We’ve done the advance spoiler-free reviews, but now it’s time to discuss “The Walking Dead’s” 5th-season premiere in all its bloody glory. The flashbacks that bookended “No Sanctuary” showed is that the residents of Terminus were once good-hearted folk, but now they’re cannibals, and liars to boot, leaving Rick and the gang no choice but to throw them to the walkers. It wouldn’t seem like “The Walking Dead” could get any darker or more nihilistic, but it certainly seems like that’s where it’s headed, with Carol, who Rick threw out of the group for her cold-blooded survival techniques, serving as the survivor’s savior. “You’re either the butcher or the cattle,” and the world is running out of cattle. Sure, they were good people once, but those days are farther away every minute, as are their chances of ever coming back.
Despite all the speculation of major cast deaths, the body count for the premiere was effectively zero — in fact, the show actually (re-)added a character with the post-credits cameo by Lennie James — but when you start the season in a slaughterhouse, someone’s going to end as meat.
Reviews of “The Walking Dead,” Season 5, Episode 1: “No Sanctuary”
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix
If the slaughterhouse scene is as bleak as “The Walking Dead” gets, the episode’s concluding moments are as happy as it’s possible for the show to be. Carol has an emotional reunion with the group, from a tearful Daryl to a smiling Rick (who has, like Tyreese, allowed circumstance to justify forgiving her for what she did back in the prison), and Rick and Carl are in turn reunited with an alive-and-well L’il Asskicker. For a show that at times struggles to make the fates of any of these people compelling, it’s a powerful, effective sequence, and it leaves our group mostly reunited (save for the still-MIA Beth), well-armed, and with a newfound purpose in getting Eugene to Washington.
Zack Handlen, A.V. Club
To a certain degree, the decision to burn through this plot this fast makes sense. It kicks off the season with a bang, and there’s no sense of stalling to fill time. Maybe the writers are still gun-shy after the nightmare that was Hershel’s farm (all the way back in season two). Maybe the plan for the rest of the season has so much going on that it would be impossible to spend any more time dealing with the people who eat people. It’s abrupt, but at least we already have a clear direction in place: the quest to get Eugene to Washington, D.C., where he can use his special knowledge of diseases to rid the world of the zombie plague once and for all. I can’t imagine he’ll succeed, which means yet another brief glimpse of hope to be dangled in front of our heroes before Fate (the writers) cruelly swipes it away, but it’s something.
Melissa Leon, Daily Beast
In fact, most of “No Sanctuary” grappled with a question that Carol figured out for herself a long time ago: Are you the butcher or the cattle? By the time Carol is finished blowing Terminus apart, leaving dozens to die in order to save her friends, the answer is pretty clear. Carol is a butcher and now the show’s most fascinating—and formidable—character.
John Saavedra, Den of Geek
My big frustration with this episode is its missed opportunity to cut some of the fat in the cast. Maybe it’s too early to start killing off main characters, but there are really a crapload of them and not enough time to focus on each and every one’s storyline. At least half of them can go. And the fact that a show that’s usually so bloodthirsty is content with teasing us with the almost-deaths of Glenn (Gimple faked us out not once, but TWICE in the premiere), Judith, Tyreese, and Carol…It just comes off as prudish. It’s the writers saying, “Yes, we’re going to kill someone off. You just don’t know who or when. Made you blink!”
Kevin Fitzpatrick, ScreenCrush
Overall, the strongest moments of the premiere lay not in the tense confrontations and explosions, but rather the mostly wordless reunions taking place at the end. Both Daryl and Rick bounded after their toward their lost loved ones like a puppy reuniting with their owners, and the moments played surprisingly sweet and powerful for a series whose emotional components are often seen among its weaker aspects. There will still be plenty of reunions to come, as Beth’s disappearance only gets a quick mention toward the beginning of the episode, but Rick’s unrestrained outpouring over Judith’s survival made a strong cap on a premiere so overly concerned with action (which again, was still pretty tremendous).
Matt Fowler, IGN
We learned a bit about Terminus’ backstory. Just a bit though. I’m still hoping for more. I get that they were set upon by an evil murdering, raping gang, but I personally just need a little bit more horribleness to show me how they could go from who they were to cold-hearted cannibals who eat children. Because there are steps in-between. Hardening up and not trusting anyone is one step. Even raiding other people’s camps could follow. But setting up a “siren’s call”-style haven to lure people in for the kill is another level.