The Walking Dead – Season Five – Episode 1 – “No Sanctuary” Review

twd-season5-rickOne of  my main complaints of The Walking Dead, that I have touched upon in these reviews, is its ability to remain incredibly stagnant at times. The first episode of the entire series showed such promise when it aired – it wasn’t particularly explosive, didn’t feature any melodrama, but it was focused and it showed progress – both literal and emotional. This would quickly dissipate as the show found itself stuck in its first rut in Hershel’s farm during season two, and then again for much of the prison time during seasons three and four. Last season’s finale seemed poised to place our heroes in another round of stagnation – I fully expected the gang to be trapped at Terminus for at least four episodes, complete with poor character decisions (ala Andrea), killing any tension we had in the first place.

I think it’s safe to say that “No Sanctuary” proved me wrong, showing that maybe this show is able to get itself back on track, and providing one of the most satisfying episodes since the premiere.

The big thing is how quickly the show dealt with Terminus. Rick and the gang weren’t kidding when he said that he “screwed with the wrong people”. For a moment there, I was sure that we were going to lose one of our main cast to the butchers (instead we lost a bleached blond Robin Lord Taylor, who can now be found as The Penguin over on Gotham). Thanks to that damn bureaucracy, we were spared the details of a gruesome death. Sure, it’s silly and it did play off a bit cheesy, but damn was it tense.

The moment when the leader (Gareth?) walks into the room nonchalantly asking about bullets as if he was asking for tax forms was great. I’m always impressed at how the show can handle different societies in this world, and while this one seems like they have the organisation down pat, they still are cannibals, and that is incredibly creepy.

This is of course tying into the overarching theme – “What would you do to survive?” It’s obvious that the Terminus people find themselves as a necessary evil, and their grand acts of cannibalism solidify them as part of the evil camp, no matter how much a crazy lady tries to tell Carol otherwise (and we will get to Carol in a minute). Sure, this theme is repeated time and time again with nothing particularly interesting coming out of it – the writers have seemed to place Rick as the go-to  guy for the “right way”. They were suitably creepy in how much they were able to justify it, and it was a fun little detour. It did bring up an interesting exchange when Rick was so dead set on returning to pick off the survivors, but of course Carol re-appearing was bound to throw a spanner in those works.

And wow, did Carol throw a spanner in some bigger works too. Carol moving with the herd was incredibly cool – it shows that the writers still haven’t fail to impress on that front – but it also continues to show how far this character has moved. Again, and I really can’t say this enough, Carol is a shining example of how to write a character arc – especially in a show devoid of them. Melissa McBride sells this transition, and she was a saving grace in plenty of melodramatic moments last season.

Coming back to Rick’s plans to return – hey writers, please continue down that path. Angry Rick is a million times more interesting than the Rick we have been seeing, and I would love to see this avenue explored more. Judith being back in his arms could potentially be a problem for that line of thought, but it would be nice to have at least someone call him out on the behaviour he has been showing for the past two episodes.

The Walking Dead has a habit of starting out really strong, and ending really well, it just tends to have a lull in the middle.  But – the show has never started a season as well as this, not since the first season at least. Lets hope that this season can capture the magic of a show that began with such incredible promise all those years ago.

(Quite) a few observations

  • Welcome back to my Walking Dead reviews! Hopefully I will be a bit more onto it with regular coverage this season, but excuse me if I miss a week here and there. This is also a fairly dense episode so I will have a bit more here at the end.
  • The Daryl/Carol and Judith/Carl/Rick moments were a much better handling of the matter than anything that occurred between Maggie and Glen last season. No matter how much flashy lighting and edits that the show could throw at me, those two could not act out the return the way Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride sold their reunion. Plus the Rick/Judith moment was so unbelievably emotional I teared up a bit.
  • Carol moving through Terminus was wonderfully shot, and the lack of dialogue lent to a more ghostly feel. The visual “show, don’t tell” is something this show has handled well, and it made for a dense, but subtle experience.
  • Gareth has to come back. He was shot in a fairly obscure way, and no way would they build a flashback around a character they were going to kill off in the first hour. the flashback was decently done, if only to show that these characters thought (and justified) that they had no other choice.
  • Tyrese and Dickhead-who-won’t-shut-up were okay, if for another tense and scary moment where Dickhead almost killed Judith. I could have done without it, but that scene made up for the rest of them.
  • Zombie of the Week: I probably have to go with the Butcher Zombie when Rick let him turn. What a wonderfully creepy image.
  • Zombie Kill of the Week: The propane tank explosion – I mean come on, not only was it scientifically accurate
  • Next week: Looks like we gonna take your ass to church, and Morgan!

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