We are in a new Golden Era for television. With top shows such as “Game of Thrones,” “The Americans” and “Mad Men” utilizing a new type of character-driven storytelling, this era’s moniker is justified. AMC’s hit zombie-filled drama, “The Walking Dead,” is a prime example of an outstanding character-led show. The midseason premiere of the fifth season’s second half, which aired last Sunday, was a classic example of the show’s case of character study.
The episode, entitled “What Happened and What’s Going On,” focuses on the immediate aftermath of what happened during the midseason finale that aired in December. In case you have been living under a rock over the past couple of months, let’s take a minute to talk about what happened. After searching for Beth since the middle of last season, Rick, Daryl and the rest of the group were finally able to track her to a hospital in Atlanta with the help of Noah, who worked in the hospital. A swap is arranged: Beth and Carol would go back to the group, while our main characters would return with two cops who worked at the hospital. But the swap goes wrong, and Beth is killed by Dawn, the leader of the cops.
The final shot of the midseason finale is one that will be ingrained in the memories of any “Walking Dead” fan: Daryl carrying Beth’s body out of the hospital, and Maggie, Beth’s sister, falling to the ground, screaming out in agony as she sees her sister for the final time.
The first two minutes of the midseason premiere establish the group’s next destination: Richmond, Virginia, which is where Noah is from. Beth wanted to get Noah there, so Rick and the group decide to do it for her. The rest of the episode focuses on the quintet of Rick, Noah, Glenn, Michonne and Tyreese. While Noah is optimistic and upbeat about finally returning home, the other four preach caution, saying that his home might not be as he remembers it. And in true “Walking Dead” style, the words of the veteran survivors ring true, and the five of them must adjust in turn.
Many people consider the show to just be another “zombie story.” While that is true to an extent, the story is much more focused on how Rick and his group now survive in a world that is constantly trying to kill them. The zombies (called “walkers” by the group) are just one threat that Rick and company have to contend with. Other threats include fellow survivors, a shortage of resources and the lack of a location that can help them repel any type of danger, including walkers and fellow humans.
The combination of these very real threats, and how the group responds, is what makes “The Walking Dead” so great. The death of Beth is one that would have broke the group in seasons past. Now it just hardens them even more, and compels them to find a place where they can all be safe together. “Surviving together is all that matters,” Rick states in the trailer leading up to the midseason premiere. As the season progresses, that will most likely be a major theme. On their way to wherever they can be finally be safe, will they survive together? The group has lost so much to this point. Every surviving character has lost at least one character that they love, and many of them have been pushed to the breaking point at least once. Just take a look at Rick. After losing his wife Lori in season three, he lost his mind for a few episodes.
The rest of this season will be key to the development of these already complex, gritty and superb characters. The evolution of these survivors will be the main reason to tune in each week. If you aren’t watching already, then hop on Netflix to catch up. If the first nine episodes of season five are any indication, then Rick, Carl, Glenn, Maggie, Abraham and the rest of our hardened yet hopeful group are in for their toughest challenges yet.
Jordan Llanes can be reached at Jordan.firstname.lastname@example.org