It's not typical for a show to hit its creative stride five seasons into its run, but that appears to be the situation we're in with The Walking Dead. During the previous four seasons, the show has enjoyed occasional flirtations with greatness sprinkled amidst long expanses of nothing much happening and shoddy character development. Season 5 has been tight as a drum, though.
By way of catch-up: Rick's party has been split between Reverend Detective Carver's church, the road to Washington D.C., and the so-called "Slabtown," a small human settlement based out of a hospital in Atlanta. For the past couple of episodes, Rick has been concocting a plan to rescue Beth, and later Carol from the community's clutches. Now, with three Slabtown cops as hostages, the gang is ready to make the big exchange. Let's see what the nanobots have to say about how things went down.
- For being the mid-season finale to the best season of Walking Dead to date. = +70pts (+10pts per episode)
- Rick exchanges insurance information with the cop he hit with his car. Rick's insurance provider is Smith and Wesson. = +10pts
- Not content with merely being a cowardly lump with no useful skills, Reverend Detective Carver also decides to lead a herd of walkers back to the church where Carl, Michonne, and Judith are staying. = -7pts
- Michonne makes Reverend Detective Carver's idiocy worthwhile with her sword-fu. = +7pts
- The zombie that splits its head open on the Machete stuck in the floor. = +12pts
- Is Slabtown leader Dawn just super lonely? Why exactly does she feel the need to tell Beth her entire life story? = -4pts
- Even after the apocalypse, cops are still total assholes. = -25pts
- The close-quarters fight between Dawn and one of her back-stabbing officers. = +14pts
- Meeting up with Beth in Carol's room after the fight, Dawn greets her with "It's okay to cry." Is dispensing fortune-cookie wisdom part of her job as community leader? = -2pts
- Total aside, but how does Tyrese keep his beard so neatly trimmed? Rick looks like he's got a Chia Pet growing out of his face, but Tyrese is all GQ. = -6pts
- "They're close." = +8pts
- Prisoner exchange scene is tense as fuck. = +19pts
- A bunch of white people arguing over who gets to keep the black dude. = -8pts
- The black dude in question being played by Steve Urkel from that Key and Peele sketch. = +10pts
- In true Beth fashion, Beth totally Beths up the hostage exchange by stabbing Dawn in the clavicle with a pair of scissors and getting herself shot in the head. = -6pts (Maggie is going to be really sad now. WHY DO YOU WANT TO MAKE MAGGIE SAD, BETH?!?)
- Damn, Morgan, how have you still not caught up with these guys yet? They've been hunkered down in a church for, like seven episodes. = -3pts
+ Awesome Season Bonus = +136pts
Season Score = +279pts
Not the greatest mid-season finale the show has dropped on us, but a satisfying conclusion to the Slabtown arc. Maybe the biggest breakthrough of this season is that Walking Dead is now successfully mining the morally ambiguous core of its premise, and wringing it for every drop of dramatic tension its worth. Whereas the dilemmas that faced our heroes in previous seasons (The Randall problem of Season 2, The Governor's ultimatum in Season 3) felt a little contrived, the uncertainty surrounding the prisoner exchange felt real, like we were watching two groups of flawed human beings attempting to reach some kind of arrangement, never certain of how much good will they could presume of the other. Let's hope whatever they've got planned for the season's back-half will maintain the momentum of these first eight episodes.
Score Technician: Joe Hemmerling