The Walking Dead kicks off its fifth season with the most action packed premiere episode to date. At times deeply disturbing and always intense, “No Sanctuary” is nevertheless a triumph for Rick’s group (especially Carol).
Rick and his group, still trapped in the boxcar they were forced into during the events of “A”, fashion weapons out of whatever’s on hand with which they intend to make their escape. Despite their valiant effort, they’re ultimately gassed into submission by the incredibly savvy residents of Terminus, who proceed to take Rick, Daryl, Glenn, and Bob out of the car.
Last season’s finale dropped some pretty heavy hints that the Terminus residents were cannibals, and that theory is gruesomely confirmed. Rick and his guys are lined up with some other people, including Sam from Season 4’s “Indifference”, and forced to cower in terror as butchers begin to walk down the line and dispassionately slaughter their captives. The butchery is violent enough on it’s own, but the added psychological implications push it to another level. The people of Terminus show no emotion for their victims, behaving as if the murder and processing of human beings is just another day on the job. Their “institutional evil”, as showrunner Scott Gimple puts it on Talking Dead, is made even more disturbing with the after-the-fact revelation that the cadaver being dismembered in the background is that of Alex, the man shot in last season’s finale and Gareth’s own brother. No one is sacred in Terminus, and the depravity of it’s residents is, at this point, more terrifying than a walker could ever be.
What makes this episode so satisfying, then, is seeing the people of Terminus become the victims of bad karma. While Rick and his group face certain death, Carol stages a one-woman rescue mission. Her initial eagerness to get to Terminus with Tyreese and Judith is shattered when they come across one of its residents talking about their captive friends. Carol immediately stages an assault on the compound in what is her most shining moment yet. To rescue her friends, Carol goes full-on John McClane, orchestrating an elaborate explosion that quickly turns Terminus into a cesspit of fire and walkers.
Carol’s timely intervention gives Rick, Daryl, Glenn, and Bob an opportunity to escape the slaughterhouse and rescue their friends in the boxcar. Everyone charges into the fray with their makeshift weapons (special mention to Rosita, who kills walkers with her earrings), cutting down Terminus people and walkers alike. The sequence is incredibly intense, but victory is all but ensured as the residents are set upon by walkers and ironically eaten. Rick said in “A” that the Terminus residents were screwing with the wrong people, and he delivers on that claim, mowing down cannibals without mercy.
It’s perhaps troubling that Rick’s character development has reached the point where he feels that murder is a necessary precaution, but he’s been burned too many times to give people the benefit of the doubt. The challenge for him now will be maintaining that attitude without losing his humanity, like the residents of Terminus.
Tyreese has the opposite problem, as he no longer feels it in him to kill after the situation with Lizzie and Mika. While Carol wages war on Terminus, Tyreese stays behind with their captive resident and Judith. The cannibal ribs Tyreese about being a “good person”, and eventually threatens Judith. After an episode of dithering, Judith’s potential death is enough to force Tyreese’s hand, and he kills the Terminus man. His willingness to murder to save Judith’s life really brings home “No Sanctuary”‘s message of “them or us”, and it’s clear moving on from here that no one is going to take any chances anymore.
For such a dark and brutal episode, “No Sanctuary” delivers a heartwarming ending. Carol is reunited with the group, her past transgressions more than forgiven by Rick. She takes Rick to Judith, who immediately drops his plans to kill the stragglers at Terminus in favor of cuddling his baby. Even Abraham, Eugene, and Rosita decide to postpone their Washington discussion in favor of allowing everyone to get reacquainted. The only one not completely thrilled is Daryl who, despite his joyful reunion with Carol, is notably crestfallen without Beth, who was right about the survival capabilities of their friends all along.
Beth’s whereabouts is the biggest question going into Season 5, and I expect that it’ll become Daryl and Maggie’s personal mission to find her. Beth’s storyline will undoubtedly be one of personal growth, and I look forward to seeing her put her new found skills to the test independently from the group (though I hope she doesn’t stay away long).
Beyond that, I predict conflict by way of Eugene’s cure. It’s clear that certain members of the group don’t trust Eugene or believe in his cure, and I’m not sure I do either. Add in Abraham’s aggressive faith (an admirable quality, if naive) in his charge, and there’s bound to be dissent among the group.
As badass as Carol has become, I wonder if her murder of Karen and David will become a problem with Daryl. The two have almost reversed roles over the course of the series. While Daryl has become emotionally open and compassionate, Carol has become hardened. Their friendship is one for the ages, but it’s possible that her coldly practical actions could become a sore point between the two. I’d at least like to see them discuss it.
Morgan’s reappearance is certainly a huge surprise, and I can’t wait to see whether he catches up with the group. He certainly looks more put together, and I hope that means he’s made peace with his mistakes. He could be a very valuable friend to Rick.
Overall, “No Sanctuary” is immensely satisfying, if not stomach-churning at times. There are lots of excellent moments, and seeing the Terminus cannibals get what’s coming to them is darkly gratifying. The tone of the episode is hopeful, whatever that means to Rick and his group anymore. Of course, the group is sure to take grievous hits in the future, but for now, The Walking Dead is starting out on a high note.
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