AMC’s The Walking Dead kicked off last week with a mind blowing season premiere continuing into tonight’s second episode of the season. Both for the cast of characters and for the show itself, there’s a plethora of friends, enemies, and somethings that are just…well…they just might work well or not.
*SPOILERS for The Walking Dead Season 5 Episodes 1 & 2 will follow*
Season 5 begins right were Season 4 ended–in storage container/train car “A”. This totally works in the shows favor as momentum is set and continues throughout the episode. When in several various interviews the cast called the first episode “disturbing”, they certainly nailed it. Within the first five minutes we learn that Terminus is indeed a slickly run, methodical community centered around cannibalism. Gareth and his mother Mary (the BBQ greeter who heralds from beloved Star Trek fame) run an impressively tight business-like model for the creepy and almost insane folk. There’s quotas, and methods, and yes, even sanitation if you watch some of the brief disturbing butcher sequences. One could have predicted this from our first views of Terminus in the previous season, with how well everything was set up–including beautiful square foot gardens. Talking with the butchers, Gareth says in a very managerial tone, “Now’s the time to get messy but we need to dial it all in by sundown” so they can return to their “public face”.
Some people just don’t make it through the apocalypse with all logic and humanity intact. The episode brilliantly brings that up through Tyrese’s conversation with one of the scouts, who he and Carol sneak up on as he spills the beans about how they’ll “drain” Michonne and Carl. The scout tells Tyrese that since he’s the type of guy who would save a baby, he essentially doesn’t have what it takes to survive. This question will certainly have ramifications later on, as Ty tells Carol he killed the man–but as we see at the end of episode 2, “Strangers”, that this Terminite is very much alive.
So what works for “No Sanctuary”, the season premiere? Everything except for one piece that I’ll come to. Carol shows how far she comes by providing a bit of walker apocalypse espionage a la Rick and Glenn’s camouflage from season 1. She ruthlessly causes a diversion (an explosion, which always works in favor of action sequences, physics issues aside), blends in with the zombies, takes out some defenders, and eventually meets with Mary. We have some great character development for the short-lived Mary and it’s through the brilliantly placed flashback sequences we learn how Terminus went from sanctuary to trappers, “cattle to butchers”, by a very real, very uncomfortable look at an outside group who rape, murdered, and terrorized the original Terminites, Garrett and Mary included. Ty’s own struggle with morality is laudable and I appreciate how they incorporate his on-going difficulties with violence and grief. The entire cast is remarkable, and though you can understand the Terminites, it’s brutally easy to not care for them one bit. The price of morality in the apocalypse and the cost of bad leadership…
There’s lots of marvelously kept continuity, from Tara’s limp to poor Sam from the neighborhood and Carol’s watch, to the marvelous redemption moments between Tara and a few of Team Survivors (formerly Team Prison) in episode 2.
A few cast members from AMC’s The Walking Dead
Now in its fifth season, the show’s writing is decidedly stronger, the character development and balancing act tighter, the ongoing themes of morality and identity persistent and highly welcome. Not to mention lots of hopeful reunions, love in the air, and on-going surprises. All the characters continue to develop well. In episode 2, we even get a new member of Team Survivors in Pastor Gabriel, whose mysterious past, detailed well in the comics, is hinted at through Carl’s unique and well filmed investigation. The Pastor’s inclusion is fascinating as the camera pans over Maggie, and all I could think of is, “Is she thinking of her father and comparing the two men?” Hershel was a man of faith–even if it cracked at times–and he never stopped believing in humanity–even if he came close at times. Losing Hershel was a blow for Team Survivors, so I was glad that Michonne mentioned him in episode 2, along with Andrea. Pastor Gabriel’s (or is it Father Gabriel) own mysteries I’m sure will be revealed in time, but the question is, can he possibly help Team Survivors in their on-going need of retaining their humanity, or will he succumb to his obvious failures?
There’s two other performances that stand out: Bob and Sasha. Ever since season 4’s episode, “Alone”, I’ve been cheering for their relationship. Bob, Glenn, and Judith enable the group’s humanity to shine. Bob’s history is so special, so unique, his contagious smile and uplifting ways on Sasha are heartwarming in tonight’s “Strangers”.
Some of the best acting lies in what isn’t said. There’s diffidently differences of opinion between Darryl and Glenn during the Battle of Terminus. At one point, Glenn’s about to rush off to save people and Darryl pins Glenn against a wall with nothing but his fingers against the chest–a very plausible move. This interaction, along with Darryl and Carol’s reunion and ongoing scenes in “Strangers”, is just brilliant.
The show even hints at a plausible “non-cure” from Eugene. By modifying and using the same time of weaponized biological warfare that created the walker apocalypse, they hope to wipe out the undead. The idea sounds brilliant and creative and I’m seriously hoping that it works out, unlike the comic book version. Or at least they give it a try and it fails, if nothing else. (Or perhaps the series might end on a positive note…is that too much to ask?)
A final point is how the series has progressed. This is a group of survivors, as Abraham says. They know how to handle walkers, so death by walker for this group is unrealistic unless there’s exceptionary circumstances. The Walking Dead provides just that and does it brilliantly, even acknowledges that sometimes humans are more dangerous than walkers.
For those watching episode 2 “Strangers” for the first time tonight, warning: a favorite character meets an untimely comic-book remix fate that will leaves us in a cliffhanger.
So what doesn’t work? This point isn’t a new enemy, it’s an old one. I’ve previously written about child actors placed in harrowing scenes, and the season premiere continues with the addage, this time including none other than baby Judith with a stranger’s hand around her throat, head, and back. The baby is authentically crying and looks terrified. Unlike an adult or even possibly a mature older child who can process these events, babies don’t have the mental capacity to role play or act. I hope there’s no lasting damage to this child’s psyche. Has The Walking Dead crossed the line by once again filming another scene like this with another live baby? Hmm.
That idea, that concept–no matter how well it does work in the story and characters’ favor–underscores the entire brilliance of the first two episodes of season 5. Not too mention that I lost my appetite multiple times by watching both episodes back-to-back and seeing far too much cannibalism for my taste. The saying for this season is “Hunt or Be Hunted” but in reality, what are they hunting? Humanity? Can they go back? The Governor and Garrett would say no. Hershel would say yes. Team Survivors…I think they would take who they and who they are now and merge the two. That’s what makes them such a formidable force and makes them, most likely, the world’s best hope for a future.