Wow. I feel like “wow” is a good place to start. The Walking Dead’s season 5 premiere picks right up where the previous season left off, and hits – no, slams into the ground running, setting the theme for the rest of the season.
This episode doesn’t waste any time. We get a quick flashback to the Terminus crew in a very similar position as Rick and company, but then it’s back to the present. Everyone in the A train car is preparing for a brutal battle for their escape. Shots of sharpened wood and makeshift nail-knuckles are accompanied with quick snippets of dialogue as the characters catch up with each other. Abraham explains their quest to get Eugene to Washington D.C., Daryl explains Beth’s disappearance. This scene is very important because it reminds us of Rick’s statement last season: “They’re screwing with the wrong people.”
Unfortunately, Terminus has a very solid system. After a flash bomb through the roof, Rick, Glenn, Daryl, and Bob are lined up like cattle, ready to be gutted and bled out. If it isn’t obvious by now, the people living at Terminus are surviving by eating people. It hasn’t been directly stated, but they are definitely cannibals. This would be a good time to mention that the blood and gore in this episode has skyrocketed. Not only do we see the unlucky fellows in front of Glenn get their throats slit open, but in the following zombie crisis, people are getting their faces chewed into a fountain of blood, there’s exposed organs, headshot blood spatters. This episode does not mess around, and neither do the characters. Though the situation seems dire, with our heroes tied up and any viewers familiar with the comics feeling very uneasy about a baseball bat being anywhere near Glenn, Carol saves the day.
Carol. Oh, Carol. I will say as I always have, and always will, that Carol is the most important character on The Walking Dead. This episode has certainly proven it. At the slightest hint that her friends might be at Terminus, she wages a one-woman war on the entire compound and sics a horde of flaming walkers on the Terminans. Her intentions are stated very clearly and calmly from the start to Tyreese, “I’m gonna kill people.” Now, this is the same woman we knew from season 1 as the mild mother and housewife, a victim of domestic abuse. We’ve seen her grow through the trauma of losing her daughter, Sophia. Now she is a relentless force of ass-kicking Armageddon.
After Commando Carol’s unparalleled badassery sets Rick, Glenn, Daryl and Bob loose on Terminus, we see them in a rare form. They’re stripped of their weapons, their friends, and any semblance of defense. That doesn’t stop them from utilizing the best kind of defense by finding any blunt or sharp object they can find and ferociously murdering their would-be butchers in the chaos. It’s fascinating in a way. Rick and the group have been through total hell, and they unleash that hell on Terminus. These people have a system, and that is what protects them. Individually though, they are soft, cushy, and ripe for the stabbing. Yes, our cannibal friends have been victims of brutality as revealed through flashbacks, but not the kind that prepares them for survival against a horde. And definitely not the kind that prepares them for survival against a horde, and Rick Grimes. No one is messing around. No mercy, no chances, Rick has a very singular mission: kill everyone in Terminus. But BLESS Glenn for being the heart of the group. Even in the midst of their killing spree, Glenn insists that they still have to be “those people” to save innocents. Even if those innocents end up being completely insane and getting immediately bitten.
It’s worth mentioning that what we learn about Gareth and the others from Terminus puts their perspective into place. Terminus started as a sanctuary, and they were taken advantage of. After they took back control, they decided never to trust again. “You’re either the butcher or the cattle.” Deceit and cannibalism is how they found a way to survive. They are not necessarily bad people – but this is what this post-apocalyptic world did to them. It changed them from regular people into things that can survive, no matter what the cost.
Shootouts, explosions, and gratuitous violence – these are not the only highlights of the premiere. The Walking Dead does not lose its sense of story in the chaos. Eugene reveals his plan to fix the world: infect the walkers with a virus. He claims to be a part of the group that started the infection, so his plan is to get to D.C., find the right equipment and flip the switch. Fight fire with fire. It sounds solid, but only time will tell if Eugene is the real deal. We also see the long awaited reunion between Rick, Carl, and baby Judith. Any emotional scene between Rick and Carl has always left me tearing up, and tonight was no exception. Carol and Daryl’s reunion hit even harder. Seeing the group together again after half a season of wandering felt really good, and instills a kind of hope that’s rare for the series. We also see Tyreese struggle with his reluctance to murder, but it’s still left unclear whether or not he did kill that gum-chewing jerkwad.
Most importantly, what does this episode mean for the season ahead? The title “No Sanctuary” sets the mood. The characters no longer have a safe haven, they are out in the wild fighting to survive again. They’re hardened, dangerous, and together now. In the past, the show has had a tendency to drag out story arcs. The group spent way too much time on the farm in season 2. The last half of season 4, while still entertaining, did seem to plod on as it switched between character perspectives. I don’t think any of us expected to see Terminus go down in flames this quickly. This is a good thing. It means the writers are charging full-speed ahead and they know exactly where they’re going. We can trust there will be more bullets and blood along the way.