NOTE: Full spoilers for the fifth season premiere of The Walking Dead are present in this review.
The Walking Dead kicked off its fifth season with a bang, premiering with a large-scale, action-heavy episode. Rick promised that Terminus was messing with the wrong people, and it would seem that he was right, since so much of “No Sanctuary” represented destructive Walker hordes and the unpleasant deaths of the Terminus folk.
Some of the backstory of Terminus was finally explained here, including the interesting reveal that they once actually were a sanctuary for sheltering survivors of the outbreak. This was shared with Carol as she attempted to impatiently torture Mary for the whereabouts of her friends. Apparently, Terminus was beset on by evildoers who, “Raped, and killed, and laughed”, and then the, “Sanctuary” saw the apparent light– “You’re either the butcher, or the cattle.”
This conversation ended with Carol leaving a wounded Mary to be eaten by walkers, declaring that neither of them are there. It was a standout moment in an episode full of standout moments.
The evolution of Carol from abused caretaker to badass warrior has been a very satisfying one over the course of multiple seasons, and Carol really stole the show by completely laying waste to Terminus’ building here. After blowing up a huge gas tank and taking out numerous walkers, Carol tallied a considerable body count of both Terminus and the undead, almost rivaling Daryl at this point in terms of raw murderous capability. Speaking of Daryl, Carol’s tearful reunion with him was another episode highlight, and proof that both characters still have a heart in them somewhere, even if fans are really starting to debate which team Daryl plays for, so to speak.
At the start of the episode, Rick, Glenn and Daryl were gassed out of the container they were captured in and bent over a slaughterhouse blood trough. This was an exceptionally intense moment as Terminus’ goons started knocking out and cutting the throats of their victims across the line, barely stopping at Glenn before Carol’s intrusion sent them scrambling. Yes, Glenn is still kicking in the end, despite the show intentionally yanking the chains of fans with a few near-misses at the trough. It was interesting to see Robin Lord Taylor’s Sam among the victims here as well, giving Taylor an unceremonious exit so that he can fulfill his commitment as future Penguin, Oswald Cobblepot in Gotham.
This just leaves Tyreese, who was left in a cabin with a captured Terminus goon, as well as baby Judith. The tense dialogue between these two was cool, with the goon recalling how he used to enjoy football and going to church like so many other guys in Georgia, but just can’t seem to imagine that life anymore. Some of his threatening lines to Tyreese were a little on the nose, and very uncharacteristic of an uneducated peon, but it was still very enjoyable to see him appear to have the upper hand by breaking out and holding Judith hostage, trying to force Tyreese to go outside and get devoured by walkers.
Of course, it was the walkers that ended up in trouble, as Tyreese killed the lot of them, and still found time to beat in the face of his prisoner. It’s amazing how some characters on this show can’t seem to figure out that maybe you shouldn’t provoke characters like Tyreese!
As cool as so many elements of “No Sanctuary” were though, all of which were capped off perfectly by a post-credits tease depicting Morgan still being alive and trekking, it’s already evident that the showrunners are trying to up the gore factor and action-heavy satisfaction of the show, with the former point being advertised at length in the lead-in to Season Five. It’s a great way to tickle fans, but to an extent, it’s also a tad worrying. Some of the gory moments of this episode were almost hilariously gratuitous, and the proud fangasm of Terminus getting spanked the way they did was earned, but also felt like it was a surprisingly no-cost victory for Rick, Carol and co. It all just felt sort of… Calculated, and it presents a potential issue with The Walking Dead going forward; Pandering.
To clarify, when the show starts trying to do things like make itself gorier for gore’s own sake for example, it feels like the showrunners don’t have confidence in the actual quality of the storylines for Season Five, so they’re trying to compensate with cheap thrills. AMC doesn’t need to resort to cheap thrills in The Walking Dead, since they’re among the best storytelling networks on television, and that’s why this show has gotten away with otherwise being just another overdone zombie apocalypse offering. If the showrunners start prioritizing the amusement of zombie fetishists and gorehounds over the actual story arcs of the series, it’s in danger of being dumbed down, going forward. That would be a shame, since The Walking Dead has done a good job of breaking the mould in our zombie-clogged modern media so far.
Maybe it’s just me, but the short version is, it felt like some of “No Sanctuary” was trying too hard.
All in all though, this was still a highly entertaining and action-packed episode that avid fans especially will no doubt adore. I just hope that The Walking Dead doesn’t lose focus on its story quality going forward, since we have enough juvenile zombie media these days. This show is better than that.
The Walking Dead delivered an exciting and bloody fifth season premiere in "No Sanctuary", an episode that pretty much gives fans all of the destruction and gore that they can stomach!