By the close of the Season 4 finale of AMC’s The Walking Dead, viewers were equal parts confused and excited–confused by the conflicting purpose behind Terminus, and excited to find out what the purpose was behind Terminus. Basically, everything was Terminus and
nothing everything hurt.
It makes sense to want to hang your hat on one facet of such an exciting season closer, but with the debut of shiny new season comes a whole slew of fascinating propositions. Whatever became of Beth? Will Carol and Tyreese sweep in and save the day, guns blazing? Has Daryl’s heart softened up enough to fall for a special someone? And the most important question of all, will Rick kick the crap out of Gareth?
At least a few of these questions were answered in last night’s Season 5 opener (“No Sanctuary”). The episode opens exactly where it ended and it opens up bloody. Rick, Glenn, and Daryl are pulled from the train car they had been stashed in only to be draped over a trough and threatened with the blade like a bunch of hogs at the slaughter. Rick trades barbs with compound leader Gareth (Andrew J. West does an excellent job of portraying his character as both bored and simultaneously creepy as hell) until a huge explosion outside the warehouse shakes them to the ground.
Backtracking to the railroad line leading to the compound, Carol, Tyreese, and baby Judith, who have heard the firefight from afar, stumble into the woods to find safety from a descending pack of walkers and wind up crossing paths with a lone Terminus scout. As Carol collects a stash of firearms and heads toward the gunfire to find the rest of the group, Tyreese stays behind to guard the scout and keep Judith out of harm’s way.
Although there were plenty of angles to choose from, this episode focuses mainly on the idea of “Hero Carol,” which may or may not be a sign that her time is almost up. Throughout the episode, Carol spends nearly every minute skirting the enemy, camouflaging herself with walker guts, and generally saving the day. And there was plenty of badassery to go around too. Carol, it turns out, was the one who set off the explosion, and in the 30 minutes that follow, she barely lets up, storming the gates of Terminus, letting the walkers take over, and taking out the guards. If you were waiting for a moment to assign this woman the superlative of “most changed,” now’s the time (“Most Likely to Succeed” might also fit pretty well).
Of course, the episode has its heartwarming moments. After the group finally crosses paths with Carol, Daryl is the first to break ranks and embrace her in an epic hugathon. Actor Norman Reedus played this moment exceptionally well. True joy is hard to portray, but Reedus drags the viewer right along with him, jumpy and anxious in a way that suggests that, somewhere in the back of his mind, Daryl believes he could simply be hallucinating.
“No Sanctuary” is a beautifully constructed episode that drops you right into the piranha tank from the first few moments, but has the decency to toss in a lifeline. It could have been drawn as a gritty no-holds-barred bloodfest, flashbacks and morose asides sprinkled atop an undercurrent of angst and internal struggle. Instead, it’s deep and seeded and angry. It’s a reminder that, while personal focal points matter within a story, the understanding of what makes a survivor a survivor is ragged and complex, not simply a golden-boy hero’s tale of chivalry and charm.
Violence and anger are two separate things, and writer Scott Gimple understands this important distinction. Anyone can become violent, sociopathic, unfeeling and murderous–the residents of Terminus are evidence of that. It’s anger that prompts change and turns the tide. Without that volatile emotion left, there remains only a void where there once resided a will to survive.
This barring of emotion and its detrimental effect can best be seen in a side plot concerning Tyreese, who has stayed behind in a hunting shack to guard the Terminus scout and protect Judith. As the scout pokes holes in Tyreese’s withering facade of calm and even-handedness, he remarks, “This is why you’re gonna die today. And why that baby’s gonna die today.” Harsh? Perhaps. But maybe he had a point. After all, it wasn’t until the scout had broken free and had his hands around Lil’ Ass Kicker’s neck that Tyreese was able to let his anger take control again and beat the man bloody after defeating a dozen or so walkers with his bare hands. Was it raging and aggressive? Sure, but Judith’s still breathing.
When Japanese screenwriter and director Akira Kurosawa wrote “In a mad world, only the mad are sane,” he wasn’t just touting a fluffy line of acumen, he meant every word. So go ahead, survivors, get angry. We’ll be back next week with the popcorn to see where the road takes us.