The Walking Dead serves up a strong season premiere, and, on the side, features the return of a long-unseen character. Still, we’ve had four seasons now of zombies, explosions, depravity, and survivor politics. Can its premise survive diminishing returns?

Warning: this review contains untagged spoilers. Read at your own risk.

Title: “No Sanctuary”

Cast and Crew

Directed by Greg Nicotero
Written by Scott Gimple

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes
Melissa Suzanne McBride as Carol Peletier
Danai Gurira as Michonne
Norman Reedus as Darryl Dixon
Steven Yeun as Glenn Rhee
Lauren Cohan as Maggie Greene
Chad Coleman as Chase Tyreese
Alanna Masterson as Tara Chambler
Michael Cudlitz as Sgt. Abraham Ford
Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter
Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa
Denise Crosby as Mary
Chandler Riggs as Carl Grimes
Lawrence Gilliard Jr. as Bob Stookey
Chris Coy as Martin
Robin Lord Taylor as Sam
Andrew J. West as Gareth
Lennie James as Morgan Jones

Additional cast and crew information may be found here.

Premise

Rick and the core cast have been invited to dinner, and they definitely don’t want to RSVP. Before the inhabitants of Terminus can serve up our heroes, the cavalry arrives, in the form of a gut-covered Carol and a herd of zombies.

Meanwhile, Tyreese babysits Judith, while facing dangers that he may not survive.

Beth remains MIA.

High Point

I don’t entirely buy Terminus culture, but they did a reasonable and disturbing job of explaining how such a society could develop. In terms of their birth in mistreatment, uncompromising extremism, vile practices, and clean efficiency, the Terminites recall, disturbingly, the Nazis. Even their belief that one is either the butcher or the cattle echoes Hitler’s favorite Goethe quotation, “You must either conquer and rule or serve and lose, suffer or triumph, be the anvil or the hammer.”

Low Point

The suspense in the killing line was overdrawn, as interruption followed interruption once the Terminus butchers made their way through the Red Shirts.

The Scores

Originality: 2/6 We have more of what The Walking Dead has made its name doing. Meanwhile, “No Sanctuary” combined with human food may resonate with SF fans (warning: spoilers for a 1976 film):

Effects: 6/6 The crew pretty much have zombies and explosions and corpse desecration down.

Story: 5/6 The time-shifts were well-structured, and made effective use of sound cues to show us where Carol was in time, relative to events we’d already watched. Of course, Carol’s gung-ho intervention (nice reversal of traditional roles, as Tyreese stayed behind to care for Judith) requires a remarkable coincidence of convenient eaves-dropping.

Acting: 6/6 Acting remains strong, with Melissa McBride giving this week’s strongest performance.
The subplot, Tyreese’s game of wills with Coy, could have been a trite exploration of the show’s themes (with a wee innocent baby’s life in the balance), but the acting and staging made those scenes work.

Emotional Response: 5/6 Despite this episode’s overall excellence, I find I’m losing interest. Walking Dead feels like a novel with no end and, while this might make sense for the premise, audience engagement and entertainment face diminishing returns.

Production: 6/6 I suspect we’re going to see some lower-key episodes for awhile. “No Sanctuary” bled buckets of budget.

Overall: 5/6

“It’s still who we are. It’s gotta be.”
–Glenn.

This episode, Gotham-like, cudgels us with the show and the season’s main themes at every available opportunity. And our heroes, for now, do endure. It’s a strange show, that explores humanity at its most degraded (not always fairly), and yet buys into its own heroic ideals.

It’s also one of television’s most-watched shows, and off to a strong fifth season.

In total, “No Sanctuary” receives 35/42