The Walking Dead Review: Did The Writers Kill Off ****** Too Soon?
Season five of The Walking Dead has almost unanimously been praised for its quickened pace this season, and until this last episode I agreed. I liked that they didn't spend too much time at Terminus, I was glad they kept up the momentum from the premiere with the now-infamous BobBQ, but "Four Walls and a Roof" went too far, in my opinion, and may signal an insidious trend in which the writers are too afraid to bore action fans.
I'll be the first to agree that there were problems with the pacing last season, with more than half a season spent looking for Terminus and too many divergent plotlines leading to extremely hit-or-miss episodes. I will also grudgingly agree that there were problems with pacing in the mostly hated second season. But love it or hate it, the contemplativeness of second season was ideal for exploring the larger themes of the show (I, for one, loved the ethical arguments that took place). And while parts of last season got too slow even for me, the relatively slow episode that only featured Daryl and Beth is, in my opinion, one of the best of the entire show. Without those larger themes, without those small details, without the slow, thoughtful moments, The Walking Dead just becomes another action show. The Walking Dead isn't special because it can keep us on the edge of our seats (although last night's episode did a great job of that), for that we can just watch something like 24. It was special because it wasn't just another zombie actioner; it had action, horror, violence, philosophy, compelling themes, character development, and complex character relationships. They shouldn't drop the ball on the loftier aspects just to make up for the farmhouse.
People were sick enough of the Terminus plotline itself that letting the survivors escape almost immediately made sense. But the Termites were fascinating villains, and Andrew J. West, who played Gareth, was a great addition to the cast, and they threw the baby out with the bathwater. We spent more than half a season looking for Terminus, only for all the Termites to be slaughtered within three episodes. It was immensely satisfying in the moment, especially after they made our stomachs turn by eating poor Bob's leg, but in the cold light of day there's a distinct feeling of, "Now, what?"
Gareth and the Termites and all their moral complexity would have been a perfect Big Bad. Their dog-eat-dog philosophy, their mantras about trust, their transformation after traumatic events, this season (or at least half a season?) could have been a veritable gold mine of comparisons to the central survivors. Not to mention that many threads involving the Termites will presumably be left undeveloped. They blew up the entire internet with the "tainted meat" cold open, only to make it irrelevant by killing them all. Washington Post speculated that, since Gareth addressed Bob with an unusual amount of familiarity, that Bob was part of the group that raped and pillaged Terminus. (I doubted it at first, but considering his original character arc was consistently being the "last to survive," this would actually make perfect sense.) This would have been extremely interesting, especially considering the "us versus them" mentality that has surrounded the Terminus plotline, and now we'll likely never know.
That being said, the episode did engage with the larger themes of the season when it had a free moment. The survivors, especially Rick, are transforming into ruthless killers, with several of them taking visible pleasure in massacring the Termites. They have also hardened enough to the very idea of hope that they no longer believe in shelter, calling the church "four walls and a roof." (The fact that it's a church only underscores their dwindling faith.) This transformation, this inability to even contemplate making a home for themselves, adds a wrinkle to Abraham's plans for D.C., which will presumably take the forefront now that the Termites are history. The more they change into a group of avenging angels with katanas, the less likely they are to be able to go home again.
-There was a nice, subtle nod to Tyreese letting Martin go. Especially since Judith was once again in peril, I think we were meant to question whether Tyreese's mercy can sometimes be misplaced, to the point that he's not defending the people who deserve it. But we're also supposed to see Tyreese as the group's newly appointed conscience (RIP Hershel), especially since Sasha ultimately kills Martin just after Tyreese expressed concern about her bloodlust.
-Does the fact that we didn't get to see how the "tainted meat" plotline played out (namely, whether the Termites would have turned into walkers) mean that the subject will come up again? It wouldn't have as great an impact the second time. (EP Greg Nicotero said, "Since everybody is already infected, I don't think eating 'tainted meat' would make that much of a difference." Well, that's disappointing. Then why include it in the first place? Just for hashtag purposes?)
-It's good that they didn't drag out the confession about the church, as everyone had already pretty much guessed what Father Gabriel's "sins" were. But his presence is generally annoying, not least as a result of that self-righteous "This is God's house" just after he admitted to shutting its doors and condemning innocent families to be eaten by walkers. Let the one without sin be the one to cast the first stone, huh, Father?
-RIP, Bob. Father Gabriel has replaced you to awkwardly keep up the diversity quota on the show, but he's not nearly as likable.
-Rick has now been seen holding Judith for two episodes in a row, which is unheard of. But on the other hand, Maggie doesn't seem to care at all that Beth is still missing. So it's sort of a wash.
-Also, poor Judith:
-The question on everyone's mind: who is in the woods with Daryl? Carol and Daryl shippers hope it's Carol, but that wouldn't be surprising enough to leave it on a cliffhanger. I hope it's Beth, whom I miss dearly, and that her ordeal is seen entirely in flashbacks.