After what seemed like a very long hiatus, the 5th season of The Walking Dead kicked off with an explosive (literally) premiere. Written by show runner Scott Gimple and directed by Greg Nicotero, “No Sanctuary” was action packed from the start, picking up right where the season 4 finale left off. The fast paced episode gave us tense battles and touching reunions, culminating in a united group with a decisive leader at the helm. It was all pretty awesome for the first episode of the season.
Before the action started, though, we got a flashback/flash present with a ‘Then” and “Now” sequence (seemingly copying a technique used by the TV show Supernatural) showing us a time when the Terminus people were the ones held captive in boxcars, then moving to our group in car A, who was busily preparing to fight, fashioning weapons out of their own clothes. Armed and ready, Rick gives the group instructions to go for eyes and throats as some men approach. But taking no chances, the men use gas on the group, incapacitating them, and when Rick, Daryl, Bob, and Glenn come around from it, they are bound and gagged with some other prisoners, and positioned in front of a trough. What followed next was brutally violent, (even by the show’s standards), but extremely effective in eliciting emotion from the audience. Watching The Termites crack the skulls and slit the throats of the people from boxcar D, bleeding them into the trough (just like cattle) – especially in such a casual manner – made us hate those cannibalistic monsters with a fiery passion, didn’t it? It was easy to want vengeance along with our group members, and it made the payoff even greater when the Termites were later taken down.
Before all that, though, it’s Glenn’s turn to be slaughtered. Conveniently, Gareth comes in asking for shot counts from the butchers, delaying Glenn’s massacre. When he asks Rick about a bag hidden in the woods, we get a glimpse of Rick’s new resolve: He calmly lists the weapons contained in the bag, then matter- of-factly states he will use the red-handled machete to kill Gareth. The cruel proceedings are just about to resume, but are brought to a grinding halt by an explosion – which we soon learn came from the heroic actions of an exiled ally.
The episode’s focus switches to Carol, Tyreese, and Judith, still traveling on the tracks and still headed to Terminus. They encounter a large herd of walkers, but the zombies are distracted by gunfire. The overlapping timeline was interesting here, as the gunfire Carol and Tyreese heard came from Rick’s group as they were captured (though these events were shown in the season 4 finale).
The trio run into Martin, a guy talking to someone from Terminus via walkie talkie about “the chick with the sword and the kid in the hat.” Carol and Tyreese take Martin by gunpoint into the nearby shack, tying him up and asking about their friends. Carol heads to Terminus to investigate, while Tyreese stays with Martin, who quickly zeroes in on Tyreese’s “nice guy” status, telling him since he’s the kind of guy who saves babies, he will die that day.
At this point – if she wasn’t already – Carol turns into a warrior. She covers herself in walker guts to move along undetected (which begs the question why everyone doesn’t always cover themselves with this convenient cloak of invisibility), then expertly blows a fuel tank, with the show again cleverly revealing the overlapping timeline – this is the explosion that halts Rick, Bob, Daryl, and Glenn’s executions. The result causes enough property destruction to allow a ginormous herd of walkers (some fiery) to come shambling in, chewing Termites’ faces off. In the commotion, our four guys escape.
As they gather weapons in the human drying room, Rick tells his companions not to hesitate in killing any of the Termites. The four stop momentarily to free some people in another boxcar at Glenn’s insistence, because he reminds them, “That’s still who we are.” Our dear Glenn, always the good guy – but this narrative needs his steady morality.
After Carol saves our guys, she wanders around Terminus, finding the belongings of the long dead and cannibalized, taking in the enormity of the loss that occurred there. The scene is a sad one, and Melissa McBride brilliantly illustrates Carol’s heavy heart as she looks at the possessions scattered on tables. On a more hopeful note, Carol spies a familiar watch and crossbow, taking them with her to return to their rightful owners.
In the candle memorial room, Carol gets confronted by Mary, and the two battle before Carol gets the upper hand. We then get a bit of backstory as to what happened at Terminus. At one time it really was a sanctuary, before very bad people took it over. The original Terminus people got it back, but then adopted the mantra of “you’re the butcher or you’re the cattle.” Before Carol leaves, she sees to it that Mary becomes the cattle.
Back in the shack, Martin threatens Judith’ life, grabbing her little neck ominously. Poor Judith, she’s always in harm’s way. It’s just not easy being a baby in the zombie apocalypse. Martin gets Tyreese to go outside, and at this point I’m asking myself why he doesn’t just lunge at the Termite and end him. Oh, I forgot, Tyreese is having a hard time killing – the only weak point of the episode. After everything Tyreese has had to do, isn’t he past all this inner conflict? But Tyreese ultimately does what needs to be done: After taking care of the walkers outside, he bursts through the shack and beats Martin to death. See Tyreese, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Not to be cruel, but the guy threatened to kill a helpless baby. He had it coming.
While Maggie, Carl, and the rest of our group wait inside the boxcar, still making weapons and uncertain of what’s going on outside, Sasha asks Dr Eugene what the cure to the zombie apocalypse is that he’s traveling to Washington D.C. to carry out. Eugene explains how he was part of the Human Genome Project, and once in Washington D.C., with “a little tweaking” he could help create a pathogen that when released, would kill only the walkers. On the face of it, this idea sounds pretty good. It’s how the aliens in War of The Worlds were killed off, so what’s good for alien invaders is good for walkers – right?
After some more bad-ass-ness and gruesome killing of walkers by our group, they escape over a fence. Terminus is destroyed, as are most of the Termites. Unfortunately, though, Gareth wasn’t killed – only wounded. This means we’ll probably see him again, but please let’s not have a repeat of the Governor – aka the recycled villain of two seasons.
Through the Terminus battle, Rick’s transformation is what is most captivating here. He’s aggressive, focused, and fierce, and even later, hell-bent on killing any remaining Termites. And boy, it was good to see him like this. After many seasons of angst-ridden reluctant leadership and a passive turn at the farming life, this Rick was a long time in coming.
One of the best moments of the episode came when the group sees Carol in the woods. Daryl is of course, the first to spot her, and his intense reaction to seeing her was beautifully portrayed by Norman Reedus. Watching Daryl display that much emotion toward someone, especially after Beth’s disappearance and his turn with the marauders, was particularly moving. Rick also finally reunited with the woman he banished last season, and Carol’s tearful laughter in Rick’s arms showcased her relief at being accepted back into the group – liberating her from the isolation of the devastatingly hard decisions she’s had to recently make. The whole scene was very touching without being over the top.
Next, when Rick and Carl saw baby Judith – their overwhelming joy of embracing a loved one long thought dead, along with Sasha and Tyrese’s reunion, and even Rick’s grateful clutch of Tyrese shoulder – well, it was hard not to get teary-eyed watching the whole thing play out on screen. And frankly, after seeing the group fractured for the second half of season 4, it was pretty satisfying to see them all together again.
Rick later turns his focus back at Terminus, and wonders out loud if the fire is still burning. The shot of the black smoke with Carol’s confident “It is” was an apt callback to 4.14’s heart-wrenching “The Grove,” (when Carol, Mika, and Lizzie had discussed black smoke meant a fire still burned). Perhaps now, after so heroically saving her entire group, Carol has earned her absolution from the horrific acts she had to perform in that episode.
Before leaving the area, Rick resolutely changes a Sanctuary sign to “No Sanctuary” and the group moves on. Surprisingly, after the ending credits, we see a lone masked man looking at the new “No Sanctuary” sign. As he doffs his mask we realize that it’s Morgan, seen in the pilot and in Season 3’s “Clear.” It was an effective reveal, as it raises all kinds of interesting questions as to where he’s headed and why.
All in all, this episode was fast-paced, tense, and dramatic, with enough touching moments interspersed throughout to make it emotionally gratifying. Terminus is no more, and our group is whole and strong, which hasn’t happened in a long time – if ever. Rick has his children, and his friends, by his side. I’m very interested to see what they will face next, and given the group’s fierce sense of unity, excited to see what a powerful force they create together.