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‘The Walking Dead’ Season Premiere Review: “No Sanctuary”

The Walking Dead Season 5 Premiere No Sanctuary Review
AMC

The Walking Dead’ season 5 brings to life its 1st episode with “No Sanctuary,” as Rick and the other survivors learn the true nature of Terminus, while Carol attempts to aid her friends in escaping the villainous compound, and Tyreese comes to grips with the brutal reality of a new threat.

Last season’s ‘The Walking Dead’ finale, “A,” saw Rick, Michonne and Carl confronted by Daryl and his group of “Claimers,” before finally arriving at the mysterious Terminus, so what does the premiere episode of season 5 bring? Does Rick show Gareth and his men who they’re screwing with?

Read on for your in-depth review of everything you need to know about ‘The Walking Dead’ season 5 premiere, “No Sanctuary!”

‘The Walking Dead’ has a history of uneven season work, last year’s proving the most polarizing yet between the mysterious zombie flu, the Governor’s rehashed attack, and the back half’s splintered group episodes. I myself liked having a smaller focus to see more individual character work and comic-nodding storylines, but could also understand why fans were disappointed to see everyone wandering about toward an vague destination. The finale also intriguingly left us on a cliffhanger for the first time in the series’ history, an interesting, if perhaps ill thought-out device to keep the storytelling fresh. Understandably, you can only craft so many variations on the zombie-killing, group-scattering, sanctuary-destroying chomp-chomp storytelling, but if nothing else, season 4 left us a lot to consider heading into the fall premiere.

And where the finale left us on a cliffhanger, tonight’s premiere gets the chance to craft another first for the series in picking up on some exceptionally high-stakes action. Anyone who saw the trailer for season 5, or spent the summer break wondering about our Terminus captors could reasonably deduce that we’d only spend so much time in the “A” car before a confrontation got the story got back to basics. To its credit at least, “No Sanctuary” scarcely lets up on the action in delivering an exceptionally thrilling premiere, albeit one that doesn’t quite 100%* answer the mystery of Terminus.

*Having seen the episode twice now, it still strikes me as odd that no one says the word “cannibal” aloud, or outright states that the Terminus survivors eat other human beings. All the visual evidence is there, including bins labeled “BURN,” “FEED” and “WASH,” the Terminus mantra “you’re either the butcher or the cattle,” as well as all the carved bodies strung up around a preparation area, though one wonders if AMC perhaps had some trepidation against outright confirming cannibalism.

‘The Walking Dead’ being what it is of course, “No Sanctuary” also brings with it a few clumsy moral platitudes in between the flaming zombie carnage, and Carol’s Rambo-esque rescue mission against the Termites. I don’t entirely recall from last season what lead Tyreese to swear off killing, though certainly the inherent evil of the Terminus outpost’s threat against Judith’s life crossed the line in a manner the baby-carrying brute could never ignore. The same goes for Rick, who even after escaping, remains hellbent on returning to Terminus to finish the job for what those monsters had done, though we imagine we’ve not seen the last of the “butchers” either way. Glenn too got a nice moment mid-battle, reminding Rick that helping the others in need still defines their humanity in a morally bankrupt world, though the point is somewhat muted by the lone haggard survivor**’s manic rambling, and quick death.

**Though not necessarily clear by the episode alone, ‘Talking Dead’ and subsequent interviews also clarify that the haggard man is the same one seen assaulting Gareth’s family in flashback. Additionally, he is NOT intended to be the character that fans were well-justified in drawing visual connections to.

So while Terminus fell by the wayside with an expected quickness, Eugene stepped up to deliver a bit more exposition about the supposed cure, something we hope the series treats with a degree of seriousness somewhat lacking from Josh McDermitt’s flat-affect delivery. We’d never expect ‘The Walking Dead’ to adopt such a wild-swerve as the possibility of ending the apocalypse on a global scale, though future episodes might do well to place Eugene’s claims in a more plausible light, lest the audience never truly invest in them. We’ll need a new overall goal for the series, albeit one beyond the stock shelter-seeking such a large group of survivors would naturally need, though “No Sanctuary” mostly served to pay lip service to the idea for the moment.

The Walking Dead Season 5 Premiere No Sanctuary Review
“Okay, but did you actually see us eat anyone, Sheriff Judgey-pants?”

Overall, the strongest moments of the premiere lay not in the tense confrontations and explosions, but rather the mostly wordless reunions taking place at the end. Both Daryl and Rick bounded after their toward their lost loved ones like a puppy reuniting with their owners, and the moments played surprisingly sweet and powerful for a series whose emotional components are often seen among its weaker aspects. There will still be plenty of reunions to come, as Beth’s disappearance only gets a quick mention toward the beginning of the episode, but Rick’s unrestrained outpouring over Judith’s survival made a strong cap on a premiere so overly concerned with action (which again, was still pretty tremendous).

It remains to be seen if the first half of season 5 can keep up the stronger character beats of season 4, now that the story will need to service so many at once, but consider “No Sanctuary” a fine way to kick things off regardless, with a hint of some major storylines to come.

AND ANOTHER THING…

  • Welcome back! For those just joining us, we’ve ditched the beat-for-beat recap aspect of episode reviews, and will instead focus on discussion of the events themselves. Don’t worry though, we’ll still have our weekly comic-TV comparisons in the days to come.
  • We’re going to keep somewhat vague about this for the moment, so bear with us, but it seems the actual airing may have contained a “post-credits” sequence of sorts that featured a surprise character appearance not present on the critic screeners. Either way, there wouldn’t be much to say about it for the moment, other than its literal content.
  • Was that supposed to be the surviving hippie that Rick and Carol encountered, as the first on the throat-slitting line? He and Rick shared a look, while the actor certainly had the hair for it, though he otherwise didn’t fully resemble the same Robin Taylor from all angles.
  • Practically speaking, shouldn’t everyone in the wild travel with zombie-gore camouflage at all times?
  • Can we just give it up for Carol this episode, guys? Come on.
  • We saw Michonne kept the case to her sword, as did Carol retrieve Daryl’s crossbow, but did Michonne get her actual katana back at any point?

Well, what say you? Did you get your fill of thrilling zombie killing? Were you surprised by the revelations about Terminus, or the relatively quick escape from harm’s way? Will Eugene turn out to be the savior of the zombie apocalypse? Stay tuned for more coverage of the ‘Walking Dead’ season 5 premiere, and join us next week for another all-new episode recap of episode 2, “Strangers,” on AMC!

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