“You’re the butcher or you’re the cattle.”
That is a line that could define The Walking Dead as a whole, but because The Walking Dead has never been a fan of subtlety, it is a line that is repeated, making sure we all got it. And with that, the massively popular survival horror series is back for another season and it has come back with an action-heavy episode to really kick things off with a bang. “No Sanctuary” was the kind of episode that played to the strengths of the series. Sure, it is fine for The Walking Dead to make attempts at being a strong character drama (with zombies) every now and again, with different levels of success, but this episode got right to what it really does best: killer action sequences. With that in mind, “No Sanctuary” works as an exciting season premiere that may or may not have done away with a potentially interesting location, but certainly got things off to a rousing start.
It was interesting to learn where this season would pick up. Season four left us with Rick and the gang (minus Tyreese, Carol, and baby Judith) trapped in a container amidst creepy cannibals. It was a rough spot to be stuck in and I certainly wanted to know how this group would manage to survive. With the decision to essentially treat this episode as a direct pick-up from where last season ended, I was pretty pleased to see some fairly simple resolution. Given that we had a whole summer to wonder about how far the people of Terminus would go, as far as their brutality was concerned, it was pretty shocking to actually see some of what happened. That in mind, we got a very focused episode, as far as the storytelling was concerned. It was just also really violent.
The Walking Dead has never shied away from going big on the blood and gore – this is a show about zombies, after all – but “No Sanctuary” really wanted to send a message regarding how the folks at Terminus operate. Watching four guys get knocked out by a baseball bat and have their throats cut on camera was quite a statement for the show to make, which almost feels a bit muddled, considering the bookends on this episode, which attempt to define the Gareth character. Still, while I maintain that the show botched the attempt to humanize The Governor, there could be a real chance for Terminus, or at least Gareth, to work out better.
Despite seeing things go all to hell for spectacular reasons (I’ll get to Carol soon), Terminus, for all its horribleness, did seem to be a place that functioned well, based on organization and leadership. While we barely had time to really take in an understanding of this place (Denise Crosby’s character brought us closest in her speech to Carol), there is promise of more, given that this will clearly not be the last time we see Gareth. It is of course easy to inspire some level of sympathy when given an explanation of the nasty things that took place, but this show also is not letting the Terminus folks off the hook either, given the room full of body parts we see, among other things that should have rubbed everyone the wrong way. All of this Terminus stuff basically amounts to set up. It is closure to a plotline from last season as well, sure, but it seems to be set up that once again puts the theme of the show in full view, while giving us others to see it come through.
Moving on, Carol and Tyreese are the real stars of this week’s episode. Rick certainly did his part, but it relied more on killing zombies and regular folk in ways that made him look viciously heroic. For Carol and Tyreese, we had a chance to see things from the outside and from two differing perspectives. Tyreese was apparently having trouble killing walkers, following the events of “The Grove,” so of course this show would find a way to give him every reason to be pushed back into doing what must be done. Complicating things for him and putting him in that position meant having to deal with a real jerk though.
Every now and then I feel like the writers really enjoy addressing complaints about the show head on. With this jerk character, it almost seems like showrunner/episode writer Scott M. Gimple created someone that represented the obvious danger. Not only does this person eventually threaten Judith’s life, he even spells out exactly what should be done before he even gets the upper hand. He asks why Tyreese does not just run away, let alone why he does not just kill him. This is the kind of character that seems to channel the reaction of most audiences watching a scene like this from home, yet it works because it is handled so matter-of-factly. That said, we also have to go through the motions of a silly mistake being made, so Tyreese can be outsmarted for a brief period, before taking the power back and going into rage mode on some walkers and this jerky guy.
If Tyreese represents the good having to go to extremes, though, Carol is the extreme in full control of her strength. I have been giving plenty of praise to Melissa McBride for her work in the last couple of seasons, and here she manages to add her own level of cool to her level-headed character, as we watch her infiltrate Terminus and effectively push forward its fall. If this show wants to deal with addressing who you have to become in dire scenarios such as a zombie apocalypse, then Carol makes a case for how to not only be a strong survivor, but one that eliminates threats, while still keeping her humanity.
Keeping the focus around Carol’s time at Terminus, it is a good time to point out Greg Nicotero’s direction in this episode. The makeup effects guru has helmed plenty of Walking Dead episodes at this point, but he does some really great work in allowing us to really see the carnage on display. Nicotero episodes are not always the most action-heavy, but he does like to get close-ups on the walkers. Here, he has a large scale action episode to work with, and it is coupled with plenty of great shots of walkers moving around, devouring people, and acting as a general menace, taking down Terminus in the process. Combined with Carol doing stealth work to try and find her people, we get to see a lot of Terminus, even if it is the last time we really get a glimpse of the place as it once stood.
By the end of it all, after a quick thought by Rick explaining that they have to go back to finish everyone off at Terminus, we get all the reuniting (and Rick drops his plan). For a series like this, with so many attempts at emotion that only play well every now and then, it all really worked in this episode. It comes with this show having already established most of these characters as well as it can that you can sort of get where everyone is coming from, but seeing Daryl and Carol come together with such a strong embrace works just as well as Rick and Carl discovering that Judith is still alive. Tyreese and Sasha were nice, too, but really, it was nice to see a big win for Rick and the gang overall, following all the darkness that came from being separated last season.
Of course, all of this is bound to change. The Walking Dead is not about to start putting things into optimistic overdrive, as that is just not the show we have been watching. There are bound to be some major setbacks, whether they come from Gareth’s revenge plan, the ones who kidnapped Beth, or some completely new threat that we are soon going to learn about. Regardless, while Terminus may not have been stretched out into the longer arc that some may have expected, the series is back and is quite confident in delivering on the spectacle that this show has been able to provide in the past. Ideally, the writing can serve the characters in a manner just as effective, which would really be a nice change of pace, especially given that the second half of the last season really put in some effort. That all being said, it is nice to have this show back.
- Zombie Kill of the Week: It may have been an amazing shot with a firework, but that explosion, with Carol in frame, was pretty badass.
- I dig the new intro quite a bit. It is solid without being specific to one location.
- For those watching Gotham and are big fans of this show, Oswald Cobblepot made a return appearance this week, after his one episode back in season 4, only to have his throat cut quite graphically.
- I was not surprised we had no big deaths this week, but at the same time, I am not a fan of double fake-outs either.
- “It’s classified” – Eugene’s time to shine is a few steps closer to happening, I guess.
- “I won’t!” – Any thoughts on if Tyreese did actually kill that guy?
- Carol got Daryl’s crossbow, but will Michonne get her sword back or what?!
- Let’s hope Rick stays this consistently badass, with few lapses this season. *fingers crossed*
- So Morgan returned (assuming you stayed until after the credits)! And apparently only wears masks when he knows cameras are around, for the sake of dramatic reveals of course!
- Thanks for reading and feel free to hear what I and a few other fans of the show have to say about the series on the The Walking Dead TV Podcast.