Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Walking Dead Season 5, Episode 1: No Sanctuary

After a seven month absence, The Walking Dead's finally back! 

I suppose when you think about it, seven months isn't too awfully long. It's certainly better than the FIFTEEN month gap between the most recent seasons of Doctor Who!

Wow, Season 5. Can you believe our little zombie show is already five years old? Seems like just yesterday Rick was waking up in the hospital, staring at the "DON'T DEAD, OPEN INSIDE" sign.

This season opener hits the ground running and never stops, and heads off in a surprising direction that I didn't see coming. That's always a good thing.


The Plot:
Picking up right where last season left off, Rick & Co. are still being held prisoner in a railroad car in Terminus. A group of Termites takes Rick, Daryl, Glenn and Bob to their human slaughterhouse, at long last confirming that they're cannibals, something everyone and their dog has known since the middle of last season.

Our four heroes are lined up over a killing trough, along with three redshirts. The redshirts get slaughtered first of course, and just as Glenn is about to be next, a massive explosion rocks the building, sending ripples of relief through everyone who's read the comic.

The explosion was caused by Carol, who's infiltrated Terminus in the most bad-ass way possible. In the confusion she causes, Rick & Co. are able to escape their captors, rescue the rest of the cast, and hop over the fence to relative safety. Carol encounters Mary, Terminus' resident short order cook, who gives her a brief rundown of the sanctuary's grim history.

The music then swells as all the characters who've been separated for seven months or more are finally reunited. The score: Team Rick - 14, Termites - 0.

• Well, that was certainly... unexpected. After the series spend half a season setting up Terminus as this year's Big Bad, it's destroyed in the space of one episode. I fully expected the characters would spend at least half the season there as their numbers dwindled and they tried to escape. 

Kudos to showrunner Scott Gimple for bucking expectations and doing something totally unexpected to keep us on our toes.

• You know what I miss? I miss the days when a TV show would display the credits in thirty seconds or less. These days the credits endlessly appear for what seems like half the runtime. 

This episode finally got to the director credit around the twelve minute mark. Twelve minutes! That's a quarter of the run time! Tighten it up, guys! No one wants to see lines of text superimposed over the action for the entire episode.

• Man, that opening scene was brutal, to say the least. The blood and gore was bad enough, but I think the dispassionate way the Termite butchers went about their work, like they were slaughtering cattle, was even worse.

I was barely able to look at the screen when they got to Glenn. I don't want to give too much away, but if you're a reader of the comic book you'll understand why.

• One of the redshirts who gets slaughtered at the killing trough is Sam. Who the hell's Sam, you ask?

You may remember him from the Season 4 episode Indifference. Shortly before Rick banished Carol, they went on a supply run and encountered a young couple named Sam and Ana. Rick was going to bring them back to the prison, but Ana, who had a bum leg, was overrun and killed by walkers, and Sam (who quite frankly seemed borderline mentally incapacitated) disappeared.

I have to admit that I didn't recognize Sam, and only found out it was him while researching the episode.

• Terminus is apparently big on paperwork, as Gareth, the leader of the compound, interrupts the slaughter to ask the butchers about their shell counts. I'm betting Gareth was an accountant before the Fall.

• Carol, Tyreese and Baby Judith narrowly avoid a walker herd on their way to Terminus. Funny how every single one of the walkers expertly stepped over the railroad tracks, rather than tripping over them and doing a face plant like you'd expect.

Later the walkers hear gunfire and explosions coming from Terminus and move toward it, shambling down the tracks between the rails. Oddly enough they don't trip over the railroad ties either.

One last thing about the tracks. Last season, Rick demonstrating to Carl and Michonne how a rabbit snare works. He said you make some sort of funnel shape along a trail to steer your prey into a trap at the end.

The railroad tracks do just that! The walkers all stumble along between the rails and are effectively funneled right onto Terminus' doorstep! 

• Last season I posited the theory that the producers realized how they completely botched the character of TV Andrea, and were taking steps to turn Carol into Andrea 2.0, the person she should have been all along.

I still believe that, but they've now officially gone above and beyond. As of this episode Carol is now more badass than Comic Book Andrea ever was, and may even have passed Michonne in terms of badassery.

• Carol disguises herself as a walker by smearing her poncho with blood and guts, and caking her face and hair with mud. 

She sees Rick & Co. being taken to slaughter, so in a totally Macgyver moment she spots a propane tank near the building, shoots it full of holes, then fires a bottle rocket at the escaping gas, creating a massive explosion. She then calmly walks through the walker herd, hiding her weapons under her poncho as she infiltrates Terminus.

Everything Carol did this week was carefully planned and well thought out. Why, it's almost as if the writers know we're just waiting for the characters to do something stupid, and are taking steps to avoid such pitfalls. Well done, guys!

• Rick and Co. escape their bonds and kill the butchers. As they leave the killing floor, Rick gets a glimpse of a dead body on a slab. The camera lingers on the body a little longer than necessary, a dead giveaway that it's someone we're supposed to recognize.

That body is none other than Gareth's brother Alex, who was killed last season when Rick and Co. were trying to escape. Apparently Gareth decided to add his delicious brother to the menu! Family first!

• Carol enters a room in which the Termites store the personal effects of their victims. Among the items she finds there are Rick's watch and Daryl's trusty crossbow.

Seeing those hundreds of items neatly laid out like that was creepy enough, but the big pile of stuffed animals was almost too much. Really, Termites? It's not enough you eat innocent adults, but you snack on kids too?

• Carol's almost taken out by Mary, the Termite chef. Mary does a quick little info dump and tells us why the Termites do that thing they do– namely lure innocent people into their lair and then kill and eat them.

Apparently Terminus started out as a genuine sanctuary, until they welcomed the wrong people into their peaceful camp, who then proceeded to take over and turn it into a rape and torture den. After several gruesome weeks of this the Termites fought back and eventually won. 

So how'd the Termites prevent such a thing from ever happening again? Did they fortify their walls? Post more sentries along their perimeter? Booby trap the entrance? Nope, they decided to become the "butchers" rather than the "cattle," luring innocents into their cannibal camp!

Seems like there's a step or two missing here. How do you go from "Oy, I'm being held against my will" to "What the hell, I'm going to eat everyone who isn't me?"

I get that they all suffered unspeakable traumas during their captivity, but this seems like a bit of an overreaction. It would take quite a bit to make me slaughter another person, slice them up and grill them for brunch. 

• Inside the box car, Sasha asks Eugene about this mysterious cure for walkerism that he's supposedly carrying around in his head. He tells her he was part of the Human Genome Project, which was working on weaponized diseases. He believes he can develop a weaponized disease that will fight weaponized diseases– fighting fire with fire.

All this from a guy who seems like he'd be unable to figure out how to make pancakes.

Plus, is that even a thing? Is it really possible to make a disease that attacks another disease?

As a reader of the comics I know where Eugene's storyline is headed, so I don't want to say too much, but I will say that he's not telling them everything.

Abraham and Rosita exchanged a few glances while Eugene was talking, implying they may know his secret as well.

• Gareth, the leader of the Termites, is shot in the shoulder during the confusion. You know what that means, kids! He'll be back for sure! Probably sometime around the mid-season finale.

And I'm betting he'll die when Rick kills him with a machete with a red handle. Just like he told Gareth he would at the beginning of the episode.

• After everyone escapes, Rick digs up his weapons cache and wants to go back to Terminus to make sure everyone is wiped out. The rest of the Team balks at this notion, not wanting to risk being recaptured or killed. Rick is eventually outvoted.

I'm going to have to side with Rick on this one. They just narrowly escaped being slaughtered by a group of goddamned cannibals. Cannibals!!! Even if you're not big on vengeance, I'd say they owe it to anyone else in the area to make sure these people never get hungry again.

• I was very, very, VERY surprised that there were no major cast deaths in this episode. Very surprised. I figured it would be a bloodbath. I mean c'mon, Bob, Sasha, Tara and Rosita practically have targets on their backs.

This is another example of Scott Gimple playing with the audience. He steers the car one direction, then violently swerves in another at the last second, constantly subverting our expectations.

• It's been so long since the prison was destroyed and the characters scattered in various directions (December of 2013, to be exact), that I honestly forgot that Rick and Carl didn't know that Baby Judith was still alive. And that Daryl and Carol and Tyreese and Sasha hadn't seen one another since then. 

• As Rick is reunited with Carol for the first time since he banished her, he indicates the rubble of Terminus and asks, "Did you do that?"

I had to laugh, because he says it in the exact same tone you'd use to ask a coworker if they're the one who planned your surprise birthday party.

• In the final episode of last season, Rick blusters that the Termites "don't know who they're screwing with."

The cold hard truth of the matter though is that the entire cast would be dead now if Carol hadn't happened along at the exact right time.

• As the group leaves Terminus for good, Rick takes some mud and blacks out their sign and writes "NO" above the word "Sanctuary."

Good thinking, Rick. That'll last until the first good rain.

• At the end of the episode, we see another flashback to the Termites and their Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Mary and her sons, Gareth and Alex, are being held in one of the very same boxcars that Team Rick was in. Suddenly the door flies open and a man enters, dragging out one of the girls to be his rape victim.

Was that Negan who poked his head in the boxcar? Holy crap! It sure looked like him to me. Same stocky build and slicked back hair. Negan has been a huge presence in the comic book for the past year or two; a dangerous and sadistic psychotic who out-Governors even the Governor.

Unfortunately it wasn't him. I lightened up the image, and you can see that whoever he is, he's sporting a face full of tattoos, something Negan doesn't have.

So if he's not Negan, then who is he? He'ss actually the Crazy Tattoo Face guy that Rick freed from the storage container. The one who shouts, "We're them! We're the same!"

There's no way this was an accident. They very deliberately filmed him in shadow and slicked back his hair to make him resemble Negan. Gimple's definitely playing with us here. 

• So what's next? Now that the threat of Terminus has been negated so quickly, where do we go from here?

Based on the comic I have a pretty good idea, but I don't want to spoil it just yet.

• This week The Walking Dead takes a cue from Marvel movies and gives us a post credits scene. A hooded figure stands and stares at Rick's altered "No Sanctuary" sign. He dramatically lifts his hood to reveal he's really... Morgan! The first human Rick met after the Fall (well, technically the second, since Morgan's son clocked Rick in the head with a shovel when he was looking), and last seen in the Season 3 episode Clear.

Apparently he's been following Rick all this time? Morgan sees Team Rick's trail and follows them, after passing a mysterious mark on a tree. So who's making the marks, and what do they mean?

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