The Walking Dead Season 5 Episode 1 “No Sanctuary”: An Apology

Recap

Carol saves the group from being slaughtered by cannibals at Terminus. Through both flashbacks and character confession, it is revealed that Terminus once was the safe haven its posters claim it to be – that was, until bad men came. These men raped and tortured Terminus citizens, and these men found it all exceedingly hilarious. The Terminus survivors were able to take their compound back, but they had changed: now, they no longer trusted any new arrivals at all1. Thanks to Carol, Rick and the rest of the group are able to escape.

Morality v. survival

It is often said that in a good zombie story, the zombies are not the antagonists, they are the environment. A good zombie story has other humans set up to be the antagonists. This framework is what has led many to compare certain zombie stories to famous works of literature2.  The last few seasons of The Walking Dead have grown to focus more on this idea of “The Other” being an equal if not greater threat than the zombies, and this week’s episode put that idea front and center.

Rick would have that same look of disbelief and horror if Jenner had been describing the things Rick would do in the following years in the name of survival (Photo: AMC)
Rick would have this same look of disbelief and horror if Jenner had been describing the things Rick would do in the following years in the name of survival (Photo: AMC)

Throughout the entire series of The Walking Dead, we have seen the characters struggle with doing what is right and how that often conflicts with the best option for staying alive.  A simple example of this is from this week’s episode: Rick, Daryl, Glenn, and Bob are running to escape the slaughterhouse when they hear someone trapped in a boxcar. Rick wants to leave the person, but Glenn says they must save him because “it’s still who we are.” This seems to be a callback to the type of man Rick was in season 1: he felt it his duty as an officer of the law and as a human to save whoever he could, even if that person was a degenerate, like Merle Dixon.

Contrast this with how Rick is now at the opening of season 5: when Rick, Daryl, Glenn, and Bob make it to the smoke room where the cannibals were preserving all their human meat, Rick demands that his fellow survivors kill any Terminus citizen they see. After killing two of their attackers, Rick insists no one destroy their brains so that they will reanimate3. At the end of the episode, once the entire group has escaped to safety, Rick wants to return to Terminus with their recovered weapons to murder the remaining Terminus citizens.  The other members of his group refuse to go, saying it is a suicide mission with how many walkers have flooded the now burning Terminus.  With bloodlust still in his eye, Rick consents and the group leaves.

The contrast of Glenn and Rick in this episode is a prime example of how zombie stories deal with morality and its place in a world where it is a struggle to survive. Glenn, who has not been the leader, has not been forced to make near-impossibly difficult decisions. Rick has, and it has changed him. The season 5 premiere of The Walking Dead shows how violence, the struggle to survive, and the ever-present threat of death take morality away from a person not with one swoop, but inch by inch. To change drastically from one event gives the possibility that another event may change a person back4. To lose one’s morality – and by extension, one’s humanity – bit by bit makes for more interesting character development and a more interesting story, especially when it is contrasted with other characters who have not lost their humanity yet.

Hero of the week

Carol.

Little girls should be playing with dolls modeled after this character, not Barbie (Photo: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC)
Little girls should be playing with dolls modeled after this character, not Barbie (Photo: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC)

Carol is hands down the hero the week. In the comic, Carol is a young, timid woman in her mid-20s. Her husband is never seen in the comics5 so Carol is defined more by her need to have a man in her life6 rather than her inability to escape one. The television series has done a wonderful job of showing Carol transform from a victim to a protector. In the comic series, Carol died years ago when she had a mental breakdown from being rejected by Tyrese7, and she tried to embrace a chained walker, which of course ripped her throat out. The comic version of The Walking Dead8 often gives women a less than favorable portrayal. Comic-Carol was too weak to survive this new and brutal world. Television-Carol ain’t havin’ none of that.

The television version of The Walking Dead has made Carol a bona fide badass, and this week’s episode is the best proof of that. Carol leaves Tyreese9 in a shack with baby Judith while she singlehandedly saves the rest of the group from the Terminus cannibals. The Walking Dead TV show took the trope of men as saviors, which has been around since storytelling originated, and threw it away. In this episode, Carol camouflages herself as a walker by smearing zombie guts and mud all over herself, sets off a devastating explosion at the compound gates, then walks into the compound in the middle of a herd of walkers. We have not seen resourcefulness and boldness like this since Rick and Glenn’s failed attempt to blend in with walkers in season 1.

Carol’s refusal to break when she lost her husband, her daughter, and her right to stay with the group over the past 4 seasons has cemented her place in zombie storytelling history. It is this display of gender equality10 in storytelling that makes zombie films11 and books12 so unique and positive.

 

One last thing

If this article hasn’t convinced you that zombies are more than a fad that should’ve been abandoned a few years ago, I get it. It took me years to develop such a deep love of zombies and even more years to convince my family that I wasn’t insane because of it13. I just hope that the next time you watch The Walking Dead, you see more than a series of awesome visual effects from Greg Nicotero or yet another coincidence that saves a character’s life14. I hope you spot a commentary on gender roles, societal expectations of a gender or race, the value placed on life in relation to age, if the ends justify the means, or when acts of war become genocide15.

That being said: enjoy the ride. This show16 is made to be entertaining, so don’t miss the good storytelling by focusing too much on the details – unless you live in Dallas like I do, in which case, start taking diligent notes because this Ebola scare is going to become season 1 of The Walking Dead17.

 

If you still think I’m full of it, then lighten up and let’s laugh together at the RiffTrax guys taking down Night of the Living Dead . And don’t worry: Clare will be back next week to continue her usual coverage of The Walking Dead and to save you from any further rantings from an obsessed zombie fangirl.

  1. Carol finds a room with tables covered in sorted piles of new arrivals’ possessions. The enormous size of the pile of stuffed animals covering one table will make your stomach turn  
  2. Aalya Ahmad compares World War Z to Canterbury Tales in structure and themes in the essay “Gray Is the New Black: Race, Class, and Zombies.”  
  3. in the zombie apocalypse, you destroy the brain of anyone – even your enemy – as it is seen as a fate worse than death to come back as a walker  
  4. like Tyreese changed after Mika and Lizzie’s deaths then changed back after a stranger threatened to kill Judith  
  5. unlike the television show, which shows her husband is abusive and potentially an incestuous pedophile  
  6. Carol asking Lori if she could join Lori and Rick’s marriage was pretty awkward  
  7. yup, that relationship happened  
  8. like many comic books  
  9. a large, strong man, who claims he’s unable to kill anyone or anything since the deaths of Mika and Lizzie last season  
  10. allowing a woman to be the savior of both men and women, as men so often get the chance to be  
  11. Gaylen Ross refused to scream in Dawn of the Dead (1978) because her male costars were not screaming  
  12. many zombies books, like Mira Grant’s Newsflash series, and short stories have strong female leads instead of male leads  
  13. although they do still sometimes question my dedication  
  14. Improbable coincidences are not exclusive to The Walking Dead. See also: almost any action movie, many drama series (like The Killing or Breaking Bad), most comedies, and all of Quentin Tarantino’s work  
  15. all of these issues have been addressed already in The Walking Dead television show, in addition to the comic, other zombie books, and zombie films  
  16. and other zombie stories  
  17. just kidding, it’s totally going to be Shaun of the Dead with Texan accents  

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About Becca Marshall 36 Articles
Becca has been writing about film and television since convincing her junior high English teacher that comparing and contrasting the film and stage versions of Romero and Juliet was a good idea for a term research paper. After getting her BA in English and film studies, she doubled down on liberal arts and got an MA in television, radio, and film from Syracuse University. Becca is incredibly proud to be an Aggie and entertains her non-Texan friends with Southern colloquialisms. Her hobbies include watching Golden Girls and her interests include all things zombies - she's simple, not basic. Email: becca@whatelseison.tv