in the past, the female members of the cast are given more to work with. Sonequa Martin-Green (Sasha) and Lauren Cohan (Maggie) in particular, each dealing with some of the most serious and recent trauma. are of note. The biggest shoutout goes to Melissa McBride, whose Carol has become perhaps the most interesting character on the show, and her imitation of a meek housewife to fool the people of Alexandria while she checks them out is not only impressive acting work but a source of much comically dark entertainment.
Despite the idea of “settling down” in this community, the season does not lack for action and intensity. The emotional stakes are upped, and there are even more impressive zombie sequences to satisfy your gruesome needs. The lack of pace and meandering plot lines of Season 2 are a distant memory. Sure, there are similar ideas to what’s come before, which raises concerns for how much longer the show can endure, but with the legacy of the characters and refinement of writing and improvement in pace it’s the best season of the show yet.
Like previous seasons, the quality of the Blu-ray is impressive. The film-like gritty feel of the show is shown off well; detail and depth accomplished and blacks and contrast are superb. It’s a hauntingly beautiful show and represented well here.
The Blu-release includes all 16 episodes of the fifth season spread across 4 discs with a fifth disc containing the majority of the special features. As well as deleted scenes, there are audio commentaries for 8 of the episodes featuring various members of the cast and crew. Inside The Walking Dead is a extended feature that recaps each episode (around 3 to 6 minutes each) as well as overarching themes and character developments. The Making of The Walking Dead is a similar style of extra but takes a look at the technical and production side of making the show, while The Making of Alexandria focuses on the building of the town that serves as the location for most of the season. It’s a closer look at building the location and its purpose in the season.
There are also a large number of additional “shorter featurettes” with Rotters in the Flesh looking at the prosthetics used for the undead and a number of character focused pieces and a “day in the life” series with stars showing a typical day on set. While impressive in number, more substantial in depth features would be preferable to such fragmented additions. An Ultraviolet digital copy code is also included with purchase. Overall, it’s a well stuffed package to please even the most hardened fan.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While Season 5 of The Walking Dead seems to retread ideas from past seasons, it has refined itself to deliver a greater injection of pace and emotional impact. The show is finally at a place where the themes it explores pay off through character development and a welcome injection of pace. Coupled to increasingly impressive visuals it’s undoubtedly the best season yet. Coupled to a fine array of special features, this release is a must own for any fan.
The Walking Dead Season 5 is released on DVD, Blu-ray, and limited edition Blu-Ray on August 25th, 2015.