Sunday, October 12, 2014

No Sanctuary From THE WALKING DEAD 2.0

Not much to say about tonight's WALKING DEAD season 5 opener.[1] Featuring some very welcome brutality and ugliness, it was a very solid episode--by TWD standards, outright great.

There were a few problems. The exposition between Carol and Tasha Yar was very poorly executed--Carol is on a rescue mission where every second may count and she stops right in the middle of it to listen to Yar fill her in on the backstory of those at Terminus. Rick wanted to go back and kill the rest of the Terminus gang but everyone else balked, ham-handedly setting this up as something that will return to bite the group in the future.

My major regret regarding "No Sanctuary" is about something really obvious that the writers didn't quite sew up. The episode is bookended by flashbacks showing what happened to the Terminusians in the past, the subject of that ill-placed exposition. Their story is that a group with guns once took over the Terminus and raped and brutalized them, but they were eventually able to take it back. And then, of course, they became monsters themselves, going so far as to take up cannibalism, mirroring the living dead monsters outside. In the flashbacks, their conquerors are raping women, and we hear the victims screaming in the distance. Back in the present, one of the same women chosen for rape is, at one point, shot by Rick, and we see zombies devouring her in a moment very reminiscent of a rape, as her screams echo those we heard in the flashback earlier. There are, in fact, multiple zombie attacks on women in the "present-day" portions of the ep, and the staging always echoes rape. A stronger association between all of this would have been welcome--I suspect the point will be lost on most TWD watchers--but it would be stupid to complain; this kind of complex, multi-layered, even--gasp--subtle storytelling is light-years ahead of anything TWD has ever managed. Considering the source, I was very impressed. All of this brings me to my regret though. The story of the Terminusians is, in part, a cautionary one, a glimpse of the depths of barbarism to which people can descend in such trying circumstances unless there is serious commitment to retaining their humanity. In the course of tonight's ep, Rick and co. free one of the prisoners the Terminusians had taken, probably a remnant of the renegade band that had captured the complex and had so tormented them. As he's released, he dances around maniacally changing "we're all just alike now!" When the Terminusians captured Rick and co. at the end of season 4, Rick's final line, after he and the others had been locked in a train car, was something like "they don't know who they're screwing with." In the final flashback showing the tormented Terminusians also confined to a train car--maybe even the same one--their final line (and the one that closes out the ep) should have also been, "They don't know who they're screwing with." That would have been as good an ending as it could have had.

While this was definitely one of the best episodes of TWD ever produced one would like to receive it as an avatar of things to come, some caution is advisable. Last season also began with two great eps, also among the best TWD, and it still fell back on the bad old Mazzara habits as it went along, becoming very uneven. Hope for the best, I suppose.



[1] My initial comments were maybe a bit too brief, so I've expanded them slightly.

ADDENDUM (13 Oct., 2014) - Lebeau points out something really obvious--this ep should have been the season 4 ender. It's what half of season 4 built toward, and everything about it would have worked better as a finale. In any event, this quick disposal of the Terminus storyline is a tribute to the Gimple Gang too and another example of how far TWD has come. Is there any doubt that, if Glen Mazzara was still showrunner, the same story we got from this one episode would have been made to fill more than 8 and would have concluded only after the mid-season break? If then?


  1. Definitely agree. It's as good as the show gets. So it feels pointless to complain about some of the more awkward choices.

    There were still a few moments that had me chuckle. I suppose I'm so used to characters spouting exposition that the Tasha Yar scene didn't really phase me. But right before that, I wondered why on earth the cannibals kept the stuffed animals of their child victims on a table next to the guns. Other than demonstrating to the audience how evil they were, what's the point of that?

    Also, you have to wonder why they turned to cannibalism to begin with. I can certainly see why they would go from victims to predators. But we have seen that food is relatively easy to come by in the world of The Walking Dead. Our heroes have never had trouble turning up canned goods. With all their weapons (these guys spray gunfire like crazy) they should have no problem scavenging for food. Or even hunting. For that matter, they should be able to raise livestock much more easily than killing and eating humans. So the cannibalism thing feels kind of weak. But, you know, it's the Walking Dead. It ties into how zombies eat people as you pointed out.

    I also got a laugh out of how the guy in the cabin practically double dog dares Tyreese to kill him. Or how the events of last season neutered Tyreese to the point where he is a sniveling coward until the red shirt coaxes out his inner killer. Which is some kind of weird redemption. And then he assures Carol he has got his killing groove back. It's a happy ending, right?

  2. Welcome back Jriddle. A very concise review for one of the best episodes of the year. Well done.

  3. Not bad. But I can't say it was good either.

    1. The biggest problem I have with last night's episode is how the rescue was almost all Carol. This was immensely disappointing considering Rick's final words last season. I was really hoping for a group effort from everyone in the boxcar.

    2. I was really hoping for more drawn out brutality from the Cannibals. The teasers this summer had me genuinely in fear for Rick and Co and what they would have to endure from the Cannibals. I really liked the part when Rick and the others are lined up at the trough, completely helpless. But almost immediately the rescue starts. Meh.

    3. Maybe it was just because it is the season premiere when TWD usually scores its highest ratings. But there seemed to be A LOT of commercials last night. More interference from AMC?

  4. @lebeau, "you have to wonder why they turned to cannibalism to begin with." In the comic, food is much more difficult to come by, and it's more logically credible that some have turned to cannibalism. TV TWD has traditionally gone to great lengths to water down to virtual nothingness that kind of harshness, which sort of leaves mass cannibalism as some sort of bizarre quirk appearing in a vacuum.

    I got a good laugh out of the children's toys. TWD takes itself so deadly seriously that it's hard to know if any sense of black humor played any part in placing them there or if it's just meant to be taken in earnest, but whatever the case may be, it made me smile. Even Tyreese having a "happy ending" by finding his killer instinct again was probably meant to be taken soberly and solemnly rather than wickedly.

    @EndlessUniverse, thanks. I don't know if I'll keep writing about TWD this season, but if I have something to say, it will probably end up here.

    @Max, 1) I liked Carol to the rescue (her bizarre pause to listen to exposition and the poor staging of her use of a bottle rocket notwithstanding). I thought the Gimple Gang made her the most interesting character on the show early last season, then had her go radically--and pointlessly--out of character to commit cold-blooded murder. The others still had to right their way out, and it isn't finished either--the other Terminusians still live, and I have no doubt Rick will, a bit later in the season, have the opportunity to kill that fellow using that red-handled machete.

    2) They packed a lot of brutality into the episode. There isn't enough story in Terminus to draw it out longer. The guys at the trough was a nice touch, but--TWD logic problem ahead--if you kill someone by bashing in their brains before cutting them, they won't bleed out. Unfortunately, TWD has established that if you let them bleed out properly, they reactivate as zombies, so we can't even get any proper industrial butchery! But I appreciated the intent.

    3) Sans ads, the ep ran just as long as any other ep of TWD, and it was aired in a one-hour timeslot, so no more ads than usual. The reason it feels as if they're throwing so many ads at you is because you were actually interested in what's happening, making commercial interruptions very annoying and seemingly interminable. When you feel that way and there aren't actually any more commercials than normal, that means the ep is working.

  5. Its great that Gimple is trying to put a story within the sets and props. Actually paying attention to the background scenery matters for once. We didnt need an extra episode so things at terminus could be explained they for once gave the viewer some respect to let them fiqure it out themselves.

  6. Welcome back. I have to agree with everyone that this episode was great. You get that feeling that Gimple is learning in each episode he's written, even if he ends up being inconsistent. I have to raise several points, positive and negative:

    1) I remember your complaint in season 4 that no character was interested in finding each other. Almost immediately when we return to Rick's gang in season 5, Sasha asks about Tyreese and Maggie with Beth. I found this extremely coincidental and funny. Maybe Gimple reads your blog.

    2) I came across this while reading IGN's review. They disliked Martin (the Terminus guy who is killed by Tyreese) for acting like a mouthpiece and stupidly brought back Tyreese's aggressiveness instead of the other way around.

    3) Robert Kirkman is writing the next episode, which sadly discourages me since his track record in writing for the show hasn't been that great.

    4) Surprisingly, there are only 6 people writing for this season: Gimple, Kirkman, Angela Kang, Matthew Negrete, Seth Hoffman and newcomer Heather Bellson. I hope this leads to a more focused season.

    5) I liked the fact that it was Rick who wanted to go after the Terminans instead of the other way around, which I think was typical in previous seasons. I think the writers let the Terminans live to introduce the "Fear the Hunters" storyline. Speaking of the Terminans, the only reason why i encourage their return is because I find Gareth (played by Andrew J. West, a new series regular to the show) interesting. He has that conniving and calculated attitude that trumps the Governor in my opinion.

    6) Christian Serratos is a little stiff and forced as Rosita. Then again, her character doesn't shine quite yet until later events, so I'll let this pass.

    7) Gimple said, “There's a lot of unfinished business between Rick and Carol, between Rick and Tara," and that will get to it immediately. The latter interaction intrigues me, though.

    8) In Talking Dead, Greg Nicotero said he added a little reference to "Creepshow" in the episode. He also said that the brutal slaughterhouse scene was inspired by "Alien" (1979), simple because of using practical effects and not telling the cast the true nature of the scene.