The Walking Dead season 5 episode 1 review: No Sanctuary

The Walking Dead's season 5 opener will be hard to top, says Ron. Here's his review of No Sanctuary...

This review contains spoilers.

5.1 No Sanctuary

When you examine The Walking Dead as a series, there are only three characters who feel like they are definitely not killable: Rick, Carl, and Daryl. Rick and Carl are the basis of the show; Daryl is the break-out character whose death would cause fan riots. Eventually I believe Michonne will be up there with them, but for now, everyone else is expendable. Granted, Abraham, Rosita, and Eugene are too new to die right away, and they’re clearly going to become the plot drivers for this season, but there are enough other characters on the show—including my beloved Carol—who could potentially be zombie chow. Or, in this case, crazy cannibal chow.

That’s probably the most effective thing in No Sanctuary. I think we all know that Rick, when he’s gassed and stomped on and dragged to the killing floor, is going to get out of the situation, but Bob? Bob’s at risk. After the jailbreak, it seems like everyone who doesn’t number amongst the three mentioned above are potentially at risk, if only because there are both adversaries and zombies to deal with, at the same time. It’s very tense, because there’s just enough ancillary characters that it’s a legitimate risk of folks getting killed off.

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That tension is a through-point for the entire episode. The whole time, it feels like someone important is going to die. It feels like an event. It feels like they spent a significant chunk of the season’s budget on the episode, almost like a season finale before things even kick off. The fact that the deaths, from the bleeding trough to the way Rick machine-guns down a firing line of Termites, are executed so brilliantly, and with such awesomely gory special effects, only increases that. Greg Nicotero really knows what he’s doing behind the camera. Great special effects can be lost on viewers if poorly staged, but these might be the most effective moments in the show’s run, or at least since Darabont left the director’s chair.

The Terminus location is an awesome set, and when you fill that set with (really well done) zombies-on-digital-fire and explosions and chaos, it becomes an even richer environment for mayhem. Just the soundtrack alone—the screaming and zombie moaning—is effective at setting the mood, but when you add in all the extras, all the practical effects, all the smoke and chaos, it works that much better. The digital effects have been a negative of the show at times, but this week’s episode blends them a little bit better. The exploding propane tank is a thing of beauty.

Even the B storyline, albeit a bit predictable in that the Terminus hat guy (Chris Coy) is able to confuse Tyreese enough to slip free from his bonds and put Judith at peril, still is very tense. After all, that baby could be written off the show at any moment, and she’s a very good anchor on the Herculean survivor and Carol, the human machine of destruction. We all know Hat Guy is going to get away, and we all know that Tyreese is going to snap and do something about it, but knowing it’s going to happen and watching it happen doesn’t decrease the efficacy of watching Tyreese snap, thanks to Chad Coleman’s ability to play the slow burn and the matter-of-fact way he keeps being antagonized. The fact that it echos the conversation Carol has with Mary (Denise Crosby) almost beat for beat (and beating for beating) pushes to the forefront just how similar those two characters are when it comes to what they’re willing to do to survive.

The fact that the episode ends happily, with Terminus on fire and everyone crying as they reunite with friends and loved ones, doesn’t completely slake off the taste of the gory spectacle that came before it. The happy reunion feels like a temporary reprieve, especially considering Beth’s status as a missing entity and the tension that’s beginning to form in the group between Abraham and his mission and Rick and his freewheeling survival playbook. That’s going to come to a head and not everyone from Terminus is dead; otherwise, Scott Gimple wouldn’t have had them make such a big deal about Rick not going back to finish the job.

Having the Terminus story end relatively quickly (by Walking Dead season 2 standards) has only created more complications for the group, and a road season with a few new groups of antagonists—the potentially evil church teased at the end of the episode, the remaining Termites, that biker gang that brutalized the Termites into being evil, the omnipresent zombies, more cannibals, and… I don’t know, the Governor’s ghost?—could be just the push to 11 the show needs. This episode will be hard to top, no matter what else might happen this season. How could anything match up to Carol becoming a hybrid of Rambo, MacGyver, and the floor of a slaughterhouse?

Read Ron’s review of the season four finale, A, here.

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