Episode 5 was a trainwreck in pacing and the writers missed a great opportunity to explain the world and how it collapsed so quickly after the fungi-demic.
Reminder: I have never played the games.
First I am going to rant about pacing. The pacing of this episode was not great. A slow roll into a chaotic ending. The swap between the two paces failed to build any tension. Instead of getting an impending sense of doom building through the episode we go from safe and cozy to end of the world. End of the world through a complete happenstance event of a truck crashing into a house in the exact spot to open a hole into an underground tunnel system... the same tunnel system that somehow the main characters exited well before this point even though clearly the tunnel system went exactly to the point where they needed to go!?
What could have been done differently? First off why is there ZERO build up about the rampaging horde? Where are the clickers watching the characters from the sewer grates? Where is more rippling ground like we saw in the previous episode? It is so dumb that the entire scene hinges on a truck happening to crash into the right spot on a building to then open the ground to a swarming mass of infected.
Also the entire sniper scene is anti-climatic. The sniper takes shots at Joel as he makes his way in his direction so knows he is coming for him; yet acts totally surprised when he gets there? Why not build some tension here? They could have shown Joel making his way to the sniper, brought in the radio traffic to the sniper earlier, showed the militia making progress more, and hinted at the infected lurking just below the surface. Instead it all just burps itself onto screen and makes for a complete "what?" turn of events.
Next let me rant about this show's problem with character plot armor. In the chaotic end fight scene we see human after human get obliterated by the infected; all except the main characters even though positioning and decision-making wise are in terrible positions. Let's not even talk about the scene before then where the militia has the main characters surrounded and could easily walk around the car to face them, but instead bumble their way through the scene until the infected blob explodes out of the ground.
Of course even being surrounded by militia and with infected about to rampage over the area the main characters never feel like they are in danger. Henry, who Kathleen so wanted to kill without question, somehow inexplicably remains standing while Kathleen decides it is better not to pull the trigger and instead turn around to watch a truck slowly sink into the ground. Then Joel's expert sniper skill dropping running headshots like the bad ass he is, Ellie randomly finding an escape route, and the convenient "hide under this car" trick for Henry and Sam.
Combined with the lack of risk building up through the episode at no point was I worried about any characters other than the throw away Kansas City militia and you damn well knew they were going to suffer some gruesome deaths. Bloater got him some head!
Oh but that plot armor was only there momentarily so we could get a cliche ending. Oops the kid got bit and clearly Joel's survival instincts are gone as no one thinks to check the kids to see if they were injured in the rampage. They may have discovered Sam's leg is bleeding profusely and ruined our unexpected ending.
Then shocker. Bang. Oh, bang two! Wow! Edgy television here folks! How about this instead; Joel sees Sam getting dragged away and has to off him with the sniper rifle as a mercy? That would of made way more sense and fit PERFECTLY with Kathleen's quote “Well kids die, Henry. They die all the time."
Most egregious to me though was the missed opportunity with the underground community that was found. In the podcast it is explained that in the game players can take their time reading notes left around that explains what happened further but said that wouldn't work in the show. Maybe not reading notes, but this set was so cool and offered so many intriguing chances to explain what happened after infection day zero.
For a show that goes out of its way to ham in the backstory it really, really, really, really freaking missed a great chance to spend the better part of an episode exploring this mini lost society. It was the perfect backdrop for some flashbacks; way better than the other options used thus far.
I want to know so much more about what happened in this underground society but instead all I got was a poorly executed anti-climatic and chaotic scene followed by an edgy mega downer of an ending. This show is so good its bad.