“You’re either the butcher or the cattle.”
If it’s October, it must be The Walking Dead. Everyone’s favorite zombie apocalypse kicked off its 5th season right where last year’s season finale left off. Season 4 spent a lot of time, particularly its second half, on developing the surviving characters. Terminus, the sanctuary to which all the characters hoped to reunite at, was revealed to be anything but as Rick and his group were locked up in a storage crate waiting to be slaughtered and eaten by the cannibals who live there. Viewers were left on an exciting cliffhanger as Rick turned to them and said, “They’re screwing with the wrong people.” So does Season 5 deliver a satisfying pay off? Here are my thoughts on the first episode.
This season’s premiere, entitled “No Sanctuary” embodied everything that is great about this show. Episodes of The Walking Dead tend to be either purely action packed or purely character driven. “No Sanctuary” gives us both, providing all the zombie gore that the show does so well while making the audience uneasy about where these characters are heading. The purpose of this episode was primarily to wrap up the previous season through reuniting the group. But the road to this reunion was tense and disturbing.
The show begins with Gareth (Andrew J West) and his butchers tying up Rick and his crew over a trough. Casually going over protocol before the butchers slit their throats Carol comes to the rescue by blowing up a gas tank, which sets a hoard of zombies into Terminus. Rick, Glen, Daryl, and Bob manage to escape, grab weapons and free the rest of the group while killing any zombie or Terminite in their way. Meanwhile, Tyreese is held up with Judith in a small cabin outside Terminus holding a guard hostage. When the guard gets loose and threatens Judith’s life, Tyreese is faced with a life-altering decision.
I watch The Walking Dead primarily for its storytelling but who doesn’t enjoy a good zombie kill. Director and special effects wizard Greg Nicotero raises the bar in this episode. The zombies look even more decayed than last season and Nicotero pays attention to detail in showing the rot over time through pale skin, emaciated wounds, and features that are barely recognizable as human anymore. He also keeps the gore level high with mass zombie face impalement and a bat that smashes a zombie’s head so much its eyes pop out. Above all, this episode felt like a 45 minute adrenaline rush where the action did not stop.
Despite its fast pace, however, the episode takes its time to raise some concerning issues regarding the characters. Much of the heroism in this episode belongs to Carol as she singlehandedly creates the distraction needed for Rick to escape. It is evident that she has completely turned from a woman incapable of leaving her husband to an independent warrior who won’t hesitate to shoot a man in point blank range when her friends are being held captive. The consequences to finally killing a man may have long term effects on Tyreese, especially when this man asks Tyreese point blank, “How does keeping me alive help you?” Rick orders his group to kill all the Terminus residents because they “deserve to die,” much to the group’s dismay. But one of the more daring aspects the episode explores is shifting back in time to when the people in Terminus were actually held hostage by people they had let in. In one scene, Mary, one of the leaders in Terminus, tells Carol that at one time it was a sanctuary until the wrong people came and they were forced to defend themselves. The show uses flashbacks to draw parallels between the Terminus group and Rick’s group, suggesting that the latter may be heading towards the same barbaric outcome. Throughout the course of this series, Rick has had to adopt a kill or be killed mentality and it seems like it will take its toll not just on him, but everyone else he is in contact with later as the season progresses.
This episode establishes that the central theme of this season will most likely be that you’re either a killer or a corpse. We see that through what Rick is willing to do to keep his group safe, and we see it reflected through the brief flashbacks of what the Terminites are willing to do to maintain their own “ideal sanctuary.” The episode does not end with a clear cut objective for the characters. They could be continuing towards Washington or somewhere else entirely. Tensions amid the group have already begun. Dark times seem to be ahead. Not to mention a post credits scene reveals a huge surprise in the form of a returning character. The suspense has never been higher and I can’t wait to see what The Walking Dead Season 5 has in store for us.