Posted October 12, 2014 by Karen Booth in Reviews

REVIEW: The Walking Dead S05E01 – No Sanctuary

Episode: S05E01 – ‘No Sanctuary’
Air Date: October, 12, 2014
Written by: Scott M. Gimple
Directed by: Greg Nicotero
Starring: Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Steven Yeun, Chandler Riggs, Danai Gurira, Chad L. Coleman, Melissa McBride, Lauren Cohan, Emily Kinney, Sonequa Martin-Green, Lawrence Gilliard, Jr., Josh McDermitt, Christian Serranos, Alanna Masterson, Michael Cudlitz, Andrew J. West

[Spoilers ahead!]

You have to hand it to the mad geniuses behind The Walking Dead’s season 5 opener, showrunner Scott M. Gimple and director/special effects mastermind Greg Nicotero: Everything tonight feels fresh and urgent. From the retooled opening sequence to the flashbacks at the end, TWD is back with a bloody and intense episode that holds dark promise for the season ahead.

After a generally excellent fourth season, it’s easy to imagine lengthy writers room discussions about how to keep the show relevant. TWD has shifted over the seasons from a story about humans (the good guys) battling walkers (the bad guys) to one about humans vs. humans and shades of gray on the morality spectrum, with walkers menacing everyone. This smart creative move has opened up a broad palette for the show’s writers to continue expanding the story. And it continues to be as good as or better than any drama on television.

And what a story we have tonight in ‘No Sanctuary,’ picking up from last season’s cliffhanger. We already knew at the close of Season 4 that our group of survivors would find no sanctuary at Terminus. The signs along the railroad tracks that seduced the wary survivors with promises of safety, food and security were bait. What they found when they arrived was a phony welcome from its inhabitants, a disturbingly cheerful woman offering up grilled meat (gulp!), and eventually a hail of bullets and the inside of a padlocked train car.

rick daryl walking dead s05e01 no sanctuary

Photo credit: Gene Page/AMC

‘No Sanctuary’ pulls no punches, quickly revealing Terminus as a warehouse of horrors on the level of a Saw movie. These people essentially operate a holding pen and slaughterhouse, where humans are harvested for food. The incredible scene early in the episode showing prisoners executed “whack and slice” style over a steel trough like animals will rattle around in my psyche (and probably yours, too) for a long, long time. But who are these people, anyway? Are they the worst monsters imaginable, or just another group of survivors doing whatever it takes to stay alive? (Note: a table filled with stuffed animals may answer that for you.) Flashbacks at the episode’s beginning and ending reveal that they were once the victims, so how did they become who they are today? “This is a world where the good guys die,” says one of the Terminus men before meeting his own death by Tyreese’s hand; I suspect we’ll see more of this theme play out in creative ways this season.

Carol (Melissa McBride), one of my favorite characters in this series, quietly assumes the mantle tonight of guerrilla tactician and it’s awesome. While a majority of our group is imprisoned at Terminus — presumably on the menu in the near future — she and Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) and baby Judith are quickly approaching the compound. Gunfire distracts a nearby herd of walkers, and alerts Carol and Tyreese that something’s amiss down the road. In an interesting role reversal, Tyreese stays back to care for the baby while Carol covers herself with walker gore and goes in to scout the situation.

What she finds is her friends gagged and bound, and the walker herd overrunning the area. In short order she blows up the facility’s propane tank (along with many of the walkers), then moves in to strategically take out Terminus bad guys, including the creepy grill lady. McBride executes this entire scene wonderfully with cold-eyed, resting-bitch-face. And, oh, the irony. She was, after all, expelled by Rick (Andrew Lincoln) from the group last season for her ability to do exactly what she’s doing tonight.

The remainder of the survivors inside the train car are eventually freed: Michonne (Danai Gurira), Tara (Alanna Masterson), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Carl (Chandler Riggs), Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), Rosita (Christian Serranos), Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt). Reunions follow — brother and sister, father and daughter, friends — and yes, I cried like a little baby, especially when Darryl reunited with Carol.

fire zombies walking dead s05e01 no sanctuary

Photo credit: Gene Page/AMC

Beth (Emily Kinney) — seriously underutilized in TWD until midway through last season, then wonderfully teamed with Darryl — is still missing, suggesting a possible return to Terminus to search for her. There were several nice touches tonight. The tables of sorted toys and watches inside Terminus brought to mind the Nazis’ penchant for collecting and cataloguing their victims’ belongings. The burning walkers were pretty cool, and Morgan (Lenny James) from the show’s first episode makes a surprise appearance at the end.

All roads led to Terminus but I’m hopeful that we will not spend the entire season there. The prison setting from Season 4 eventually became confining and many viewers (myself included) grew restless. In any case, it’s great to be back in the land of The Walking Dead — no matter how gruesome — to see if and how they survive another day.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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Writer of reviews and indignant customer service diatribes, TV critic, Comic-Con enthusiast, technology geek. Overflowing DVR. Deep South roots, living in Northern California.