The Walking Dead season 5: No Sanctuary spoiler-free review

The Walking Dead's impressive season 5 opener delivers exactly what's needed to keep people tuning in. Here's Ron's spoiler-free review...

Spoiler-free for season 5. Contains plot details for season 4.

It feels like only yesterday that The Walking Dead wrapped up its fourth season in a flurry of gunfire and the unfriendly confines of a shipping container in the enclave of Terminus. In spite of AMC’s penny-pinching and the show’s history of picking one single location and making it a base of sorts for the action, there’s probably not much chance of season five keeping Rick, Daryl, and the gang trapped in a murky black box for the whole run. However, it does make for a pretty interesting start point and the first of what will undoubtedly be many obstacles to overcome for our crew of survivors.

That dramatic arc will be determined in large part by the returning show-runner, Scott Gimple, who also wrote the script for No Sanctuary in addition to his many other show duties. Even after viewing the return episode, I’m still not entirely sure what the focus will be on this year, but it’s not really detrimental to the episode itself. Split effectively into two diametrically opposed segments with some limited overlap at the end, it’s an effective, action-packed return to the world of walkers, and it’s just the sort of opening episode that a show like this really needs to make sure people keep tuning in. It’s also not completely devoid of brains.

At its core, The Walking Dead asks a simple question: what would you do to survive? This issue, raised anew by Terminus at the end of last season, resonates throughout the episode, either directly through character dialogue or indirectly through character actions. This episode fits particularly well into the concept of just how Rick’s group sees itself, and how Rick’s group is seen by the rest of the world. It’s a theme the show has explored a lot—some might say too much—but it works better in Gimple’s hands than it has in previous years. It’s executed very sharply here.

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When you consider Greg Nicotero’s meteoric rise within the hierarchy of The Walking Dead‘s cast and crew, it’s pretty remarkable. He’s gone from the special effects guy to an executive producer and now one of the show’s signature directors. The magic behind his rise is, of course, his spectacular eye for detail and his keen sense of the visual. In the hands of Nicotero, violence can be as beautiful as ballet. Well, a ballet in which heads are crushed and blood sprays everywhere. Perhaps the only person involved with the show that’s changed as much as Nicotero over four seasons is the character of Carol, who has gone from snipping at the other women about their inability to do the laundry to one-woman murder machine.

It’s more than just the artful depiction of death, of course, but how it is framed within the confines of the episode that makes Nicotero’s work so surprisingly good. He’s good at making the most of the effects, but he is equally as talented at using the screen as a canvas. There are some horrifyingly beautiful moments in the season 5 return, and Nicotero makes great use of the distinctive looks of his actors in cluttered or chaotic visual fields. He also seems to have a good touch with his actors, as he gets some very good work out of Chad Coleman and Melissa McBride in particular.

The fifth season premier finds The Walking Dead in fine form indeed, with an episode full of action and impressive levels of tension. The violence is brutal and meaningful, with the show’s writing nearly rising to the level of its visual flair. If it is indicative of the rest of the season, then season five will be one of the show’s true highlights. As appetite-whetting episodes go, this one has me hungry for the rest of this season’s zombie action.

The Walking Dead season 5 premieres on Sunday the 12th of October in the US and on Monday the 13th of October in the UK. 

US Correspondent Ron Hogan thinks that the yearly return of zombies to television is a wonderful thing indeed. In fact, it should be some sort of holiday to allow the people to properly digest the episode. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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