A Bloody Mouthful: Season 5, Episode 1 | "No Sanctuary"

A note from AmberHardFemme: Friends, Greco­Romans, queer familia, lend me your eyeballs. The time has come here on A Bloody Mouthful for the passing of the proverbial torch. As I am now working too close to The Walking Dead for legitimately unbiased journalism, I am passing the reins of these here recaps to an excellent writer, and all around amazing person, my buddy, Skinned Knees. While I hope to lend some critique every now and then, she'll be the main jefa where The Walking Dead recaps are concerned.

 

Hey new friends! I’m stoked to be talking to you about this season of The Walking Dead. I’m a huge fan of all things horror and absolutely love the fact that television is airing such a rich horror program on the air! And the Season 5 Premiere of The Walking Dead was no joke! The episode served up intensity, gore and explosions (!!!) while setting a grave tone thinly veiled in some kind of "Quick! Hold onto our humanity!" hope.  So you know, everything an excellent zombie-filled season premiere should do. Sit back because I have so much to say!

The episode opens up with a flashback of a group in a train car, much like how we left Rick & crew at the end of Season 4, only this time we're hanging out with Gareth and Alex, our favorite hipster Termites of Terminus. The mood is dark and hopeless, a woman is screaming off in the distance, and Alex is full of guilt. "We should never have put up the signs. What did we think was going to happen? We brought 'em here." Gareth immediately jumps in with, "We were trying to do something good. We were being human beings." Oh the moral dilemma we have come to know and love with this show...And yet there is an incredibly unsettling dichotomy here. The season finale of Season 4, "A," ambiguously wove narrative back and forth between happy stable days at the prison and the present day, at times having you wonder if you had accidently put on an older episode of happier times. In "No Sanctuary," the flashbacks are clearly labelled "Then" and "Now" as they show us a glimpse into what made the Termites the just-another-day-at-Terminus cannibals that they have come to be. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We flash forward to Rick's group making weapons out of their clothing, literally - belt buckles, zippers, hoop earrings (chingona style!) - highlighting their inability to just sit back and wait. They don't have time for philosophical lamentations (they did that in Season 2!) - they need to survive. Newly reunited as a group, Sasha gets an update about Tyreese and Daryl updates Maggie about Beth. Both are confirmed to be still alive. We know that Tyreese is with Carol and Judith but we haven't seen Beth since she was kidnapped in Season 4, Episode 13, "Alone." The mood in the train car is hopeful and determined and yet with the writers are obviously employing this dichotomy for a reason.

 

Don't worry. We're professionals.

The anticipation of redemption is palpable as the group hears Terminus folk approaching. Just as soon as they take their attack stances, a hatch on the ceiling of the car is lifted and in comes a gas bomb. We wake up groggily through Rick's perspective. As he fades in and out momentarily, we see two uniformed butchers fileting some human thigh meat off of some unlucky soul. He is finally jolted awake as he is lined up with Daryl, Glen, Bob and four men from another train car (how many do the Termites have hostage?), cattle style, over a trough. One by one, two apron-donning butchers knock out the men with a baseball bat before slitting their throats. Bound and gagged, the men are dehumanized, horrifically becoming livestock as they watch the blood of the men lined up before them flow down the impeccably immaculate drain of the trough.

Just as we move down the line to Glen, Gareth walks in with a clipboard and interrupts the blood-letting with a reminder that they have ,"two hours to get them on the dryers and then go back to public face," (who else is he expecting?). It's slaughterhouse business as usual for Gareth and the butchers, tallying rounds, documenting who came from which car, listening to Bob's pleas to let them go. Gareth listens, politely, before shutting that down with a "Can't go back, Bob," and moves on to Rick. We find out that Gareth knew of Rick, Mishone, and Carl advancing onto Terminus despite their efforts to sneak in, when he asks about the bag of weapons that Rick buried in the woods prior. Like the wonderful sociopath that he is, Gareth threatens to stab out Bob's eye if Rick doesn't disclose the contents of the bag, correctly assuming that as a "good guy," Rick will not let Bob be blinded. While a seemingly small moment, we are once again reminded of Rick's loyalty to the group and his arguable inability to do "what needs to be done," as Shane would say. He quickly regains our confidence in that slow break from who he used to be with a simple, "and a machete, with a red handle. That's what I'm going to use to kill you." Yay! 

This emotional and physical cattle-prodding is (thankfully?) interrupted, just as one butcher raises his bat behind Glen's head, by gunshots and a loud explosion. And that my friends, leads us to the credits, almost a full ten minutes into the show.

 

Martin, aka Cabin bro, aka Cabin Termite

We come back to Tyreese, Carol and baby Judith on their way to Terminus. Carol lets Tyreese know that she is only staying long enough to make sure they are safe when suddenly they are welcomed by a happy handcuffed walker. Tyreese moves to take the baby from Carol, who looks at him questionably. "I can't. Not yet," is what we get before Carol reminds him, "you're going to have to be able to" and moves in to kill the walker. Suddenly she notices a huge zombie horde coming towards them and then run off to hide. Our trio hears gunshots and decide to take an alternative route to Terminus. They stumble upon a dude going through Rick's weapon bag and talking about Carl and Mishone and immediately take him hostage. Carol takes off to find out what's really going on at Terminus while Tyreese hangs out with manipulative (are they training them to be sociopaths?) Termite dude, Martin, in a cabin.

Martin battles Tyreese with some psychological warfare on being the "good guy." He mentions going to church, watching football, being a regular guy, being the "good guy," himself before absolving his current existence with the argument that too much bad shit has happened and it just blurs together. Cabin bro (what's with that perfectly placed strand of hair?) sees right through Tyreese's attempt to refute this, guessing that he "hasn't had to get his hands dirty." He asks Tyreese why he hasn't killed him yet, why he is even talking to him, instead of leaving with Judith and saving himself. There is a lot of play with gender roles here with Carol off getting shit done and Tyreese at "home with the baby/ies." His "weakness" is feminized to an extent and Cabin Termite tries to exploit that.

Now I'm going to take a moment to pause here to gear you up for the absolutely fucking amazingness that is about to happen. Brace yourselves...

 

Happy Independence Day, Terminus!

Carol, looking like a standard issue zombie holding a sniper rifle, SINGLE-HANDEDLY takes down Terminus. That big explosion we hear during blood-letting? Oh you know, just Carol. Blowing up a fucking gas tank by shooting a fucking firework rocket at it. It's the fourth of July at Terminus! The explosion, naturally, in true The Walking Dead form, shoots up a dozen flaming zombies and zombie parts into the air, like a sky flower finale. It's beautiful, friends. And it's all Carol.

She then shambles in alongside some wonderful human zombie torches that are somehow more digestible than Terminus Mary cooking her meats on the barbecue in last season's finale. Carol aligning herself with the zombies is a bold move and one that harkens back to Michonne using her zombie pets to render her invisible to other walkers. In this post-apocalyptic society with seemingly no more rules, Carol others herself (much like Michonne did) to gain power against the oppressors. As a formerly abused woman, Carol's growth as a character, especially leading up to this moment, is fucking badass. 

Once inside the fences, Carol wanders around looking for her friends while total chaos ensues outside. Rick, Glen, Daryl and Bob escape and as they make their way back to the group remaining in the train car catch glimpses of the horror that they just nearly escaped. Suspended human meat hanging over meat smokers is as jarring and disgusting as the trough scene, while being reminiscent of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre slaughterhouse. Hearing screams in a nearby train car, Glen urges the men to let them out. Rick’s hesitation causes him to make the moral plea, “It’s still who we are. It has to be.” Glen, forever the good guy, reminds Rick of just how easily their humanity can slip from their grasp.

They open the train car and a tattooed long-haired dude comes out and screams at them, “We’re the same!” before getting attacked by zombies. Meanwhile flaming walkers and flying bullets from the Termites are tearing shit up. While wandering, Carol finds Daryl's crossbow and we now can anticipate their reuniting. Taking it, she wanders into the candle-lit shrine we saw last season. 

 

Mother Terminus Mary

And oh hey, Terminus Mary! How befitting of your name to see you here in this alter-like shrine in the middle of the "sanctuary!" And how fitting is it to meet you here with Carol, both currently the central strong female in each group in this episode of binary oppositions! The showdown between them gives more backstory to the Terminus camp when Mary discloses, "The signs were real. This was a real sanctuary. People came and they took this place. And they raped and they killed and they laughed over weeks. But we got out and we fought and we got it back. And we heard the message. You’re the butcher or you’re the cattle.” Woo! Way to take things literally, Termites! Religious fervor, much?

Carol shoots Mary in the leg for refusing to back down. Ever so poignant, Mary retorts, “Aim it at my head now. You could have been one of us! You could have listened to what the world is telling us!” Carol leaves her inside the shrine, bleeding for to a mini horde of hungry zombies.

Meanwhile back at the cabin, Martin threatens to kill Judith if Tyreese doesn’t go outside to walkers clamoring on the door and windows. He does and all we hear is screaming and zombie blarghs? Roars? Suddenly all the noise stopped and Cabin bro tentatively walks towards the door (not before hinting again the threat of Judith’s death) when Tyreese barges in and beats the life out of him. Or does he? He later tells Carol not to check the cabin and reassures her that he killed Martin. Knowing how Tyreese has a hard time killing even walkers and hearing him yell “I won’t” with every punch he lands on him, I’m dubious that he finished the job with our friend in the cabin.

We move back to the train car where Sasha, fearing imminent death, asks the mulleted scientist, Eugene, to tell them the cure. And he does. But it’s not what we were expecting. In a particularly vague and twanged out speech (full of dichotomies!), we learn that he has inside information on how to essentially wipe out an entire population. Getting to Washington means gaining access to the means to make that happen and kill all of the walkers. “Fire with fire.” Eugene is going to use arguably the same thing that created the walkers to kill them – biological warfare.

Rick finally rescues our group from the train car and a slew of zombie killings take place as they make their way out of Terminus. Just as the group is hopping the fence, we see Rick seemingly take out Gareth. Once outside in the woods, Rick is hell-bent on going back with guns to make sure that the Termites are dead. The group talks him out of it for the sake of humanity? To not further risk their lives?

 

Ever so sweet, ever so completely un-sexual

Who cares? All is diverted when Daryl turns to see Carol walking up behind them. He runs up to her, tears in his eyes, and for a split second, you wonder where this embrace is going to lead. And it leads straight to platonic love town. Does this lend credence to the rumors that Daryl might be gay? Rumors that creator, Robert Kirkman, has neither confirmed nor denied but has instead promised to deal with the issue of Daryl’s sexuality at some point? ONE CAN HOPE! I mean come on, as shitty as this is, in a heteronormative culture, like ours, like theirs, if you have to address someone’s sexuality, that implies that it’s not the norm of that culture. Right?! Fingers crossed, babes.

Carol moves on to Rick who asks if she “did that,” and gives her a hearty gratitude hug. Enter Tyreese and Judith, whom Rick and Carl hadn’t seen since leaving the prison and believed to be dead. They reunite and so do Tyreese and Sasha. The group is back together again (except for Beth!) after a hellacious ordeal all around. They vow to head far away from Terminus. Rick, heading up the back, stops to wipe out the Terminus promise of a sanctuary by scribbling “No” above it. No Sanctuary indeed, Rick.

We flashback one more time to the Terminus group. Mary gets thrown back into the train car after what we can only assume was a sexual assault. Alex and Gareth hold her has she cries and a new victim is taken. Gareth tries to soothe her with “It’s ok, it’s ok. It’s ok.” And the man, who we can see is the same tattooed man Rick let out of the train car, reminds them that “No, it’s not.” This is the turning point for the group. This is that moment when the good turned bad. Gareth tells a sobbing Mary, “We will fight back. You are either the butcher…or the cattle.” And so it begins.

 

Hey Morgan! Where you headed?

Cue the credits. But wait! The credits cut to Morgan! Hey Morgan! We haven’t seen him since Season 3 episode 12, “Clear,” when Rick, Carl, and Mishone stumble upon his hideout while looking for weapons. He appears to be on his way to Terminus and sees the sign that Rick has altered. I have no idea where this is going but if Morgan is still similar to how he was in "Clear," then he is not exactly stable. 

This episode is so richly full of potential commentary! I could go on and on. I will say though that while short-lived, Terminus played a significant role in what is to come. We are shown how “good” people with good intentions can become horrifyingly “bad” people with no redemption. The whole episode was full of intentional oppositions that were meant to give us a glimpse of what may come with our friends. The horrors that the group faced will likely have lasting effects on how they operate in the world from this point on.

So! Did you watch it? What do you think? Let's talk!