Yesssss? “The Walking Dead” is back, and it’s awesome.
Picking up right where we left our heroes last season, Rick and the gang are locked in a container unit. A couple Terminus thugs drag out Rick, Glenn, Bob, Daryl, and a few other random men. They are lightly beaten before being dragged into an abattoir. Bound and gagged, the men are forced to kneel in front of a long steel trough. One by one, a pair of Terminus thugs go down the line, knocking each man out, then slitting their throats, letting them bleed out. As the men come to Glenn, Gareth comes in with some mind-numbing accounting question. This is a scene that I felt could have been played both for humor and tension, but found it it hit neither because the interruptions kept coming. The final interruption comes in the form of heavy machine gun fire outside, and a big explosion on the edge of the abattoir.
Carol is the one who is making all the noise, but let’s back up a bit. She, Tyreese, and the baby are still cautiously headed to Terminus. A walker stumbles across their path, and Carol takes care of it (since Tyreese is still a little gun-shy), but then she sees a massive migration of walkers and they hurry off the road. It’s no safer in the woods – they come across a young man setting up fireworks and talking on a walkie about a “woman with a samurai sword” and a “man with a kid.” Carol approaches with a gun, and she and Tyreese tie up the guy in a tiny shack. Carol leaves Tyreese and the baby with the guy (we will come back to them in a minute) then drenches herself in zombie goo before joining the herd and stumbling towards Terminus.
Carol sets up along the fence and shoots out a huge gas tank. The tank explodes, sending gooey zombie bits flying everywhere. This is the explosion that halted the executions in the abattoir. The zombies that weren?t blown up get back to their feet and stumble into the compound. Some are actually on fire as they start nibbling on humans.
Rick uses this distraction to his benefit and violently kills the two butchers with a sharpened splinter of wood he had hidden in his pant leg. He unties his companions and the four of them move through the nightmare slaughterhouse, past dangling torsos and severed limbs. They stop off to load up on machetes and other weapons, then head out into the yard. From this point through almost the entire episode, Rick, Bob, Daryl, and Glenn are slashing their way through the compound in the most violent, bloody way possible. Not only do they have to deal with the throngs of walkers that have gotten in, they also have to kill all the Terminus peeps. Rick is hellbent on doing so. When a squad of a half-dozen Terminus guys move through the compound, shooting walkers as they go, Rick jumps the last guy in the squad, takes his machine gun, and mows down his compatriots. When Rick turns around, the man he jumped is gone. Glenn insists that they let out anyone else who might be trapped in shipping containers – “It’s who we are.” Rick agrees, but the one guy they let out is crazy, and he gets eaten by a zombie very quickly.
Carol has moved with the herd into the compound, and once she gets inside the Terminus building, she takes her time, ignoring the heavy firepower outside. She comes to a room where the belongings of those who have been butchered are laid out: Jewelry and watches on one table, weapons on another, toys and clothing on a third. It looks like something out of a Nazi concentration camp. She spots a watch she recognizes (the one she gave to Hershel?) and Daryl’s crossbow. She takes these, and a couple extra guns, and continues on.
It is in the altar room that she meets Mary. The women tussle, and Carol comes out on top, demanding to know where her friends are. Mary won’t tell, but she does plead her case, and we get more info on Terminus (Mary’s story is highlighted by a few flashbacks that are peppered throughout this episode). Apparently Terminus did actually start out as a sanctuary, with Gareth heading the initiative to put up signs leading people there. A group of less civic-minded men came in and took the place over. They “raped and killed and laughed,” in Mary’s words. In the flashbacks, we see them picking out women like lunch off a menu, and Gareth plotting their revenge. “You are either the butcher or the cattle.” So they took back the camp, but in the process became the butchers. Carol has no sympathy for the woman, and when she won?t tell her where her friends are, she shoots her in the leg and leaves her for the zombies, who are descending on the room.
Rick and the guys release the rest of their party from the shipping container and they fight through to the fence. Rick lays down cover as everyone clamors out, but he is more interested in shooting humans than walkers. He spots Gareth on the roof and manages to clip him, but doesn’t kill him.
The team makes it out, into the woods, and they locate the bag of supplies that Rick buried. He tells everyone to take up the perimeter, determined to shoot every last human in Terminus. The others try to convince him that between the zombies and the fires, no one is going to make it out alive. Rick doesn’t want to hear this, but his rage is interrupted when Carol shows up. Daryl doesn’t waste a second – he drops his gear and races to her, clutching her in a ferocious hug from which he won’t let go. He is crying, and it is actually a really sweet, touching moment. Maybe now they will stop playing coy and have sex. Rick approaches Carol cautiously, and asks if this was her. She nods, and he hugs her too. She tells them to come with her.
Back at the shack, the guy is trying to psych Tyreese out, talking about how he is too nice a guy, he is going to die by the end of the day, etc. Tyreese, for the most part, ignores him, but when walkers start scratching at the door, Tyreese looks away, and the guy uses this to his advantage. He races to Judith, currently laying in a makeshift crib, and puts his hands on her head, threatening to break her neck unless Tyreese goes outside. Tyreese is terrified for the baby, lays down his weapons, and goes outside without hesitation. The guy watches, smugly, thinking he has just bested Tyreese. But when things get quiet outside, the guy puts Judith down and approaches the door ? and Tyreese comes in and just starts wailing on him.
When Carol arrives with the group, Tyreese and the baby are waiting outside. It is a joyous, tear-filled reunion amongst a background of slaughtered zombies (including one who has been impaled with a pole coming out of its mouth, like a TV-safe version of Cannibal Holocaust). Tyreese isn’t gun-shy anymore. After a few minutes of bonding, Rick rallies the troops. He has forgotten about his need to wipe out the rest of Terminus; now he just wants to get far, far away.
As they trek out, following the train tracks away from Terminus, Rick stops and uses some zombie goo to cross out the Terminus signs along the way. Now they simply read, “No sanctuary.” In the TV equivalent to an after-credit scene in a movie, there is a scene (after the “next week on”) in which a person stops to examine the “No sanctuary” sign. He turns to the camera, and his face is completely covered in a featureless black ski mask. The person takes off the mask and is revealed to be Morgan!
This was truly a top-notch episode of “The Walking Dead.” It didn?t just have the action and the gore, but it had a lot of heart without being sappy, got all our characters back together (except for Beth) in an organic fashion, and the characters evolved subtly. My only complaint is that I would have liked to spend more time in Terminus. We spent all of last season getting there, only to spend a couple episodes there. I am sure there will be plenty of fallout, so the Terminus storyline won?t be coming to a close.