The Walking Dead: No Sanctuary
“You’re either the butcher or the cattle.”
It’s the post-apocalyptic circle of life. The strong eat the weak. At Terminus, they really take that expression to heart.
The season five premiere of The Walking Dead is one of the most action-packed episodes in the show’s history. It sticks to the show’s strengths which makes it a very satisfying viewing experience. If I have a quibble, it’s that this episode should have been last season’s finale. The last eight episodes of season 4 built up to this moment. And then, they left us hanging. Now sixth months later, we finally got the bloody catharsis last season was building towards.
Spoilers after the jump.
The Walking Dead has a history of setting an entire season or two in one location. This has a tendency to suck a lot of the inherent drama right out of the zombie apocalypse. The show works best when the characters are on the run. So the prospect of an entire season stuck in the train cars of Terminus was not especially appealing. Fortunately, this episode ended the entire Terminus storyline in pretty spectacular fashion. We even got a taste of the origin of Terminus through flashbacks.
We are told that in the early days of the apocalypse, Terminus really was what it was advertised to be – a sanctuary. But eventually, some predators entered into the mix and took advantage. We don’t know exactly what happened to Gareth, Mary and the others. But we do know that they managed to overthrow their oppressors and take back the camp. But the experience changed them. They adopted the “butcher or cattle” as their new mantra. And man, did they take it seriously.
I get that being kept prisoner in a train car can change a person. They clearly experienced some horrible things. They have been pushed to extremes. So it’s understandable that they stopped welcoming strangers with open arms. It’s something of a leap to have them decide on systematic cannibalism. From what we have seen of the zombie apocalypse, food is a limited resource. But if one is willing to scavenge, there’s still a lot of canned goods lying around. Not to mention livestock that won’t talk back. From what we have observed, there are options.
Instead, the resident’s of Terminus have jumped on board the cannibal train with reckless abandon. They have reduced the killing and eating of humans to mundane office work. Rick, Glenn, Bob and Daryl get lined up next to four other dudes over a trough. One worker comes in and clubs the victims in the back of the head with a baseball bat. Then they slit the victim’s throat and let the blood run into the trough. No muss, no fuss. There are clipboards involved.
Fortunately, Glenn is spared a whack on the head when Gareth arrives to chastise his underlings and to interrogate Rick about the contents of his weapons cache. As it turns out, the residents of Terminus aren’t as thorough when it comes to searching their prisoners. Every single member of Rick’s crew was able to fashion some form of shiv or weapon out of articles of clothing and items found within the train car. That kind of sloppiness will get you killed. And sure enough, Rick and his gang escape using their DIY weapons.
Meanwhile, Carol, Tyreese and baby Judith as wandering through the zombie-filled woods. Carol plans to drop them off at Terminus, but she doesn’t plan to stay. Apparently she’s the only character on the show that saw the words “Terminus: End of Line” and thought it sounded ominous. But she’s still willing to deliver Tyreese and Judith into an obvious trap even if she won’t walk into it herself.
A single zombie walks out of the woods. Tyreese takes the baby and claims he can’t bring himself to kill anymore. Granted, Tyreese has been through a lot and one can certainly understand his world weariness. But if he isn’t able to kill zombies, he’s going to make a lousy protector for that baby he’s carrying. Carol tells him he has to get over his no-killing stance, but she does the bloody work herself. Once the deed is done, they spot an approaching herd and hide in the woods. They are saved by the sound of gunfire in the distance. The zombies turn and amble towards the sound of the gunfire. Judith is officially the best behaved baby in the history of babies. Because zombies and gunfire would have startled any baby I have ever met.
They stumble across a guy with a walkie talkie. They overhear his half of the conversation. The man is clearly discussing Glenn and Michonne. He says he want’s Glenn’s baseball cap after he “bleeds out”. Carol gets the drop on the guy and they keep him prisoner. Then she goes off Rambo-style to rescue her old friends. Tyreese stays behind to babysit Judith and their prisoner. The prisoner assumes that Tyreese is a softy because he’s caring for a baby. What he doesn’t know is that Tyreese is a killing machine who’s just going through a slow spell. He makes the critical error of practically daring Tyreese to kill him.
Meanwhile, Carol covers herself in zombie guts. We have seen this approach used a few times on The Walking Dead. And it ALWAYS works like a charm. I know it’s gross. But since it is so damn effective, you have to wonder why they aren’t always covering themselves in zombie guts every time they are out in the open. It seriously has a 100% success rate. Carol then launches a stealth attack on Terminus like she’s playing Far Cry 3. She ends up blowing up a tank and creating chaos while the herd of zombies overruns the compound.
Rick, Glenn, Daryl and Bob take advantage of the chaos to escape their captors. They come across a train car containing a loud prisoner. Glenn insists they have to free whoever is in there because it’s who they are. When they open the car, a scary-looking guy with tattoos stumbles out and starts screaming at him. It was revealed on the Talking Dead that this prisoner is one of the guys who took advantage of Terminus when it was a sanctuary.
Rick and the gang make their way through the compound killing humans and zombies alike. When possible, they upgrade their weapons by confiscating firearms. Rick insists that his people shoot to kill. And if they have a chance, they should let their enemies be turned into zombies. He’s not just out for blood. He wants revenge. But first, they have to save their friends who are left in the train car.
The others prepare for the battle that is coming. They don’t know what awaits them outside of the confines of the car. But they know there will be zombies. While they are preparing for battle, Sasha finally does something long overdue. She demands that Eugene share the secret of the zombie cure. Her reasoning is that if anything happens to him, the others need to deliver the cure to Washington. Eugene insists that the others would never understand it. But when pushed, he provides a bunch of sciency mumbo jumbo. Sasha seems satisfied with the non-answer. But hey, at least someone finally asked.
Elsewhere, Carol makes her way through the compound. She enters a room where the residents of Terminus are storing weapons on tables. She selects a crossbow. My favorite part of the scene is that next to the weapons table is a table loaded with toys. Just in case you weren’t clear that these guys are evil, the show gives us a table full of stuffed animals from the kids they ate. Not sure why they would want to keep the things much less store them next to the weapons.
Carol comes into conflict with Mary. At gunpoint, Mary explains the compound’s backstory. But Carol’s not impressed. She opens a door and lets in a bunch of zombies. Since she’s still wearing her zombie drag, the walkers go past her and descend on Mary. Carol walks out without a glance.
Meanwhile, Tyreese is watching zombies through the window of the cabin where he and his prisoner are holed up. The prisoner takes the opportunity to grab baby Judith’s neck and threaten to snap it. He makes Tyreese drop his weapons and head out into the zombie mayhem unarmed. For an ordinary person, it would be certain death, But Tyreese is no ordinary man. For him, this is a crash course in getting his killer groove back. Tyreese kills all the zombies and the comes back and kills the prisoner for daring the threaten the baby.
Rick frees the rest of his crew from the train car and they battle their way out of Terminus. Once outside, they dig up their buried weapons cache. Rick insists that they have to go back into Terminus to make sure all the humans are dead. “They don’t get to live,” he says. So much for farmer Rick. Hello, bloodthirsty killer Rick.
The group is approached by Carol. Daryl runs to her and greets her with a hug. Rick, who exiled her from the group for killing sick people back at the prison. seems to have gotten over his objections to her actions. Somewhat reluctantly, he welcomes her back. She then takes them to where Tyreese is keeping Judith. It is a genuinely touching moment to see Rick reunited with his daughter and Carl reunited with his sister.
As I said at the outset, it was a very satisfying hour of The Walking Dead. Probably one of the best episode’s in the show’s history. And regular readers know I don’t say that lightly. But just in case you weren’t completely satisfied, the show had one final surprise. In a Marvel-like post credits tag, we see a man on his way to Terminus. He comes across a sign which Rick has altered to read “no sanctuary”. Then he unmasks to reveal that he is fan favorite Morgan. Morgan’s back, bitches!
While I still wish this episode had been the finale for last season, I can’t deny it was a kickass start to season five. If the rest of the season can carry on this momentum, it will be the best season the show has ever seen.