It’s one of the biggest shows on television, and come this weekend, it’s finally back. Set your DVR and aim for the head, folks — it’s almost Walking Dead Day.
With the most eagerly anticipated premiere of the fall almost here, we’ve decided to take a look at everything we know about the new season and recap what got us here. Robert Kirkman’s hit zombie drama has been setting ratings records for years, and it likely won’t stop when season five returns. So hopefully we have a lot more Dead coming for several more years.
The latest season was a year of transition, with the writers wrapping up some old stories and working to set up the next chapter while focus on character-building and expanding relationships. Following all that set up, we expect season five to bring the awesome and bring it hard. The comics provide a wealth of stellar stories to explore, and they’re approaching some iconic storylines timeline-wise. Here’s hoping they can live up to the hype.
The new season debuts Oct. 12. Now, here’s everything you need to know for season five ...
Warning: This story does include some rumor reports about what’s coming, some of which could be considered spoilers. You’ve been warned.
The history: (Basically, everyone died)
Long story short: The zombie apocalypse hits, and most of the world’s population dies. The story is told from the perspective of a small group of survivors in Georgia, led by a former deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln). It’s a dark tale, featuring a ton of death. Seriously, more than half the cast of this show has been killed off. It’s brave storytelling, and is a major reason the show has inspired so much fan love.
Meet the gang: Rick, along with his son Carl (Chandler Riggs) and fellow survivors Glenn (Steven Yeun), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Daryl (Norman Reedus), Michonne (Danai Gurira), Carol (Melissa McBride), Beth (Emily Kinney), Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman), Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.), Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), Rosita (Christian Serratos) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt) have been through quite a lot. Of course, those are just the characters left alive — it’d take another 1,000 words or so to recap everyone who has been walker bait along the way.
The gang tried holing up in a prison for a while, but a run-in with a mad man from a nearby community calling himself the Governor ended in a bloody battle (memorably featuring a tank) that destroyed the prison and took out a decent chunk of the gang. After that, the group was obviously separated and had to hit the road in scattered groups.
Eugene’s "mission": It was at this point we were introduced to travelers Abraham, Rosita and Eugene. The scruffy-mulleted Eugene claims to be a doctor with intel that could stop the zombie apocalypse. We’re not sure if we believe him, but Abraham buys the story and has committed himself to getting Eugene to Washington, D.C. Rosita is along for the ride.
The writers used the fall of the prison as a tool to basically perform character studies on the cast of survivors for the back half of the season, as everyone was split into unlikely pairs and forced to fend for themselves. It was a bold move, but it worked, and if nothing else we feel closer than ever to this gang — including the relatively new additions.
Taking the railroad: After being forced out of the prison, pretty much everyone spotted signs claiming there was a safe zone called Terminus at the end of a railroad line. Most eventually found their way there, albeit at different times and at different points on the line. Not surprisingly, this place proved to be a massive, massive trap. Uh-oh.
To their credit, Rick and company snuck in to get a peek at the place first, but they were eventually overpowered and forced to pile into a train car. Odds point to the Terminus folks being cannibals — they seemed to have no shortage of meat in the zombie apocalypse — so you’d think things are looking bad for the gang. But, what the likely-cannibals don’t know is that they’ve finally pushed Rick to his breaking point. When Rick hits his breaking point, badass things tend to happen.
The season ended with the gang largely reunited but trapped in a train car and at the mercy of the Terminus group. But there’s a renewed set of hope, and Rick is determined to make it out and exact some revenge.
Where it goes next (hopefully out of that train car)
We don’t exactly know how the gang will escape that train car, but we’ll assume they do — because, hey, it’d be tough to tell an entire season of television from inside a train car. According to producer Gale Anne Hurd, the season will all “ripple” out from Rick, as he steps up into a major leader and we see how that affects the rest of the group. She told Entertainment Weekly:
“Well, certainly what we’re seeing is that Rick Grimes is accepting the mantle of leadership in a way that is unlike he’s ever done in previous seasons. And that tends to have a ripple effect, with his relationships across the board in this show. We’re also embarking on the most ambitious episodes we’ve ever done in terms of not only the action set pieces, but also the level of emotional weight that’s brought to bear on the characters.”
Rick’s not the only leader: Though Rick often gets top billing, one of the strongest characters in the ensemble is easily Glenn. He’s been pushed, pushed some more and pushed a bit further past that — and he’s still going. We’ve seen him find strength that was hard to fathom in season one, and Yeun says he’ll channel that skill set to become a leader himself this season:
“I always mention to people that he is on his course to be a leader. And I think it is no longer a course to be a leader—I think he is a leader. I think he is now a sounding board for big, big questions. He’s listened to, he’s respected in the group. He showed his gumption and he showed his resilience. I mean, he almost gets killed every single season and somehow he makes it through. And I think that’s a testament to who he is and what he’s become. And so as we stand now, as they’re in this train car, Glenn is someone to definitely look to as a leader.”
Back to the cities: Though the past few seasons have been spent largely hiding out in rural areas, the gang will eventually get roped in to Eugene’s mission to reach D.C. in an effort to cure the zombie plague (allegedly), and that means they’ll need to pass through some zombie-infested cities along the way.
They’ve flirted with urban locales in season one, but the past few seasons have largely been spent in the woods. Hurd noted that will definitely change next season, which will be more ambitious in scope and find the gang pushed way outside their comfort zone as part of the mission. Plus, there aren’t just zombies hiding out in those cities:
“We’ve been on the move before, obviously. There’ve constantly been seeking out a safe haven. And then the first season, even though it wasn’t in the comic book, they did go to the CDC, they were in Atlanta anyway, so that made a great deal of sense. But now with Eugene potentially holding the key to what the crisis is all about and potentially solving it, now they have goal that’s larger than themself, and even more ambitious.
The show has spent a lot of time in primarily rural settings. But you’re never going to find the cure to the zombie apocalypse in the sticks. Now with them embarking on a mission, they have to re-enter what we call the City of the Dead. There are many cities of the dead that they’ll have to encounter to complete their mission. So not only does it make it more difficult because of the number of walkers, but also there are more hiding places in which their human antagonists can lurk. So however stiff and difficult the stakes have been up until this season, now they’ve been raised even further.”
What’s up with Beth? One of the biggest WTF moments of last season’s finale came with the reintroduction of Beth, who was kidnapped several episodes earlier and reappeared as a prisoner in some type of hospital setting. We have no what’s going on there, though Hurd promises the new season will continue her journey. She wasn’t saying, other than to note Beth has her “hands full” with this mysterious new faction. Hmm.
Love in the apocalypse: Hey, when you’re faced with sudden death every moment of every day, why not take some comfort in another warm body? Romance has been an on-again, off-again part of the series since it started, and Hurd said that won’t change in year five. The newly reunited Glenn and Maggie will be a “key” component of the new season, though other pairs could develop:
“There is always love within the zombie apocalypse. In conditions like that is where people are thrown together and they live for the moment, and I think that’s especially true for people in romantic relationships. Look how intense Tyreese and Karen were. You realize that you may not have a lot of time together, and I’m sure that’s really brought to bear with all of our survivors once they get reunited."
Since Maggie and Glenn have just been essentially reunited, I think that’s going to be a very key component of the season, because they know what it's like to be separated. They could have imagined, although they didn’t want to, a world without the other one in it. I think this season is where we’re going to plumb the depths of what it means to have to sacrifice, to the extent our characters do, to survive, and hopefully to find a cure. There’s a sacrifice that is certainly the equal to anything we’ve seen in the previous four seasons. But also hope, to the degree we’ve never seen before.”
Alexandria Safe Zone: The current run of the comics has the survivors living in a new community, and there have been rumors and set photos that hint that season five could introduce that arc in the back half of the episode order. We have no clue if it’s true, but it’s at least something to keep an eye out for.
Other tidbits: They’ve kept virtually all of the story under wraps, though we can glean from trailers that the new season will feature a ton of new locales and some epic set pieces (including more than a few explosions). Aside from that? We’ll have to just wait and see.
New (and departing?) characters
When you kill off as many characters as this show does, it stands to reason you’re dealing with a positively massive cast. With season five finally here, there are quite a few fresh faces to get to know.
Gareth: One of the biggest additions is actually someone we met last season — Gareth (Andrew J. West), the apparent leader of the Terminus group. He’s been added as a recurring character in season five, and the first few trailers have offered glimpses of him with the group. Exactly how this plays out? We have no clue. But West did open up to Entertainment Weekly about his character and dropped some tantalizing hints:
“I think he’s definitely a practical guy. And I think he’s a guy who is concerned with surviving. He’s very much concerned with figuring out a way to live in the new world. What’s interesting about the character, too, is that Gareth isn’t really the Governor. Really he’s more like Rick or even Glenn in a lot of ways. He’s a guy who’s searching and struggling for a new way to exist, because he has acknowledged and accepted that the old way just doesn’t work anymore. Society is different now. The world is different now. And the old rules just need to be reexamined. And he’s willing to do that. And I think that’s where the leader qualities come in. He is willing to sort of abandon certain ideas about the way the world used to be and find what the world needs to be now.”
Father Gabriel Stokes: A character with his origins in the comic, season five will introduce Father Gabriel Stokes (Seth Gilliam) to the mix. The footage we’ve glimpsed from season five seemed to indicate we might see a church, and it stands to reason that could be Father Gabriel’s place. Father Gabriel has been a recurring player in the comics, so it’ll be interesting to see how they use him on the series.
Noah: Another new character we’ll meet is the young man Noah, played by Everybody Hates Chris alum Tyler James Williams. The network has offered basically zero information in regard to the new character, though, and there doesn’t seem to be a comic equivalent. So your guess is as good as ours.
Terminus folks: Along with Gareth, there will also be some recurring characters popping up from the Terminus gang. Among them? Mary, played by Denise Crosby. We’ve glimpsed some other characters in the season-five trailers, and we’d think they’ll be around for at least a few episodes.
Beth’s jailer: We know next to nothing about what’s going on with Beth in season five — but we do know a bit about who is keeping her locked up. Actress Christine Woods was glimpsed in some footage, though we don’t know much else. Woods had a co-starring role on Flashforward, and we’d think they wouldn’t bring her in for a super-brief cameo, so she’ll likely be around in some capacity.
Could we see Negan? If you thought the Governor was bad, just wait until Negan shows up. He’s one bad son of a gun in the comics, who runs his own community of ruthless thugs. We don't know if he'll show up this season or not, but the writers say they're psyched to introduce the new baddie. So keep him on your radar.
Who’s dying? Considering all the new additions, it stands to reason they’ll be getting rid of some characters in season five, too. One rumored regular who could get the ax? Glenn. It’s not confirmed, but there have been rumblings this could be the character's last season — and as readers of the comic already know — there’s a precedent for it.