Review: ‘‘The Walking Dead’ Season 5 Premiere Recap: ‘No Sanctuary’ for Rick and the Survivors’

The Walking Dead

Spoiler Warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “The Walking Dead” season five premiere, titled “No Sanctuary.”

“The Walking Dead” has certainly had its share of intense episode openings over its four year run, but it’s hard to remember any installment since the series premiere that has delivered such a nail-biting cold open as the season five debut. We begin with a flashback to the inhabitants of Terminus some time prior, finding them in a position very similar to that in which we left Rick and the other survivors, trapped and weaponless as unspeakable horrors are inflicted just outside their makeshift cell. As a captive laments that they never should’ve put up the signs inviting people to the safe haven of Terminus, we get our first sense that there’s more to these apparent villains than meets the eye — a motivation behind their mistrust.

Our sympathies are shortlived, however, because as soon as we jump back to “Now” and our resourceful survivors, who are smokebombed and dragged from the train car despite their best efforts to stage a coup with makeshift weapons, we realize just what the welcome wagon intends to do with their new guests: slit their throats and carve them up to feed the residents of Terminus. The Governor might have been a despotic socipath, but at least he still recognized the line between humans and walkers, and by killing and eating their own kind, the Terminans have become worse than the undead. Zombies may devour the living out of sheer, mindless instinct, but calculatedly luring weary travelers into a so-called sanctuary only to capture and murder them is indicative of a whole different breed of monster.

It’s chilling to see regular humans lining up their captives and unflinchingly slugging them with a baseball bat before bleeding them dry, especially ringleader Gareth, who cheerfully takes inventory while his henchmen do the dirty work. Thank goodness for the three hapless redshirts who are in line before Glenn (along with season four’s long-suffering Sam — aka “Gotham’s” Robin Lord Taylor), offering a gruesome taste of the seemingly unavoidable death that’s coming his way. Episode writer (and showrunner) Scott Gimple and director Greg Nicotero seem to gleefully enjoy toying with the audience’s expectations during the tense slaughterhouse scene, dangling certain death in front of Glenn multiple times before offering a last-second reprieve, ratcheting the tension up with every passing moment.

Despite Bob’s best efforts to reason with Gareth, his pleas fall on deaf ears, and it’s only Carol’s canny intervention that allows Rick, Glenn, Bob and Daryl to survive, her explosive distraction allowing them to overpower their guards and break free. Rick is in full take-no-prisoners mode as they make their way through the compound to rescue their allies, wanting every single one of the Terminans to die for what they’ve done.

The reason for Carol, Tyreese and Judith’s absence from the season four finale soon becomes clear as Carol launches a one-woman rescue mission against Terminus, blowing a hole in the gate to allow a herd of walkers to overpower the residents. She sneaks in amongst them by using the old zombie-entrails-as-camouflage trick (a grisly Halloween costume idea if ever there was one),  infiltrating the compound and finding Rick’s watch and Daryl’s crossbow along with a terrifying number of personal effects, giving some hint as to the staggering amount of people the Terminans have killed — including children, if the teddy bears and stuffed toys are any indication.

While Carol is getting her John McClane on inside Terminus, Tyreese is literally left holding the baby (a refreshing reversal of gender roles — which is a welcome addition in an episode that relies on the overused TV trope of employing the rape of multiple women to build a sense of horror and motivation for male vengeance). Tyreese is still skittish about killing after the horror of what transpired with Lizzie and Mika in “The Grove” last season, but that resolve is sorely tested when he and Carol capture Martin, another Terminus inhabitant who has no qualms about threatening Judith’s life if it might save his own.

The scene between Martin and Tyreese provides an eloquent illustration of the lengths people will go to in order to survive, and the Terminan tells Tyreese that he no longer has friends, just “assholes I stay alive with.” He notes that he used to be a regular guy who watched football and went to church on Sundays, but he can barely remember that life anymore and has become used to the cruel new world order. Tyreese says he hasn’t got used to it yet, and Martin notes that it’s because he’s a “good guy” who saves babies — which is why he’ll end up dead. Given that the producers have described this season as an opportunity for the characters to be faced with the question “who do I become?” in the wake of everything they’ve been through, will Tyreese be able to remain a “good guy” in such a bleak world?

Martin notes that Tyreese hasn’t yet had to get his hands dirty, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and Tyreese later tells Carol that he “had to” kill the other man, pushed to abandon his principles through a need to protect Judith. This mirrors the plight of the Terminans in the episode’s “Then” flashbacks — they created Terminus with the best intentions, because they were “trying to do something good” and be regular human beings, but their good faith was rewarded with cruelty, and it forced them to become the butchers instead of the cattle. Will the same happen to our survivors? That question will be the season’s central theme.

Thanks to Carol, the group makes it out of Terminus with no casualties, and the others overrule Rick’s desire to go back along the fences and kill the rest of their captors. Glenn proves to be the chief voice of reason in the hour, since he also insists that they take the time to free the captives in the other train cars along with their own allies because “that’s who we are — it’s got to be.” His position as the group’s moral compass makes Glenn one of the most important members of the gang, and thus probably one of the most enticing characters for the writers to kill off, given that his death would certainly propel Rick, Maggie and many other group members in some dark directions. (Should we launch the #SaveGlenn campaign now?)

The episode’s most poignant moments are provided when the group is made whole again — first, in Daryl and Carol’s heartwarming reunion (and Rick’s subsequent acceptance of Carol back into the fold), and after, when Tyreese reunites Rick and Carl with Judith, before finally seeing sister Sasha again. As Chad Coleman told Variety at the season five premiere event, “That’s one of the few lighter moments you will experience. That was awesome, to be able to deliver Judith back to her father — there’s the tearjerker, it was amazing. But nothing comes easy on this show — he’s going to get turned inside out even more; his ideology; the things he’s fighting to hold on to; the way he thinks he needs to live is challenged tenfold. The level of violence and destruction is just ramped up even more.” (Uh oh.)

And while the group is now back together — and Abraham, Eugene and Rosita are still eager to get to Washington, D.C. — they look set to face a tough road ahead, especially since we didn’t see Gareth among the Terminus members killed during the breakout. Besides Gareth’s status, the episode left us with two other questions: where is Beth, and will Morgan finally catch up with the group after making a long-awaited return in the episode’s final moments? (And, given Morgan’s shaky mental state when we last encountered him, do we want him to catch up?)

“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.

Where do you think Beth is, and do you believe Gareth survived the attack on Terminus? Share your reactions and speculation in the comments.

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  1. Been in love with TWD since the graphic novels were released collecting the comic. And season 1 blew me away. There aint nothing else like it on TV. Or if there is, please recommend it to me!

  2. Tactical wins, taut storytelling and zombies munching tasty, tasty braaaaains: All that plus the addition of Michonne and David Morrissey as the Governor in upcoming episodes make me pretty damned happy that The Walking Dead is back.

  3. zumvo says:

    The secret turned out to be surprisingly simple: Fashion a TV show that looks exactly like an MA-rated video game.

  4. popoca says:

    Like the comic that inspired it, Mazzara’s reconfigured Walking Dead is, above all else, a fine and lean killing machine.

  5. pocacinema says:

    There’s no two ways about it: this third season premiere episode is the BEST episode of The Walking Dead since the beginning of the show.

  6. watch32hd says:

    I am hoping that The Walking Dead takes its cues for future episodes from this year’s finale, and settles into a long-form storytelling mode comprised of small, stunning stories like this.

  7. tvmuse says:

    Although a significant improvement over Year 2, the junior season of AMC’s hit zombie serial still suffered from some of the problems that have plagued the series throughout its run, namely piss-poor characterizations and momentum-less midseason arcs.

  8. jango says:

    If you can handle it, The Walking Dead is grade-A terror

  9. Glenn White says:

    I am really unsure at what level I would put this season premiere compared to the others … I absolutely loved it, as I do every episode, but I was left with that maddening feeling of having more questions asked than answered -kind of how ‘The X Files’ used to make me feel with every season finale and premiere … I was utterly aghast at the horrific ‘slaughterhouse trough’ scene, despite being a deeply committed horror movie fan, and there were moments, unbelievably for me, where I thought I would have to turn it off, but I made it through and I’m glad, especially since Carol, my hero, returned to play such a prominent role in the groups’ rescue … as for Beth, (SPOLIER ALERT FOR THOSE WHO DO NOT ALREADY KNOW) I am certain that she is still alive, living safely with another group, though if she willfully abandoned Darryl in the walker-filled house or was dragged into the getaway car that took her from him against her will, I do not know … All in all, I thought it was a great opener, and I’m ready for the next few in particular, as it seems with this series that the most deaths of main characters occur in random episodes in the midst of each season, not the finale or premiere (i.e Shane, Lori, Andrea and many others) … So, whoever is next, I will miss you … the consensus seems to be that it will be my namesake, Glenn, which is precisely why I don’t read ahead of what I have seen … I want to be surprised/shocked/horrified when the shows’ creators are ready for me to be, and not before!!

  10. Mark says:

    I feel I should quickly add, that I greatly admire that the show has a long and admirable track record of having strong female characters, who can kick ass well as any man on the show. My previous criticism isn’t meant to suggest that the writers and producers are in any way sexist, last nights episode and Carol’s central and heroic role, is proof of how enlightened the writers and producers are.

  11. Mark says:

    I really wish they’d omit all the sexual violence on the show and yes I know it features prominently in the source material. I’m not suggesting the writers exploit this area or dwell excessively on it, because they don’t. Yes I understand and appreciate that the writers are going for as realistic a telling of this story as possible and realistically when societies collapse, the first victims are women and children, but sometimes real is just too real and last nights premiere episode with that women uttering that line, really sort of ruined the episode for me.

    Maybe it’s all the news about what’s going on in Nigeria and Syria/Iraq in regards to the savage violence directed at women and girls that has me particularly sensitive to this subject matter, but for the first time in all the years I’ve been watching the show and LOVING IT, I found myself thinking “not sure if I’m up for this anymore.”

  12. Kimbo says:

    the only thing that could of either been cut (no pun intended) or needed more depth was the terminus backstory…the ‘then’ and ‘now’ comparison… what the lady, who carol killed, said explained it better than the back scenes… it looked the writers were trying to make the cannibals story more gray…but it just didn’t blend well…that or they needed to start the backstory in season 4.

  13. Crazfox says:

    Me too, Ken, that is EXACTLY how I felt. It was beyond tense and I was barely breathing.

  14. Ken says:

    I’m a 57-year-old guy, no stranger to ultra-violence on big screens and small, and while one can comfortably distance him/herself from all the graphic violence directed at zombies (because they’re ZOMBIES!), I found the opening human-on-human slaughter trough sequence to be the most horrific (and possibly overly graphic) thing I have ever witnessed on broadcast television drama. This show – brilliantly produced as it is – has a set a new standard for depravity. Its rating should skyrocket.

    • dklfjdklfjdklf says:

      You should’ve seen the Viper fight the Mountain on Game of Thrones. The final part of that fight scene was far more gruesome and graphic.

  15. Linc says:

    I think Beth is with other groups of Termites. We know from trailers that Gareth hooks up with Rick again for some unknown reason but the only reason why Gareth’s kept alive by Rick is because Beth is Gareth’s trump card. He knows exactly where she is.

    • linc says:

      Yeah. I’m a huge fan but thought the same thing – went too far this time which is a real shame when it’s your favourite drama.

  16. stevenmillan says:

    The Season Five premiere literally knocked it out of the park,for I’m curious myself upon what happened to Beth and when she’ll pop up(whether undead or fully alive),as well as where the rest of Season Five will travel to(and end upon for Season Six to happen). And too bad they’ve always Spoiled it upon Glen’s fate(on various websites),since I’m sure he’ll go out in a very heroic fashion(as much as I want to see him and the others alive).

  17. Talisha Harrison says:

    Reblogged this on Geeking Out…At Night! and commented:
    The best season opener of the series so far!

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