The Walking Dead, S5 Ep1 — No Sanctuary

Last week, The Walking Dead returned for its 5th season — Episode 1, “No Sanctuary,” welcomed fans back with a bang. If you’ll recall, most of the main characters had made it to Terminus, the supposed sanctuary at the end of the railroad tracks. Rick, Michonne, Carl, Daryl, Glenn, Maggie, Sasha, Bob, Tara, and newbies Abraham, Rosita, and Eugene are all being held captive in a train car at the beginning of the aptly-titled “No Sanctuary.” Not there are Carol and Tyreese, still following the tracks in the hopes of  finding a safe place for baby Judith, and Beth, who was kidnapped several episodes ago.

We start with a flashback, another group of people being treated brutally. It’s clear this is backstory for our captors, and it’s on the heavy-handed side. Do we need to be spoon-fed that the Terminus group are humans who’ve been through some really bad stuff?

In the present time, our captive group is getting creative, fashioning weapons out of their belts, clothes, and the train’s structure, which is partly wood for some reason. They’re not prepared for teargas, though, and Rick, Bob, Daryl, and Glenn are lined up, gagged and tied, in front of a trough with four other guys.

You know TWD is brutal, probably the goriest show on TV, but the trough scene is one of the most disturbing yet, even though it’s no shock that they were being lined up for slaughter. One by one, the men are knocked out with a bat, their throats slit so they bleed out into the trough. Sure, the four guys to the left of Glenn are redshirts (one was half of the hippie couple Rick and Carol encountered in season 4), but it’s messed up. And even though there hasn’t been a real shocking death since Dale a couple of years ago, I can’t say I was 100% sure they wouldn’t get to Glenn.

But, of course, they didn’t. The slaughter was interrupted by Gareth, the leader of Terminus and new big bad (also I guess he’s the new TWD sex symbol for some reason). Gareth doesn’t blink at the dead men, and isn’t there to stop it. Bob causes a diversion that probably saved Glenn, and maybe all of them, if only because it bid their time until a bigger diversion: Seconds after, the building shakes as if a bomb goes off. When Gareth leaves, the two butchers are taken out by Rick, who’s been sawing away at his ropes with a homemade wooden knife, and the four escape.

Carol kicking ass

Carol kicking ass

Time rolls back to earlier in the day, and we find one of Terminus’ finest doing some off-site work, communicating with a CB radio. He makes the mistake of loudly bragging about capturing Michonne and Carl within the earshot of Carol, and finds himself with a gun to his head. Carol wastes no time tying the guy up in a nearby abandoned cabin. She’s ready to go in and start kicking ass, but there’s Judith to think about. Knowing Ty doesn’t exactly have the stomach to kill living people at Terminus, she leaves him to take care of Judith (and the guy).

Gareth might be getting a lot of attention after “No Sanctuary,” but it’s the cabin guy who steals the show when he’s left alone with Ty. He reminisces about his lost humanity, taunts Ty for being a “good guy,” and makes it clear that at least one of them will be dead by the end of the day. The writing here approaches “Clear” in quality.

Meanwhile, Carol, who has covered herself in walker guts so she won’t be detected by the undead, has found Terminus. She also knows that a horde is heading right for it.

She watches the residents stab walkers in the head through the fence — a scene that parallels the daily walker defense back at the prison. This, in my opinion, humanizes the group far more than the flashbacks.

Carol doesn’t get sentimental. They’ve captured her friends, and she’s ready to kill them all to save them (or simplybecause they have it coming for crossing her). She uses some stolen fireworks and a gun to blow up a fuel tank near the fence, taking out dozens of people, walkers, and a chunk of the fence.

This is also the “bomb” that saves Glenn, Daryl, Bob, and Rick.

Flaming walkers

Flaming walkers

Chaos ensues. Flaming walkers invade Terminus. Former survivors are eaten alive (money shot: flaming walker eating a guy’s face). Gun battles. Gruesome discoveries.

Meanwhile, things have escalated at the cabin. Surrounded by walkers outside, Ty’s captive goes for Judith, grasping her head and threatening to twist. He tells Ty to go outside. He complies, but the threat has woken him him up — he storms back in a minute later (after presumably taking out a bunch of walkers), and beats the guy unconscious while telling that he didn’t want to do it. Again, this is the best arc of the episode.

All of our main characters escape Terminus, unaware that it was Carol who saved them. Back in the woods, they’re digging up their stash of weapons when they reunite with her. It’s emotional, especially for Daryl, but not least of all four Rick, who exiled her after she killed Karen and David. She takes them to the cabin, where they find Ty and Judith, safe, and more emotional reunions for the Grimes family and Sasha, who’s been struggling with the possibility that Ty was dead.

With everyone together (except for Beth, who will no doubt be back), the group moves on, with Abraham’s trio hesitantly coming along.

As a season opener, it’s a promising start. Few episodes have balanced character study with in-your-face gore, explosive zombie effects with tight scriptwriting. Here’s hoping it continues through the rest of the season.