The Music of Walking Dead Season 5: Brian Wilson’s ‘Love and Mercy’

By Brian Ives

Over the course of four-plus seasons, ‘The Walking Dead’ has used a wide range of music from artists that span nearly every genre and era including Bob Dylan, Motörhead, the Stanley Brothers, Sharon Van Etten, Wang Chung and Tom Waits, whose song “Hold On” was sung by cast member Emily Kinney. During the show’s fifth season, we’ll be talking with Thomas Golubic of SuperMusicVision, who helps choose the show’s music, to get the scoop on what you heard on the latest episode.

OK, breathe. Season five’s Walking Dead season finale was, as you’d expect, intense. There’s lots to digest.

Not the least of which is the nasty human survivors in the wilderness called the Wolves, who will likely be the big threat for at least a few weeks of season six (remember when we thought season five would be all about Terminus?). But like the Governor, and also like the feral-era Michonne, the Wolves have figured out a way to use walkers to their advantage. Unlike the Governor, or the denizens of Terminus, these guys seem not to care about having any kind of civilization, they’re more nihilistic than that.

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Their back-of-a-canned-food-truck-walker-trap is maybe the most villainous thing we’ve seen so far in the zombie apocalypse, and we’ll be having nightmares about that one for the next few weeks. And it didn’t immediately occur to this writer to think about how whomever set the trap would get the walkers back in the trucks for repeated uses of said trap. But towards the end of the 90 minute episode, we figured out how they do it. The Wolves, knowing that the walkers are attracted by noise, play loud music, activated by remote control, in the trucks to draw them back in.

And what was that loud music? A cover of Beach Boy Brian Wilson‘s “Love and Mercy,” from his 1988 self-titled solo debut, perhaps his finest solo song. We’d have been impressed if you recognized the artist, especially as this song was recorded exclusively for The Walking Dead.

Thomas Golubic tells Radio.com, “For our season finale, we found another custom music creation opportunity in the music playing from the walker booby-trap that the Wolves set-up. It’s a clever idea, and we wanted to put something unusual and surprising together which has been a running theme in season five. [Walking Dead writer/producer] Scott Gimple had the idea of doing a cover of ‘Love and Mercy,’ and we reached out to avant garde electronic artist Elizabeth Bernholz, who records under the artist name Gazelle Twin. Elizabeth is based in London and we worked together via Skype sessions.”

Wilson’s songs often cover a darkness under a bright and sweet exterior; Ms. Bernholz went right for that darkness. “The sunniness of Brian Wilson’s song dovetails so nicely with Elizabeth’s darker production aesthetic to create what we think is another compelling and surprising music moment to close the season finale.”

The Wolves strike us more as guys who were going to Mayhem Fest every summer before the world turned; they probably weren’t the type of dudes listening to avant grade Brian Wilson covers. But from a narrative perspective, the song worked perfectly (as Nine Inch Nails‘ “Somewhat Damaged” did last week). There was a lot of blood in the episode. But underneath that blood, there was, in fact, both love and mercy.

Related: ‘Fear the Walking Dead’: 5 Things We Hope to See in the ‘Walking Dead’ Prequel

Love between the members of Team Rick; by now they’ll follow him to the ends of the walker-scorched earth because they know their best chance of survival lies with him. But it was more than self-interest that that fueled their testimonies about Rick during the town meeting (which, let’s face it, was really The Trial of Rick).

There was also mercy: while the trial was happening, Glenn was locked in mortal battle with his arch-enemy Nicholas, the guy whose cowardice caused Noah’s death a few weeks back. And even though Nicholas shot Glenn, and then left him for dead under a pile of chomping walkers, when Glenn caught up to him, kicked his a**, and put a gun t his head, he eventually let him live.

Mercy was also present when Sasha decides against killing Father Gabriel, who turned her down when she asked for consolation and advice, blaming her for her lover Bob’s death, saying he was “Destroyed because of your sins!” As she has a gun to his head, Maggie enters, and Maggie is the only Team Rick member who knows that he’s sold them out, having told Alexandria’s leader Deanna that Rick’s team doesn’t deserve to live there. Maggie and Sasha could have disposed of him right there, which seemed to be what he (and, like, all of Twitter) wanted. Instead, they let him live, and held his hands in a surprisingly touching moment. That was mercy at its most merciful: it’s hard to imagine not wanting to kill him at that point.

Of course, not everyone gets mercy: Porch-dick himself, Pete (who we dubbed “Dr. D-Bag”) went way over the line by accidentally killing Deanna’s husband Reg while in a rage over Rick. In that moment, Deanna seemed to understand Rick a bit better. “Do it,” she told him, and he [SPOILER] put a bullet in the guy.

Also, Daryl and Aaron, who were nearly killed by the Wolves’ walker-trap were rescued by Morgan (the guy who Rick met at the beginning of the apocalypse, and who had been on a quest to find Rick… for some reason!). Morgan now joins the survivors in Alexandria.

So the season ended with a new enemy lurking outside the walls of Alexandria. We know the Wolves are out there, and they’re probably coming. But within Alexandria, it seems that everyone understands each other a bit better: the long time residents now have a some more insight into Team Rick, and they seem more willing to admit that, despite their walls, their civilization isn’t as safe as they’d hoped. Their way of life needs to change, and Team Rick will help them to change. But at least they’ve now got one less wife-beating abusive dad. (On the other hand, they’re also now without a doctor). That understanding will probably help them to not get killed by Team Rick. Of course, we’ll find out if that’s the case next season.

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In the more immediate future, Golubic tells Radio.com that Gazelle Twin’s “Love and Mercy” will be available on iTunes soon, and will be included on the next Walking Dead soundtrack.

(By the way, “Love and Mercy” also provides the title to the upcoming Brian Wilson biopic, which will hit theaters June 5; we spoke to Mr. Wilson about the film and his upcoming album, No Pier Pressure, which is out April 7 [pre-order it here]. Look for that interview in the next week and a half on Radio.com.)

The Walking Dead  will return for season six in October. But if you can’t wait until then for your “walker” fix, the show’s spin-off, Fear the Walking Dead, premieres this summer.

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