The following review contains spoilers for the Walking Dead season 5 Episode “What Happened and What’s Going On”
The Walking Dead Goes Mental
The wait is over, The Walking Dead is back. Last we saw our ragtag group of zombie and cannibal slayers, they were blindsided by a trade gone awry at Grady Memorial Hospital in the season 5A finale “Coda”. The cost of the ordeal was Beth’s life and it had quite the impact on the fans. The two month rest gave us enough time to recover from that loss but little did we know an even bigger emotional gut punch was ready to unload on us in the 5B premiere.
“What Happened and What’s Going On” was deadicated to Tyreese and his untimely end but there was much more beneath the bitten flesh director Greg Nicotero wanted to show us. The whole experience was trippy, surreal, and most definitely creepy above all else. The odd cinematography, radio broadcast style summaries of past events, and the return of several dead friends all came together to create a disturbing and somber sequence of events, a death more emotional and depressing to me than most other departures in the show’s history.
It might not have been the most fitting or fair way for Tyreese to go but it was impactful and tugged at the heartstrings, it’s not a death that will soon be forgotten.
After a mysterious and otherworldly intro, we find out that the show has jumped ahead in time a bit to show that the group is already closing in on Noah’s former community. No five episodes of traveling there? I’m on board for just a moment because, of course, the community is long gone and no one remains. While Rick, Michonne, and Glenn do a quick sweep, the still wounded Noah begins to stumble towards his home and somehow Tyreese can’t catch him until he’s already in his front yard. Tyreese decides to escort Noah inside and this is where the happening begins.
In a moment that seemed surely a typical faux scare that wouldn’t lead to anything, Tyreese is bit by one of Noah’s (now zombified) younger brothers. This was genuinely shocking and something the show has been missing. Too often, the main characters are put in danger that is never really dangerous. Chad Coleman was truly given a chance to shine in his final outing and he made the most of it. The strange swelling of emotions as he looked at the pictures of Noah’s younger twin brothers left us weak and vulnerable all the same and when the walker sunk its teeth into Tyreese’s arm, we felt the same shock, the same sadness.
One by one, faces from the past began appearing before Tyreese, playing tug of war with his fragile psyche. Whether it was the termite taunting Tyreese with how things could have been different, the governor just outright mocking him, or Beth singing a sweet song (I guess the fan petition sort of worked), the whole ordeal was a calm, uneasy sort of chaos and mentally exhausting in the best of ways.
It can never be calm for too long though, and the quick jump cuts back to reality were my top moments of the night. The first cut had the governor quickly turn into a walker and the ensuing fight was as tense and exciting as any other walker scare from the past. Already doomed, but never ready to give up, Tyreese used his already bitten arm to fend off his foe and that moment was just plain fun, an interesting way to use the illness as a weapon.
The next cut went from Mika and Lizzy observing Tyreese’s wounds to Rick and company immediately hacking the arm off in a furious few seconds before cutting to commercial. We knew it was coming and the cruel reality of the situation is that you just need to get it over with and that’s exactly what happened. These cuts, combined with the conflicting dialogue, radio broadcasts and slow motion walker slaughters really allowed you to see the end from Tyreese’s point of view and it was all executed very well.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that the final moments for Tyreese were possibly the saddest I’ve watched, not just in The Walking Dead, but in any show. Tyreese, who told the ghost governor he could live and that nobody had to die, gave up. He asked Bob to turn the radio off and the screen began to fade in and out of the black void of death. Tyreese was finally gone.
What’s Going On?
On paper, this episode should have been great. Awesome direction and cinematography, emotional moments involving not just Tyreese but everyone who played a part, the return of old friends and foes, and the passing of a major character. What’s not to like? Something, however, was off with this episode. Sure it wasn’t a bad episode by any means but it wasn’t as good as all these ideas should have been when put into practice.
One of the biggest gripes fans have with the show is how long some things are drawn out. This is a case where maybe the creators over compensated. The individual pieces of this episode were all solid but to put all of them into one episode and leave no time to focus on anyone else or the bigger picture is a poor decision. The only major development we got was a few lines of sloppy dialogue about staying at Noah’s community and then settling on DC. For a show in its fifth season, we should be getting more than that from each episode.
Sure, there were the cut up walkers and the hints of wolves but that’s all these were; hints. Do they create interest moving forward? Yes. Do they add to the episode individually? Not quite. I get that it was an episode with the sole intention of losing a major character and taking a fresh approach to dying but the show has always been about the sum of the pieces. No one is safe, no individual is too important to kill off. To focus an entire episode on one person is a curious choice.
- The radio broadcasts giving a “news story” retelling of past events from burning prisons to revenge killings with a machete were fantastic touches and great mood setters. They were excellent compliments to the back and forth dialogue of the termite, Bob, and the Governor.
- The intro scene was as misleading as they come and set the stage well for one of the most somber and depressing episodes yet. All the attempts in this episode at remaining hopeful and optimistic were chilling and forced us to question if it really is best to just give up.
- “What Happened and What’s Going On” was not a shallow episode by any means. It was, in fact, quite deep but there just needs to be more for us to digest in each episode when it comes to the show’s identity and goals. The show runners seem to struggle with throwing multiple ideas at the viewers and episodes like this make it seem like they’ve given up on that approach but that is necessary to keep the wheels moving. Too often, The Walking Dead seems to slam on the brakes.
It’s great to have the Walking Dead back and it’s an exciting time to know there’s still seven episodes left in what has been a pretty solid season thus far. While “What Happened and What’s Going On” might have had a flawed approach, it certainly had its fair share of great moments and interesting concepts. We didn’t get an action packed premiere like “No Sanctuary” but we got something more impactful and moving. Two opposite ends of the spectrum but there’s room for both and everything in between. It was a very memorable hour of television and an emotional farewell to a great character.
What did you think of the latest Walking Dead episode? Be sure to let us know in the comments below and give us your rating of “What Happened and What’s Going On”!