Recap: The Walking Dead, “No Sancutary” (5×01)

Holy shit. Let’s just start there. Holy. Shit. While I knew our heroes would find a way out of Terminus eventually… I just… wow. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you start off a season. Never has so much gore been matched with so much joy, so much backstory paired with such fluidity. If this is a harbinger of the season, we’re in for quite a ride.

Terrible things leave scars. We’ve seen this on our survivors – the scars of Shane’s death, of Lori’s on Rick; the scars of the girls, of his loss at the prison on Tyreese. The world leaves big scars now and it changes people, very rarely for the better. Shit went down in Terminus. Bad shit. Worse than our survivors have seen. And while you can’t explain away cannibalism and institutionalized murder, Scott Gimple (Executive Producer and writer of “No Sanctuary”) spent this episode magnificently defining the root causes of such horrors.

Be the butcher or be the cattle.

When last we left our band of survivors, almost all of them had been rounded up by the lovely folks at Terminus and placed in a cattle car. While it was nice to get the band back together after a long season of disparate stories, it wasn’t exactly a happy reunion. Judith, Tyreese, and Carol were still on their way, unaware of the herding that awaited them. But, as Rick said, they fucked with the wrong people.

Our survivors are not idle in the cattle car, waiting for death to come to them. They’re fashioning some badass weapons out of belt buckles, hoop earrings, shards of wood, anything they can. They may be going up against automatic weapons, but they won’t go down without a fight. Turns out, they don’t get a say. Right when they’re expecting to pounce on their captors, a flashbang canister falls from the ceiling opening and Rick, Daryl, Bob, and Glenn are herded up and knelt down in front of a stainless steel trough.

The residents of Terminus have quite the slaughterhouse set up. I don’t mean in the horror-movie sense. I mean in the literal, meat-slaughterhouse sense. Focusing on cleanliness and efficiency, two butchers systematically murder the first three red shirt victims (well, two red shirts and a callback to the hippie dude from “Indifference” for those with a sharp eye). Bob begs them to spare them – says there is a cure – but Gareth is only interested in the shot-count for the records. Before they can swing the bat to crush Glenn’s skull, gunfire is heard in the distance, followed by a huge explosion. Like our survivors, Carol has been keeping herself busy as well.

Earlier in the day, Tyreese and Carol fell upon a resident of Terminus while quietly eluding a horde of walkers. Talking about the “bitch with the sword” and the “kid with the hat,” didn’t ingratiate him much with Carol and he was quickly tied up. Action-Carol, here we go!

Rick knew, as all of us did, that Carol was one of the strongest survivors in the group. That was why her banishment in “Indifference” didn’t feel like a death sentence. We all know that she had become a dispassionate scrapper willing to do what it takes (and then some?) to survive. Seeing her slime herself with walker-guts and join the herd as it walked on Terminus was nothing short of magnificent. And once she saw Rick and Daryl, you just knew she was going to kick some serious ass. The strategic destruction of the propane tank and the nonchalance with which she walked into the encampment was perfect. You knew that the gang was getting out fine – but you also were more than happy to stick along for the whole story.

As the boys relieve themselves of their bonds and captors, they work their way outside to figure out how to rescue the others. They come across the meat-hanging room, which was more disturbing than I could have imagined it, even with expecting as everyone did that the Termites were cannibals. Rick insists on no quarter, no mercy. Because these people certainly won’t give it.

Carol walks through the compound looking for her friends and, in doing so, walks us through the story of Terminus. Through flashbacks and some death-bed exposition from Mary, we learn that Terminus was meant to be a sanctuary, at least in the beginning. But then “they” came. And “they” spent weeks raping and murdering and generally being the worst kind of anything, less human than the walkers. Traumatized and devoid of faith in humanity, the survivors of Terminus rose up against their captors, took back over their camp and promised themselves that they’d never be victims again. Be the butcher or be the cattle. Cannibalism was certainly an aggressive course-correction, but at least one that makes sense given this horrific backstory.

Much walker-killing and Termite-killing ensues with some kickass new zombie head-smashing effects (that eyeball!) as the boys rescue everyone in the boxcar and they all head out of Dodge. Daryl hears something in the woods as they’re making their escape and turns to see Action Carol emerging from the smoke of her making. The episode earned its tearful reunion with Carol and any bumps in the road to Carol’s reintegration with the group were certainly smoothed out by her saving all of their asses.

Rick ties up loose ends by adding a “No” to the top of the “Sanctuary” sign for Terminus. And for a bonus to end the episode, we see Morgan, Rick’s very first savior from the very first episode, making his way through the trees towards the group.

Odds & Ends

– The continued degradation of the walkers as time passes in the series is pure art – and totally disgusting in the best possible way.

– How will the scars of the world continue to change our group? Rick is about as far from his farmer days as he can get and Glenn has to keep reminding him that saving people is still “who we are.” Will the scars of Terminus tip the scale? Or will Rick’s reunification with Judith keep him from falling to the dark side?

– Martin was not wrong when he said having a baby in this world was like holding on to an anchor in the middle of the ocean without a ship. I have had an infant; they are not conveniently quiet, especially when the people around them are stressed. Every time the camera was on Judith, I worried that she’d start crying or really make any noise at all. I don’t know why this is the hangup for my suspension of disbelief. I can believe that the dead can rise, that people ritualistically slaughter strangers for meat, but a quiet baby? That’s just plain unrealistic.