‘The Walking Dead’ Season 5, Episode 1 Review: “No Sanctuary”

By October 14, 2014
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Sunday night’s Season 5 premiere of “AMC’s The Walking Dead” was quite a doozy! I’m not mincing words here – the numbers are in and this episode of AMC’s zombie juggernaut has yet again broken cable ratings records by bringing in 17.3 million viewers. The show was renewed for a 6th season last week and with numbers like these, it’s absolutely no wonder why! And while I was a bit on the fence regarding the direction the show took halfway during Season 4, Sunday night’s episode blew every last one of my expectations out of the proverbial water. But enough about me (how did I make this about me?), let’s get into it.

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The title of the episode in question is “No Sanctuary,” and boy if there ever was a title that fit an episode’s plot to a T, this would be it! The first eight minutes of the season opener is probably the most brutal and in-your-face the show has ever been. With the numbers they are pulling in, I’m wondering if AMC has just given Gimple and Nicotero a pass. I would! Speaking of that: Greg Nicotero directed the episode, which found Rick’s crew exactly where Season 4 left them – in a shipping container. With the true cannibalistic nature of Terminus revealed to them, things look horribly grim. But if there’s ever a group of people that seem to always pull through the tough situations, it’s our group of heroes here.

The episode opens on a flashback scene showing Gareth and the other folks of Terminus being held in a railway car very similar to the situation Rick and crew found themselves in at the end of Season 4. Foreshadowing much? After that brief glimpse into Terminus’ past, we find Rick and crew hand-crafting anything they can into makeshift weapons. But before they could attack, Rick, Bob, Daryl, and Glenn are taken. Bound and gagged, they find themselves positioned for a slaughterhouse-style execution! A bat to the head and a knife to the throat – this is the method in which every male prisoner in the room is taken out. The image of their lifeless bodies slumped over a stainless steel tub to catch the blood is still quite vivid in my mind. Way to go, Mr. Nicotero!

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I’ll get back to the slaughterhouse in a moment. Another integral part of this episode is the emotional journey of Tyreese. He’s still an absolute mess from Mika and Lizzie’s deaths in last Season’s “The Grove.” While still on the road with Carol and baby Judith, they happen across a Terminus resident at a shack. Carol takes him hostage to question him which soon leads to her heading off to the main compound, leaving Tyreese in charge of this situation, which he is obviously not emotionally capable of handling at this point. His prisoner sees this and lays down this logic, “You’re the kind of guy who saves babies. That’s kinda like saving an anchor when you’re stuck on a boat in the middle of an ocean.”

Speaking of the baby, there’s a moment in the shack where Tyreese gets distracted by the growing amount of walkers outside the door. This is the moment where the prisoner moves to Judith and threatens her life if Tyreese doesn’t do as he says. So, Tyreese leaves the building to face the zombies outside alone. One thing’s for certain – this scenario did not play out with any happy endings.

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While Tyreese is battling his inner demons and these outer ones, Carol makes her way to Terminus covered in walker blood to make her journey easier. In a few swift and calculated moves, she infiltrates the compound along with a massive horde of the undead. The image of her calmly walking amidst the monsters is a strong one and really helps highlight her evolution from Season 1. Once inside, she finds the room that holds all the belongings of the compound’s prisoners. She retrieves Daryl’s crossbow and slowly makes her way through the building.

It’s in the creepy candlelit room where she finds herself in a confrontation with Mary (Denise Crosby), the woman who welcomed our heroes to Terminus back in Season 4. The two scuffle but Carol quickly gets the upper hand. The woman does her best to explain how the community reverted to their gruesome cannibalistic tendencies. As with the opening flashback scene, she confirms they used to be a civil group until they were overrun by thugs. They successfully escaped the clutches of these bad guys with the leadership of Gareth and the mantra, “You’re either the butcher or the cattle.” These famous last words resonate as Carol lets in a bunch of walkers to give this Terminus woman a well-deserved death.

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Carol’s explosive entrance into the community ultimately saves Rick and the rest of the gang from their gruesome fate as Gareth leaves to investigate. This leaves the two henchmen (knife guy and bat dude) with their guards down, giving Rick enough time to take them both out with the makeshift wooden blade he created back in the railcar. He quickly frees Glenn, Bob, and Daryl with one mission: kill everyone. This leads us through some pretty nail-biting zombie action as the guys maneuver through the community, taking out walkers and Terminus residents without any sort of real discretion or scrutiny. It’s when they come across another railcar that Glenn reminds Rick that it’s the right thing to do to set the prisoners free. The fact that Rick needs to be reminded of this makes me wonder how he’d get along with Shane at this point if the man was still around.

Back at the shack, our Terminus hostage makes an attempt to radio in for assistance until he notices all has gone quiet outside. After a beat, Tyreese is barreling down on the guy and beats him to a bloody pulp. The evolution of these characters, Tyreese included, seems to have found them all in darker violent mindsets. If there’s anything to take away from this scene, it’s that Tyreese can pretty much kill anything with his bare hands. That and he’ll hate himself for doing it.

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The majority of “No Sanctuary” is filled with some of the darkest and bleakest subject matter “The Walking Dead” has delivered in its 5 years on TV. Well, okay, that scene with Mika and Lizzie from “The Grove” was pretty damn bleak, but you get my point. This is why the gang’s eventual reunion with Tyreese, Carol, and baby Judith was very necessary. After that hour we were subjected to, some much needed levity was definitely in order. Also, Eugene finally let the gang (and the audience) in on his zombie cure which is easily summed up by his use of the term “fight fire with fire.” After the end credits, we were teased with a clip of Morgan Jones (played by Lennie James) tracking etchings on trees through the forest. If he’s back, next week’s episode is sure to be amazing!

Hunt or be hunted – this is the one common theme in “No Sanctuary.” Gareth’s people chose to be the butcher over the cattle. You see the evolution in Carol, Tyreese, and Rick, which paints an interesting comparison between our gang of heroes and the cannibals in Terminus. While it’s pretty safe to say that they will not resort to eating other humans to stay alive, the line separating right and wrong looks to be the most blurred since the show’s beginning. If the premiere episode is any hint, this year may very well bring the most dark and intense season of “The Walking Dead” yet!

What were your thoughts on Sunday night’s Season 5 premiere of “The Walking Dead”? Tell me everything in the comments below!

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Aside from throwing words onto your screen here, he has written for the likes of FEARnet, Examiner, Dread Central and MTV Movies Blog. And yes, he was Percy on VR Troopers.