In its thrilling fifth-season premiere (No Sanctuary), The Walking Dead takes us back to Terminus — the survivors’ concentration camp where our heroes were imprisoned at the end of last season. Terminus is a place with its own special mission, values, and amenities; but you probably wouldn’t want to spend a weekend there.
(Warning: Spoilers follow. If you have not watched this episode, please stop reading now.)
Following up on his dark prediction that the staff of Terminus is “messing with the wrong people,” Rick is working on his escape even while imprisoned.
Go for their eyes first. Then their throats. – Rick
Rick doesn’t get far. He, Glen, Daryl, and Bob are dragged out of the cattle car and into the Terminus abattoir, where the calm functionary Gareth lines them up with other prisoners above a trough. In one of the bloodiest scenes I’ve seen on this already gory show, the butchers of Terminus go down the line of prisoners, beating them and slitting their throats. The trough catches the men’s blood as they die.
Luckily for Rick, a friend is lurking in the spindly woods just outside the camp. Carol and Tyrese have ambushed a Terminus guard, and Ty and baby Judith are taking refuge in the guard’s cabin while Carol stakes out the camp. She lights the fuse on a homemade rocket, blows a camp tanker, and goes in.
We’re friends with the chick with the sword and the kid in the hat. – Carol
The Terminus butchers, disturbed by the blast, start arguing over process. This gives Rick the opportunity to attack them, free himself and the others, and go in search of the rest of their clan. This will not be like the Woodbury Compromise in season 3; Rick isn’t interested in letting any Terminus survivors join the group. “Let him turn,” he says of one of the butchers, wounded but alive after the ambush.
The rest of the episode unfolds in neat triple arcs: The prison group’s efforts to find each other and escape from Terminus; Tyrese’s encounter with the ballcap-wearing hayseed he’s taken prisoner; and Carol’s search for her friends. All the time, a huge stagger of zombies is converging on the camp.
It’s Carol’s arc I found most interesting. She has not hardened but matured, into an observant, resourceful fighter and a great undercover agent. When she gets into zombie camouflage to blend in with the walkers as they explore Terminus, we get terrific shots: walkers on fire but still walking, the reflection of chaos in a car’s broken side mirror.
Carol also finds the places that matter to Terminus: the chilling property room, with its stacks of watches, weapons, and teddy bears; and the chapel, with its permanently lit candles and solitary guard, Mary. Carol manages to disarm her, and Mary confides the real mission of Terminus before she dies.
You’re the butcher or you’re the cattle. – Mary
In the meantime, Rick’s group and the rest of the prison survivors find each other, and Tyrese regains his ability to confront an aggressor. When he takes down Ballcap Hayseed, it’s satisfying on several levels: that jerk had threatened baby Judith (a crime punishable by instant death in Anne B World), and he’d also run his mouth a bit too much for my taste:
You’re a good person. That’s why you’re gonna die today. – Ballcap Hayseed
Shut up forever, you freaking hayseed.
By far the most rewarding scene of this episode — perhaps the past two seasons combined — is the survivors’ reunion at the end. It’s clear from their wordless embrace that Carol is Daryl’s emotional Rosetta Stone; and Rick’s full-bore sprint to hold his baby echoes both his reunion with his family in season 1, and Lori’s death in season 3.
Restored — if not to a place they can call home, at least to each other — the survivors set out for wherever the next place might be. Rick lingers a moment to change the Terminus sign: “No Sanctuary,” it reads now. That’s the kind of episode title that could cast a long shadow over this season.
Random thoughts about this episode:
If I had not had to recap the slaughterhouse scene, I would not have watched it. I understand the power of the scene: the Terminus crew had made the worst possible decision about its survival in the world, and it’s critical not to sugarcoat that. It was just too much for me.
That said, I truly enjoyed seeing Butcher Zombie stumble after the survivors a few minutes later.
The flashback scene at the end felt odd to me. Is it important for us to understand how a place begins to go bad? I felt the flat affect of Gareth and his butcher henchmen told us a great deal about how long Terminus had been bad, and how committed it was to staying that way. We might not have even needed to see the inside of the meat locker, you know?
Finally, Carol is a badass. So say we all.
What did you think of the episode, Basketcases? And does “a stagger of zombies” work for you as a collective noun? Or should it be “a groan of zombies”? Weigh in below!