Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Walking Dead 5.01: No Sanctuary

So, kids, here’s your question of the day: what’s worse than being eaten alive by a zombie? Being eaten alive by a zombie that is on fire.

Yep, the ante has been upped, the gore is gorier, and the badassery is epic. The Walking Dead is back!

Nikki: There’s a lot to cover in this truly fantastic season opener (might be the best premiere that the show has ever had, in my opinion), but I want to start with what I thought was the best part: forget Shaft and Jules from Pulp Fiction, there’s a new bad motherf*&#er in town, and her name is CAROL. From slinging AKs over her shoulder and using fireworks to blow up a gigantic gas tank, obliterating a crowd of zombies and opening up a chasm for the zombies to walk through and take out everyone in Terminus, smearing herself with zombie guts the way Glenn did in season 1 (only without the fear) and calmly walking into the compound amidst the walkers and taking out the guards one by one, THEN managing to disarm and throw down Tasha Yar when it looked like Tasha had the upper hand... un... freakin... believable.

Suddenly Dirty Harry isn’t the baddest mofo in a poncho.

In the midst of all of the AWESOME that Carol represented in this episode, we have to pause for a moment and realize just how far she has come. In the beginning of the series she was a minor character, a battered wife who was as shy and feeble as a mouse, who wouldn’t dare speak out against anyone or anything for fear her husband would “teach her a lesson.” She was fiercely protective of her daughter, and when her daughter was turned by the walkers, it was one of the most devastating moments on the series. Rick had to step up and put a bullet through Sophia’s head, and Carol was forced to watch it happen.

She didn’t mourn long, because in the midst of all this, Carol had hardened. She learned to appreciate Daryl’s gruffness and the way he took matters into his own hands, and she began doing the same. At the time we complained that the writers were doing her a disservice, having her move on from the death of her daughter like it was nothing, but now I can see what they were doing with her: she was learning how to live in this world.

She learned how to shoot and defend herself. She took on two little girls at the prison as her surrogate children and taught them how to similarly harden their hearts against the harsh world around them. When she realized that an apparent flu going through the prison was going to turn some people into walkers, she took matters in to her own hands and killed them. Rick found out, and he drove her out to a nearby suburb and left her there as punishment. Anyone who took matters into their own hands without coming to a democratic decision was not welcome in his group.

Upon her reunion with Tyreese, Mika, Lizzie, and Judith, she not only had to confess to having killed Tyreese’s lover, but when Lizzie killed her own sister just so she’d have a new zombie friend to play with, Carol handled the situation with an eerie calm, and then had to harden her heart even further to kill Lizzie, recognizing she was a danger to all of them.

It is in the midst of all of this horror that she emerges the quiet, resilient, focused hero of this episode. The awesomeness of her entering the compound was topped only by the reunion between her and Daryl, something fans have been clamouring for for almost a year. And just when it seemed we had our perfect moment, Rick comes up and sees her with new, wizened eyes. He now knows that Carol actually was acting democratically, doing something for the good of the group, and that it’s that hardened resolve that has just saved their lives and will keep on protecting them. Everything about Carol made me unbelievably happy this week.

What were your thoughts on the episode, Josh?

Joshua: What a way to start a season.

When the last one ended the way it did – with no real confrontation at Terminus save the brief losing skirmish that landed our home team in boxcar jail and awaiting the bat and the blade – I got the impression that a lot of folks were disappointed. The episode was, I thought, terrific, anchored by Rick's vicious, worm-turning encounter with the Claimers, but the tone of his reunion with the rest of the group was understandably dampened by the dire straits in which they found themselves. Rick had his confidence, but it didn't appear that they had much else.

Of course, they couldn't see Carol from there.

Still, the true beauty of leaving before the denouement, aside from the masochistic pleasure of narratively dangling from the cliff all summer, is that we got to come back to this tremendous ass-kicking of a premiere.

The entirety of the opening section, leading right up to the unseen explosion from outside, was as close to perfect emotional torture as anything I've seen on the show. The voiced-over montage of everyone gearing up in the boxcar, splintering wood and sharpening zippers and preparing for war, was a great way to get the blood pumping, and the way it was instantly defused by the gas grenade from above did a brilliant job of yanking the rug out from under us, all in the span of only a minute or two. Then it was straight to the executioners, a sequence that felt custom designed to give me a heart attack. The sight of them all bound and bent over the trough as the bat-wielder took practice swings in his smeary butcher's apron, the idle chatter from he and his partner as the moment of truth closed in, and the sound of that saw whining in the background all the while… the tension was practically unbearable. And tempered only slightly by the fact that Adam Boyer, the actor playing the bat wielder, was – no kidding – my son's counselor at summer camp last year, the knowledge of which admittedly took a bit of the punch out of things for me.

Still, he played it perfectly, and it was a rough sit, that sequence. I watched two episodes from last season in preparation for the premiere: the fourth, and the final. The re-watch of the fourth – Carol's banishment in 'Indifference' – was probably the only reason I recognized the blonde kid down on the sucky end of the trough as the dim-bulb boyfriend from the young couple that Rick and Carol encountered in the house there, with the girlfriend who barely made it through the next few backyards. It was a nice callback to include him, and though it was practically subtext considering how long ago that episode aired and how minor the role had been, I also liked thinking about how it must have set Rick thinking about Carol in those moments. How ironic that she was crouching so near at the very same time, all streaked with walker juice like Rambo in warpaint and poised to save his life.

You're absolutely right about how far Carol has come, and it's such a joy to watch her in action now. Everything she did in this episode, from the very first moment she appeared, just oozed confidence and capability. I think watching the dynamic between she and Rick will prove to be a highlight this year, because I don't believe for a second that everything's just a-ok between them now that he's seen the error of his ways and they've hugged it out. Nonetheless, the two of them are very close to the same page these days, and if they can work together, they'll make one hell of a management team.

Which brings me to the point I'm most anxious to discuss with you, and one of the few places where I really felt the hands of the writers this week: namely, Project exTerminus. Why was everyone else was so opposed to Rick's suggestion of going back in and taking care of the rest of the Terminites? They seemed to want to portray it as unreasonable ruthlessness on Rick's part, but isn't that same brand of gee-whiz hesitance favored by the rest of the group the thing that cost them the prison? Have they all forgotten Woodbury so quickly, or did it simply not change them the same way it changed Rick? More philosophically, at what point does a certain level of humanity become a detriment to one's survival?

This seems to be a point they're setting up as one of the driving forces behind the season, considering the 'THEN' opener and closer intended to grant us insight into the events that led to the Terminus community turning toward the brutality they eventually espoused. Then again, it's one hell of a long way from kill-or-be-killed to guess-what's-for-dinner, in my mind, so I'm intrigued by the notion of seeing them try to connect those dots.

What do you think?

Nikki: OK, first, NO WAY on the batter being your son’s camp counselor, that is so hilarious (and must have been really weird to watch... and, um, unsettling?) And second, I didn’t actually remember the blond guy at the end as being one half of the creepy couple in the house; now I have to go back and watch that episode. I did, however, recognize him as Penguin from Gotham. And I couldn’t figure out why they were using him in such a small role, and now you’ve perfectly answered that question for me! Amazing.

For me, this episode is all about a line that’s uttered near the end. Eugene explains that he was on the inside and saw the government’s plan for a chemical that would wipe out all of humanity. He said all it would take is merely “flipping the script” to turn that same idea on the walkers and take out all of them, saving humanity in the process. And it was that little phrase — flipping the script — that seemed to sum up this entire episode for me. Carol flipped the script on who she used to be. The people of Terminus were actually once good people, as pointed out in the THEN portion, who were raped and killed and abused until they flipped the script, took out the baddies, and became the baddies themselves. The same guy holding Denise Crosby’s character as she was tossed into the train car (her son, perhaps?) is now the one standing in front of the blood-catching tubs, asking the guys for their quotas so he can enter it into his books.

You ask a pertinent question: how does one go from being the victim to being the perpetrator? Does it always have to be such a leap? Carol went from a victim to a hero, but many people lost their lives along the way. As you say, to go from victim to cannibal is a little wait... what?! for me, but maybe something snapped. They didn’t eat everyone — when Rick threw open that one train car to let the guy free, the freaky dude with all the hair and tattoos was the same guy who we saw in the THEN flashback tossing Crosby back into the other car after having raped her. He’s out of his mind when he comes out of the train car, so god knows what they’ve been doing to him (all deserved, but anyway...) but it’s one thing to seek revenge: it’s quite another to become the bad guys.

So maybe the reluctance to take out the rest of the Terminites stems from exactly that: they want to stop that cycle. In this moment, they’re the heroes, and they want the script to stop flipping. They saved themselves, and the best they can do is steer people away from Terminus. Maybe they’ve decided they can’t save everyone, and need to start focusing on themselves? Would the Terminites actually seek revenge on them, or just stay and take more innocent souls? If I were in that situation, I’d probably just want to get out of there as quickly as I could, too. Only later would I perhaps have some regrets and concerns about not having finished the job.

I’m hoping they actually play out the flashbacks in subsequent episodes and this isn’t the last we see of the Terminus folks, though. As my husband said, an entire season of following signs to get to one place ends in one giant shoot-em-up and then they move on; was that a build-up to a whole lotta nuthin’? I would argue it’s a build-up to a whole lotta Carol Epicness, and for that it was totally worth it, but there is something to building up a place for over a dozen episodes, only to take care of it quickly and move on. Then again, I like them better when they’re on the move and not stuck in one place. As you say, this was the ending everyone wanted last season, and it was all the sweeter having to wait for it. Next week will be the new beginning.

Any last thoughts, Josh?

Joshua: I think you might be right about the flashbacks continuing – likely as we follow Gareth in his pursuit. Any survivors of the chaos at Terminus have no reason to stay there any more, and it's only logical that they'd go after Rick & the gang as the supposed authors of their destruction (though I'd argue they brought that on themselves when they started luring fellow survivors to harvest like sheep). Regardless, I don't think we've seen the last of them, or yet felt the full ramifications of our heroes' decision to simply walk away.

Beyond that, the season is suddenly wide open, and I love that breadth of possibility. The nature of keeping them nomadic allows for lots of variety, and like you, I'm hoping things stay that way, at least for a while. We still have Beth's sort-of kidnapping to explain, and then there's the matter of that post-credits appearance by you-know-who (YES), but otherwise, anything at all could happen. And considering the source, it undoubtedly will.

Thanks for having me back this season, Nikki! When things get this dark, it sure is nice to have a hand to hold.


Page48 said...

The zombie apocalypse has been good for Carol. I'd like to see her husband "teach her a lesson" now. Ha!

I liked that Carol collected Daryl's crossbow (and I assume Michonne's catana)

Rick, at the earliest opportunity, grab some shampoo. Do it for the team.

The batter checks his swing on Glenn, not once, but TWICE. Whew, that was close....and close.

Lennie is back. Lennie James makes any show better (except "Low Winter Sun", nothing he could do with that POS).

Efthymia said...

Carol was most definitely a BAMF, and she had me fist-pumping and everything, but I actually also feel kind of sad for her. After Sophia's death, she seems to have become kind of a robot -she doesn't seem to FEEL much. She's gone from being abused to having lost all she cared about, and she hasn't really had a chance to be a person; that's so sad. And while generally I'm a fan of characters who make the tough decisions, I want them to care, and I'm not really getting that from Carol.

I don't believe Tyrese killed that brat (and my belief was reinforced when Talking Dead didn't show him along every other living and undead person who died in this episode), and I'm sure that's going to come back and bite them in the ass -considering Gareth is also definitely not dead. And I feel bad for Tyrese in advance, because I 've grown very fond of him, I think he's lovely, and I don't want him to be/feel responsible for something horrible happening.

Everyone who's ever read my comments knows how much I love Glenn and how I live in constant fear of him being killed off, so I don't have to elaborate on how happy I am he's still OK and with us. I was telling a friend "I know it, this is the season they're going to do it, they're going to kill Glenn off" (which, admitedly, I have been saying for the past season and a half), and she said "They're not going to kill Glenn off, he's the only Asian character", and it's one of the few times I wish the creators are predictably pollitically correct (and maybe never introduce any other Asian characters? -ugh, I'm horrible!).

I'm still with Dale and Glenn and Hershel and Tyrese -people shouldn't lose their humanity, because if they do what the hell are they fighting to survive for? If they're trying to show us that in this new world the only way to be is to become Shane or the Terminus people, then the happiest ending for me would be all humankind dying.

I hope Morgan's appearance wasn't just a tease and then we never see him again or we just catch a glimpse of him again next season.

P.S. If Michonne didn't get her katana back, we should start a petition.

Rebecca T. said...

Flipping the script - that's such a great way of looking at this and it gives a name to my overall takeaway of this premier. All throughout this episode the thing that was going through my head was the way that the title of the show has shifted for me.

The Walking Dead obviously stands for the zombies. However, through Woodbury, the individual terrors faced on the road last season, and now, most horrifically, in Terminus it's becoming clear that the Walking Dead are the living people who have given up. They've either surrendered to the more powerful in order to gain protection, not thinking or behaving on their own initiative, or they've turned their back on their own humanity in a desperate bid to survive. As Terminites would say - they've either become the cattle or the butchers.

And the thing that causes Rick et al to stand out is the fact that they walk the very delicate and dangerous line between these two. And many of them have died because of it.

Those who were too "cattle" like have had to grow more hardened (Carol is a perfect example of this, but Rick is too) and those who were too "butcher" like have had to soften (Daryl in many ways fits this).

The question, of course, is how long they can walk this tight-rope in the face of people who are going to go farther and farther off the end of the butchers.

Anonymous said...

Nikki - I think you're right. This was the best TWD Season premiere yet.

I saw Fury today (must-see if you like war movies) which was made out to be a realistic view of the horrors of war and it was pretty violent but the whole time I just thought "this isn't nearly as gruesome as TWD last week".

I just wonder where the show can go now though. How many times can we see the group seemingly find a relatively safe environment then watch it go bad when overun by walkers or another sadistic psyhco-path (Maggie's farm, the prison, Terminus) & rinse, repeat.

It looks like the focus of this season will be on actually finding a cure and that may be the only new story to tell.

As always thanks for the recap!

-Tim Alan

Anonymous said...

What an epic journey it's been for Melissa McBride. From a local casting hire who picked up a few lines in the Mist to someone carried off the bad-assedness.


Blam said...

And it was that little phrase — flipping the script — that seemed to sum up this entire episode for me.

Great observation. I agree with Rebecca (both on that point and on how the show's title has perhaps never been more applicable to the living characters). Sorry to drop in so late and be so brief.