So Season 4 ended with a cliffhanger and there was a lot of buildup going into this premiere. What we got was a very fast paced episode that allowed for a few moments of character growth. “No Sanctuary” is a powerful start and continuation of the series that shows what happens when you screw with Rick Grimes and company.
The season begins as all television shows should: with a title card- THEN.
We see Gareth and some folks forced into a box car. They lament their fates, especially given that they’re being held captive by the very same people they once brought into Terminus. They just wanted to do the right thing. Never fear. Things will change.
Following this, we pick up immediately following the events of “A,” with Abraham talking about the plan to get to D.C. Unfortunately, none of the three newcomers ever spotted Tyreese or Carol. Everyone is preparing to break out of the car when the time comes. That time arrives now, as some Terminus folks approach. To the surprise of everyone- including myself, to be honest- the box car opens from above and a smoke grenade is dropped in.
Rick, Daryl, Glenn and Bob, along with some other men, are lined up, gagged and placed in front of an empty tub. In a scene that really doesn’t lack any tension for me because I know the main characters won’t be killed off this soon, two henchmen slit the throats of the men from boxcar “D.” They stop short of killing Glenn when Gareth enters and tells the two to take a shot count. He then removes Bob’s gag so he can speak: Bob pleads for Gareth not to kill them, you don’t have to do this, they can fix this, all that good stuff. No dice.
Gareth turns his focus on Rick- specifically the bag he saw Rick with outside of the facility. He wants to know what’s in it, and Rick confesses: an AK-47, 44-Magnum, scope, automatic weapons, a partridge and a pear tree, all the necessary killing tools. Why? Because Rick plans to use them to kill Gareth. Right. Gareth gives the two men two hours to get the four on dryers, but before anything else can happen, everyone hears gunshots from outside. And before they can even react, the building rumbles.
We then return to the great train track adventures of Tyreese, Carol and Judith. Carol’s plan is to reunite Tyreese with the group, but she’s out after that. A lone walker comes out of the woodwork, yet Tyreese isn’t about to kill it. Carol will and does. More walkers emerge, forcing the three to retreat. Before the walkers can advance close enough, they’re distracted by the sound of gunfire. When the three emerge from their hiding spot, Tyreese figures the gunfire is coming from Terminus. Carol directs him to another train track due east that will put them there.
The three happen upon one of the Terminus members, Alex, who not only has a bag of weapons, but is about to set off a flare. He’s ambushed by the two and tells them that he’s protecting himself, but Carol doesn’t believe a word he’s saying. She leaves Tyreese and Judith with Alex while she heads toward Terminus. Adapting the same method that Rick and Glenn used back in Atlanta, Carol covers herself in walker’s guts and remains in order to mask her scent.
Alex tries to make small talk with Tyreese: asking if the baby has a name, if he has friends- the normal, healthy conversation that’s taken for granted. Alex admits that he used to have friends. They would watch football and go to church, but he can’t picture them anymore. Now he’s just living in a horrible world. Tyreese refuses to believe that things are as horrible as they’re being made out to be, but Alex says that Tyreese’s very optimism will get him killed. Or Tyreese can take Judith, get in the car and drive away. After all, why leave Alex alive in the first place? That doesn’t help Tyreese at all.
Carol approaches the gate outside Terminus and sees Rick and the others taken away. She then has the biggest badass scene in the episode as she fashions a flare to the sniper rifle. As a heard of walkers advance on Terminus, Carol fires a shot at a tank. Following this, she sends the rocket flying and…
And yet the walkers refuse to expire. They continue to rise. Tyreese sees the smoke from Terminus. He tells Alex that no one has to die in this fight, further adding to Alex belief that Tyreese’s optimism will be his downfall.
Back at Terminus, everyone is knocked to the ground. Gareth leaves, leaving Rick to spring into action and gut our two butchers. They aren’t dead, though, and Rick prefers they stay that way so they can turn instead.
They enter another room and find various torsos, body parts and organs hung up as if they were in a meat freezer.
The plan is to kill as many members of Terminus as possible, but still find time to free any other captives. After all, as Glenn says, that’s still who they are. So they let one guy out of boxcar “C”- did they really need an entire boxcar just for him?- but he’s crazy. And he’s soon killed anyway, so whatever. The four shoot their way through Terminus, but have to double back.
Carol, meanwhile, enters a room filled with valuables and former possessions- among them, Daryl’s crossbow.
She then enters the sacrifice room, but Mary is also there and demands that Carol drop her weapon. Instead of doing the logical thing and just shooting Carol right there, a fight breaks out and Carol gets the best of Mary anyway. Mary, under duress, admits that Terminus once was a sanctuary, but people came in, took it over, raped and killed anyone they could. Luckily, others fought back. In this world, you can either be the butcher or cattle. When asked about the whereabouts of the others, Mary hesitates, so Carol settles for shooting her in the knee. Ouch. She points her gun at Mary’s head, but she welcomes it. Carol won’t do that. Instead, she opens the door and lets the walkers have their fun.
Alex frees himself and holds Judith hostage just as walkers appear at the cabin door. He tells Tyreese to go outside, and he does. But before Alex can radio in for help, Tyreese does his best Kool-Aid man impersonation and bursts into the room. He beats Alex to death, all while proclaiming that he won’t.
Back in the boxcar, Eugene figures that even if he spelled out the details of the disease and cure, the cure itself would die with him anyway. He berates the gang’s plan to fight their way out with their impromptu weapons which, while crudely fashioned, would probably get the job done anyway. Sasha reminds Eugene that he doesn’t owe them anything, but they would at least like an explanation. He gives them a long, drawn out explanation that amounts to him being a part of a 10 person team that tried to fight diseases with diseases, or fire with fire, as he also puts it.
Rick frees the others and they fight their way out as Terminus burns behind them. Finally free from the prison, Rick stops to pick up the bag of weapons. He wants to go back to make sure everyone at Terminus is dead, but Glenn insists that the fight is over.
Oh, hi Carol! You cleaned up quickly!
Carol leads them to Tyreese and Judith as we get our big family reunion. Tyreese lets Carol know what he did. Does he want a gold star or something?
Rick isn’t sure if the entire forest will burn, but right now, they just need to get as far away as possible. Abraham and Rosita decide to follow the group for now.
As the group heads out, Rick makes his own sign. He will never have a career in graphic design.
We then flash back one more time as the trapped folks of Terminus plan to take back what was theirs.
And after the credits…hey, Morgan! How’s it going?
“No Sanctuary” is fast, but then, it had to be. While I preferred the slower paced “After” from Season 4, this episode had a lot to accomplish: Rick made the claim that the folks of Terminus were fucking with the wrong people. Turns out he was right. What’s helped this group make it as long as they have is their will to survive, even in the face of death. This is proved by the fact that they all made it to the very end of the episode intact. Sure, that’s there to give us a happy ending, but it also shows that they will fight to the very end.
This is one of my minor gripes with the premiere: I never really felt that anyone was in any danger. The scene with Rick, Daryl, Bob and Glenn about to meet their doom was a false scare from the start. It didn’t feel tense to me because I didn’t think any of them would die so soon, even if people thought Glenn would die at this moment. It also doesn’t help that we knew nothing about the others, so killing them would be no major loss to us as an audience.
As fast paced as this episode was, it had its slower, more humane moments, such as Glenn telling the others that they still have good in them or Tyreese struggling not to be a murderer. At this point, Tyreese has to know he may be forced to kill others in order to survive. Granted, he could still be reeling from the events of “The Grove” and we don’t know whether he and Carol have put that behind them. I assume it won’t be addressed, though.
Much like “Inmates,” I enjoyed the “Rashomon” approach to the storytelling. We first learn that someone is attacking Terminus, but we don’t know how or why until we see it play out from Carol’s perspective. And speaking of Carol, Melissa McBride really was the standout in this premiere. Not just with her breaking into Terminus or leaving Mary, but the smaller moments like the warm reunion between her and Daryl which, to me, had more heart than Carl and Rick seeing Judith again.
We got a little bit of light shed on Terminus itself and how it devolved into this cycle of butchers versus cattle, but I do hope we get an expansion of this. After all, you don’t just go from being trapped to killing and eating other humans, right? This may not ultimately affect the plot since Rick and pals are out of Terminus, but if the show chose to dig into its history, I hope we see more of it. Oh, and it has to be said: the people of Terminus aren’t all that smart. I mean, one guy pulled the old ‘I’m so scared I can’t get up and walk’ routine and pretty much sealed his own fate.
My only complaint with the episode is the pacing. I honestly don’t think this episode needed to have both a group reunion and the escape from Terminus play out in one episode, particularly with how Season 4 built up to Terminus. This easily could have been spread out over two episodes, at most.
That said, it’s a minor issue and it didn’t take away from a very strong return for The Walking Dead. With the group almost fully reunited and Morgan on their trail, things appear bright for now. Then you remember what series this is. A lot of things left to account for: Beth is still missing, the mystery man in the flashback, the origins of Terminus, Morgan eventually catching up to the group and whether the others will learn about what happened to Tyreese and Carol during their time away from them. It’s a lot to digest, but this premiere was very promising and a great start for Season 5.