Well, it looks like we won’t be spending too much time in Terminus.
Welcome back to the terrible world of AMC’s The Walking Dead. When last we left our intrepid group, they were fractured and in various states of distress. Beth had been kidnapped by persons unknown, Carol and Tyreese were trying to survive with little baby Judith, and Rick and company had been captured by the denizens of the compound known as Terminus, then locked in a railroad cattle car. Things… got ugly from there.
If there’s one thing that the showrunners of this show have always know how to do well, it’s open a season, and this one was without question one of the most thrilling season premieres yet. The “Then and Now” opening, flashing back to earlier, kinder times was a nice touch, and would eventually make for a fascinating — if horrible — loop that they would close at the end. But flashbacks — and Tyreese’s clumsy, stupid attempts at being the good guy — aside, this episode was all about Terminus. It’s been interesting to see how each season gives us a different glimpse into the varying directions humanity can go — idyllic, almost commune-like life on the farm, hardscrabble life on the road, the perceived safety of a democratic enclave like the prison, and the autocratic spiral of crazy that was Woodbury. Each shows a different way of adapting, of trying to cope with the nightmare that the world has become. Terminus is yet another one, and perhaps the most gruesome.
Because Terminus is a horror show, a collection of people who have sunk so far that they’re barely human anymore, despite their kindly, rational outer appearances. It’s brilliantly depicted throughout the show, giving the audience a fully fleshed-out display of what a group of intelligent, coordinated, organized, well-controlled cannibals would be like. From the signs promising safety to the communications network they’ve set up, to the very way that they slaughter their victims, Terminus is a smoothly running machine. The catch, of course, is that its people are utterly soulless, and that’s demonstrated perfectly by two people — Gareth, the ringleader, and Martin, the one encountered by Carol and Tyreese. Martin is simply tired. Tired, dead inside, and absolutely — almost inhumanly — calculating. His conversation with Tyreese (and yes, I was screaming at Tyreese the whole time too to shut up and pay attention) — was compelling in its inarguable logic. The smart thing would have been to take the child and the car and just go. Forget everything else and just survive. He is genuinely amazed by Tyreese’s dedication to his friends, and that’s how we learn that the people of Terminus aren’t friends or family. They’re merely survivors, gathered together with the humanity sucked out of them by a world gone mad, surviving in the worst possible way — by feeding on other humans.
It’s for these reasons that Gareth (played perfectly by Andrew J. West) may well be the most chilling of the antagonists that they have encountered, like a frat boy with nothing left but evil inside. While The Governor was terrifying in his own right, there was always the glimmer of madness in his eye. With Gareth, there is no madness, no hint of crazy. There is only pitiless, relentless determination and savagery. Do anything — anything — to survive. Kill, slaughter, trap, devour, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is survival. It’s a horrific credo, and it’s portrayed with grisly persuasiveness. This is a way to survive. It’s brutal and it’s terrible, but as Mary said in her awful confrontation with Carol — you’re either the butcher or the cattle.
But all of that ties into just why Rick and his group are so compelling, and why their escape was so fantastically done. The breakout itself was gripping, tense, and exciting. Carol’s tireless, now-instinctual skills get things started, between the explosion and her disguise efforts, and it’s capped off by Rick’s abrupt, vicious attack as he breaks free just as they’re about to be the next ones in the trough. Everything about the escape — the firefight, the cat-and-mouse element, the single-minded purposefulness of their steady steps through the carnage as they sought escape was incredibly engaging. All of it, and all of what came after, were the perfect demonstrations of how, even on the ragged edge of humanity and in the midst of smoke and blood and chaos, there is something to keep them human. As Glenn said, “That’s still who we are. It’s gotta be.”
In the end, “No Sanctuary” wasn’t about the depths that people sink to. It was about the great heights that they rise to. It wasn’t about how we do anything to save ourselves, it was instead about what we do to save each other. There was something remarkable about the moment towards the end, when Rick was filled with nothing but rage and hate and violence and vengeance. It was one of those tipping point moments, and it was the reunion — with Carol, the one he once banished, and with Judith, the one he thought lost — that he slipped back down and landed among the living. Those reunions, I must admit, were easily some of the best, most understated moments of the entire series. I can’t remember a scene, other than perhaps Lori’s death, that was as emotionally affecting. Between the limited dialogue and the gentle music playing in the background, both reunions worked marvelously, capping off an excellent episode.
There is much left to do, though. Find Beth. Figure out if anyone from Terminus survived. Get Eugene to Washington. Oh, and by the way — HI MORGAN! But as always, they will do it together. That’s been the point all along, of course. Sure, it’s about the undead and the living, and the horrors each is capable of. But it’s also about that ever-changing, ever-growing family, and what they’ll do to not only stay alive, but also to stay together. “No Sanctuary” showed us just one more thing they must face, and how they’ll do whatever it takes to weather the storms ahead of them.