The Walking Dead returns this week with easily one of the strongest season premieres ever, thanks to the producers’ smart decision to change things up and focus more on action and less on having our beloved characters just stand around.
The season 5 premiere opens with headers that read Then and Now. We learn that Gareth, one of the identified leaders of Terminus from the end of last season, is in a box car with his friends talking about how they never should have “brought them here.” It’s a confusing scene that that is only made clear by the end of the episode. You’re forgiven if you think the “them” are Rick and his gang.
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Rick and the Gang Are About to Become Food
Rick and the gang are still trapped in the train car as the season opens. At first, you have to wonder how dumb the Termians are for allowing random objects to be strewn about the train car that Rick and his team can use to fashion into weapons. Until the Termians prove themselves quite adept at these types of situations and throw in tear gas so they can get the drop on everyone.
When Rick, Daryl and the others are brought into a large warehouse, if there was even a single shred of lingering doubt in your mind of whether or not the Termians were cannibals goes out the window. As one by one random people are knocked out with a baseball bat to their head only to have their throats slit so they can be drained of blood in a giant vat, you would be forgiven if you actually thought a notable character might actually die.
(You could make the argument that they’re not cannibals, but the way the Termians kill their victims and then remove their body parts, it just wouldn’t make sense if they weren’t.)
Bob tries to reason with the Termians, claiming that someone within their group can help with the cure. Gareth, however, says, “We can’t go back.” He knows that since they’ve started this fight with Rick and team, it’s too late.
Gareth then asks Rick about the bag he hid in the woods, and Rick offers to give him the guns he hid if they let him go. The offer is turned down, and just when it looks like Glenn will be the next victim, a massive explosion goes off.
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Carol the Hero
Continuing the idea of a unique and different feel to the show, we then rewind and see Tyreese, Carol and Judith hours earlier as they make their way to Terminus. On the way there, they take one of the Termians hostage, and Carol decides to be the hero and rescue everyone else while Tyreese and Judith stay with the hostage.
After she’s applied zombie guts to herself, Carol hides within plain sight amongst the walkers and makes her way inside Terminus.
Back at the cabin, the hostage tells Tyreese about the world that was: how he went to church and now look at him. The hostage tries to convince Tyreese to take his car and go, or at least kill him. He’s done talking. It’s an amazingly written piece of dialogue that explores how damaged and how dangerous ordinary people have become in this new world.
At Terminus, Carol hears the tear gas explosion we saw earlier in the episode as she approaches the train car. Seeing a nearby propane tank, Carol shoots at it and then shoots a firecracker at it, exploding it. Lots of bodies go flying in an incredibly impressive visual effects moment for the show.
The explosion that Carol caused gives Rick and the gang the moment they need to fight back against the Termians. Rick stabs two “cooks” to death and frees Glenn. (Honestly, dude, free Daryl first!) He then lets one of the Termians live so they can be turned.
On their way through the rest of Terminus, Glenn convinces Rick to open a train car and free the people inside. There’s only one person inside who is clearly insane that is killed by a walker within moments.
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Meanwhile, the Termians are slowly able to beat the walkers back. Rick attacks them and then straight-up murders all the Termians in front of him. We’ve seen Rick kill humans many times before, but this is him at his most cold-blooded, and the show is only just preparing us for what is to come.
Carol, in another part of Terminus, wanders into the weird candle room from last season and gets held up by someone at gunpoint. They get into a fight and the woman tells Carol, “The signs were real. This place was a sanctuary.”
We then learn what happened to the Termians and what led to the scene at the beginning of the episode. A group of terrible people followed the signs for sanctuary to Terminus and took the hideout from Gareth and his friends/family. They even raped some of the women. But they were able to get it back and they learned, “You’re the butcher. Or you’re the cattle.”
Carol shoots the women and then, like Rick, opens the door to let the walkers get her.
Back at the cabin, when Tyreese isn’t paying attention, the hostage gets a hold of Judith and threatens to kill her. Tyreese has to give up his weapons and go outside or he’ll kill Judith. We hear Tyreese fighting zombies outside and, of course, he’s able to survive. He comes back inside and knocks the weapon free from the former hostage. He starts to beat him, but saying over and over again that he refuses to kill him.
At Terminus, Rick frees the rest of the group, and in the ensuing escape, Rick wounds Gareth, but leaves him alive. Rick takes the rest of the group to the guns he hid in the woods and he’s ready for more blood. He wants to head back to Terminus because “They don’t get to live.”
Rick clearly is ready to embrace the mode of the butcher as Gareth once did. While this could feel like a retelling of the poorly paced Governor story, I actually found this story to be immensely engaging.
And then the true emotional punch hits you as Carol shows up. Darryl runs and grabs her because of course he does. Seriously, that hug lasted what felt at least a minute or two. Even Rick looks happy to see her and he hugs her as well, looking like he’s on the verge of tears.
“Did you do that?” he asks her.
What a phenomenal moment that feels so earned and so emotional.
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One More Reunion
But the reunion we’ve really been waiting for is coming up. Carol leads them to the house and Rick runs to Judith as she sees her in Tyreese’s arms. Tyreese hugs his sister Sasha and then Rick and Tyreese have a nice little bro moment.
With his family back together, Rick changes his mind and decides not to press on and head back to Terminus. Instead, he writes “No sanctuary” on one of the Terminus signs and heads off with the group.
That, however, is not the end of the episode. Instead, we get another flashback to that moment from the top of the episode with Gareth. “We’re gonna take it back,” he tells one of his friends. “You’re either the butcher or the cattle.”
Clearly, Gareth and Rick aren’t done with each other just yet.
Other Odds and Ends
— Tyreese did kill the hostage after all. Was I the only one who was surprised he did?
— There’s a scene that felt randomly inserted into the episode where Maggie and others were pressuring Eugene for details on how the cure will work. He gave them a pretty believable story, but I still think he’s full of shit.
— I loved the shot of the entire group leaving the cabin at the end of the episode. It’s amazing to realize how many characters have become part of this show since the beginning. Other than Lost, can you think of another show with this many “main” characters?
— And finally, let’s talk about that post-credits sequence. Were you surprised that there was one? I was — I had to be told about it! I for one am very, very excited to see the return of Morgan and can’t wait to see how he gets mixed up in the coming war between Gareth and Rick.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9pm on AMC.
(Image courtesy of AMC)