‘No Sanctuary,’ the season 5 premiere of The Walking Dead, reminds us what we’ve known for a long time, there is no safe place in the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse. With fractured spirits, how will our group survive their new enemies – who are quite possibly the most terrifying ones they’ve ever faced?
The show picks up almost immediately where the season 4 finale left off. We know that Rick (Andrew Lincoln) has every intention of showing the Termites that “they’re screwing with the wrong people.” He and the crew craft makeshift weapons out of belt buckles and anything else they can get their hands on. They all believe so strongly that they can get out of this situation that you believe it too. You forget that they are out manned and out gunned. They are so determined and so resourceful that none of that matters.
But it does matter. The Termites have done this before. They don’t even bother coming through the front train car door. Instead, they drop a smoke bomb inside the car from the roof. Everyone is disoriented.
Then we go to the slaughterhouse.
Rick, Bob, Daryl, Glenn and a few other redshirts are lined up waiting to be bled out like cattle. Very quickly, we realize that’s all these men are to the Termites. Cattle. Nothing more than dinner. There is no remorse over their actions. No ritual. It is perfunctory.
The slaughter begins with the redshirts, of course. Ironically, the first to die is Sam, someone that Rick and Carol saved right before Rick banished her from the group. This speaks to the title of the episode. Someone may save your life once, but you still aren’t safe. No where is safe.
There is a moment when my breath catches and I worry that Glenn will meet his end. He doesn’t. In what honestly feels like somewhat of a cheap trick, Gareth, one of the leaders of Terminus, enters the room and wants to know where Rick stashed his guns.
After Gareth finishes playing with and tormenting his food, there are gunshots and then an explosion outside of the slaughterhouse. I immediately assume it’s Carol (Melissa McBride) – because of course it is.
After the opening, Carol, Tyreese and Judith are on the search for Terminus when a horde of zombies, larger than we’ve seen in a while, cross their path. Luckily for Carol and Tyreese, the zombies are drawn toward the gunfire at Terminus from the brawl at the end of last season.
Carol and Tyreese come across a Termite lookout, who is talking into a walkie-talkie about how dangerous the “chick with the sword” is and how he wants “the kid’s hat.” Carol points a gun to his head and they take him hostage. Here Carol utters an awesome line: “We’re friends of the chick with the sword and the kid with the hat.” If you haven’t seen the episode, you won’t appreciate its awesomeness, but Carol is… well, Carol. Everything she says is amazing.
Carol sets off to Terminus on her own, leaving Tyreese, Judith and the hostage to wait for her.
In predictable hostage form, the Termite strikes up a conversation with Tyreese. It’s the typical mix of friendship and intimidation. It doesn’t work, but you can see Tyreese wishing he could get in a car, drive away from all of this death and keep surviving.
Of course, that’s not possible. As the title of this episode tells us, there is no such thing as sanctuary. Not at the CDC, not at the farm, not at the prison and not even with each other.
Knowing she needs to create a distraction and deal with the zombies, Carol, slathered in blood and guts, sets off the explosion that kills dozens of the zombies and momentarily saves the lives of her friends.
Not all of the zombies died, of course. Many continue to attack the Termites who rush out to deal with the explosion and fight the horde. Honestly, I’ve never been so excited to see a zombie eat someone’s face as I was when I watched one take a bite out of a Termite. It was the best.
Rick managed to hide a shank on him in his earlier efforts to weaponize the group. After Gareth leaves to check on the explosion, Rick uses it to cut his ties quietly and then stab the two remaining guards.
And here is where we see some of Rick’s evolution. The evolution that started the moment he woke up in that hospital bed back in season 1 and propelled even further when he tore out a man’s throat last season. Rick tells Bob not to cut the head off of the Terminus guards. He wants them to turn. As Daryl notes, “these aren’t people.” Why should they treat them with respect?
The group of four make it out of the slaughterhouse and start to open the train cars to free other captives. The first person out of a car is a tattooed madman. He’s screaming “We’re the same! We’re the same!” until a zombie jumps him.
Carol finds her way into what I can only assume is some kind of room of worship. Mary, the woman who greeted our group last season, tells Carol to put down her weapons and surrender. Carol is the High Bitch In Charge, so she whips around and gets the better of Mary.
Mary, in what is perhaps a plea for her life – but what is really the writers’ way of throwing in some exposition, tells Carol the brief history of Terminus.
“The signs, they were real. It was a sanctuary. People came and took this place and they raped and they killed and they laughed and they killed. We got it back. And we heard the message. ‘You’re the butcher or you’re the cattle.’”
At the end of the episode, we see a glimpse of this horror. In a flashback, the tattooed madman from the previous scene throws Mary into a train car and grabs another woman as she screams “not again, please not again.” It is awful. It is harrowing.
But no horror justifies the current sins of Terminus. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what the world throws at you. It doesn’t matter how much you are tortured, you have more than two choices. There is more to the living than fight or flight, more to the world than hunt or die.
This is a testament to the resilience of our survivors. Yes, Rick had his dalliance with grief driven insanity, but he managed to go clear. Each member of our group has a level of tenacity that drives them forward. It’s something that you need, not only to survive, but to live and maintain your humanity.
You don’t have to become the thing that you hate – which is exactly what the people of Terminus did.
Carol is a battered wife. We can’t even begin to know what she dealt with when she was married. We know she was beaten, and odds are, she was raped by her husband as well. Then, her daughter was turned into a zombie.
This is where the tenacity of our group comes into play again. Despite everything that happened to her, Carol has grown stronger. She knows that sometimes you do have to kill people to survive and protect the ones that you love – as she did with Tyreese’s girlfriend. But she also knows that not everyone is a threat. Not everyone deserves to die.
Mary deserves to die. Carol shoots her in the leg and leaves her to for the zombies to eat alive – not so dissimilar from the way Mary planned on killing her family.
Meanwhile, zombies descend on the cabin housing Tyreese, Judith and the hostage. When the hostage gets the upper hand and threatens Judith’s life, Tyreese is forced outside with the zombies. This seems to be certain death for our gentlest of heroes. Tyreese has yet to kill a walker. He can’t separate the corpse from the human they once were. That is until he has Judith to fight for. He bursts back into the cabin (after giving me a heart attack from thinking he didn’t make it) and beats the hostage to death.
Back in the Terminus train cars, Sasha presses Eugene for information on his secret cure for the zombie virus. There’s been a lot of debate among fans and characters as to whether or not Euguene is really a genius. This is the make-or-break moment for him. He gives in and divulges part of his secret.
“I was part of a 10 person team at the human genome project to create weaponized diseases to fight other weaponized diseases.”
In this speech his character loses any sense of insecurity he may have had and Eugene goes from nerd to self-confessed badass in under 30 seconds.
After everyone is rescued, the group stops to pick up the bag of weapons and supplies that Rick buried in the woods. Rick wants to go back and kill everyone one of the Termites left alive. No one else does. He looks at Daryl for advice. This is a different Rick. Like Carol, Rick has evolved.
We aren’t in a Ricktatorship anymore. Whether or not this is a democracy remains to be seen, but at the very least, Rick now values and considers the advice of others. Also, the rest of the group realizes their value. They don’t acquiesce to Rick’s commands simply because he’s their de-facto leader.
Daryl gets the chance to give Rick his advice because that’s the moment Carol returns to the group. Reedus and McBride are wonderful in this scene. Their embrace is one of relief and love. It’s the embrace of two people who have finally found home again.
Rick and Carol hug, as well. There is relief in that. There is a silent apology from Rick in there, as well.
Carol immediately takes the group to Tyreese, who is waiting outside with Judith. I can’t describe this moment. Nothing can. But what I can say is that on any other show the reunion of a father with his baby daughter would have dripped with sugar and sap. It would have been unwatchable. But everyone on The Walking Dead, from the actors, to the writers, directors and even the sound and lighting crews, have the uncanny ability to convey honesty in everything that they do.
These last two scenes exemplify why this is one of the most beautiful shows on television.
There may be no sanctuary, but there is solace in family and our fractured band of survivors are fractured no more.
But there are other broken survivors out there. Morgan, who we met in season 1 and again in the season 3 episode Clear, is heading toward Terminus. When we last saw him, Morgan was as lost as Rick was at that time. When Rick leaves him at the end of the episode, we still do not know the extent of his mental stability. We only glimpse him for a few moments, so there is no telling what part he will play in this season, but his appearance is one twist that I don’t think anyone saw coming.
Now that the Terminus storyline is, well, terminated (sorry guys, couldn’t resist the bad pun), what do you think is going to happen to the group? Will they head to D.C? Will that end up the same mess as the CDC? Or will there be enough resources for Eugene to save the world?
What say you nerds?