We’re back with The Walking Dead, picking up where we left off at the end of season four—Rick and the group trapped in a train car in Terminus, at the dubious mercy of a bunch of cannibals. This was a strong episode, jumping immediately into action and never slowing down. It was directed by Greg Nicotero, the SFX/makeup maestro in charge of the zombie effects on the show, which is why this episode has an excess of bloody zombie kills. There’s still a fair number of digital blood effects—which are so cheap looking—but there’s a lot of truly great practical work on this episode, not least of which is a spectacular live-fire explosion.

This episode almost entirely centers on the fall of Terminus, with a B-plot focusing on Tyrese, who is basically the Hulk of the group. He doesn’t want to kill, doesn’t want to fight, yadda yadda yadda, he ends up going bananas and slaughtering a small herd of zombies plus the one dude who spent the whole episode basically daring Tyrese to kill him. This is now a trend with Tyrese—he doesn’t want to get involved until he goes berserk and kills a whole bunch of zombies. I’d like to see one of his berserker rages fully realized, and not just the aftermath, like we saw here. He impaled a zombie on a tree branch! That would’ve been the zombie kill of the week except we didn’t actually see it.

But the focus of the action is in Terminus. Rick, Glenn, Bob, and Daryl are about to be slaughtered when gunfire breaks out just in the nick of time and everything descends into chaos. Showrunner Scott Gimple wrote the episode and he does a great job of establishing two wily leaders in Rick and Gareth, the Terminus cannibal king. Rick organizes his people into a would-be surprise attack, but Gareth outfoxes them, getting the drop—literally—on the group. When Rick wants to go back and make sure everyone at Terminus is dead, the group stops him and it feels like a grave miscalculation. Because they’re basically walking in circles in the Georgia woods, they’re guaranteed to run into Gareth again.

The attack on Terminus is orchestrated by Carol, who uses a convenient herd of zombies to mask her infiltration and overrun the outpost. Convenient zombies are a trope we just have to accept with this show, but sometimes I wish we had a little more than Enter Zombies Stage Left. It would’ve been cool if we’d seen Carol, for instance, rounding up a herd to turn loose on Terminus. But we do get plenty of demonstration that Carol’s skills are indispensable—she’s one of the absolute best zombie slayers in the group.

We learn a little about Eugene’s supposed cure, which has to do with the human genome project, and though Abraham Ford and his crew don’t do much this episode, right at the end we establish that they’re keeping secrets from Rick. That sh*t won’t fly for long—this is the most cohesive and brutal we’ve seen Rick in a long time. It takes Glenn to keep his moral compass functioning because he’s really embracing the “us or them” mentality. The people of Terminus say, “You’re either the butcher or the cattle,” and Rick seems to be of one mind on that. Glenn, though, still thinks they can stand for something other than death.

Season five got off to a great start on the back of a terrific episode, and while we can’t expect every episode to be this action-packed, some solid storylines were set up. Beth is still missing, Gareth undoubtedly survived, Ford is keeping a secret, and somewhere out there are some pissed-off bikers looking to murder Rick to death. Oh and this episode had a post-credit tag, too. Lennie James is back as Morgan, who appears to have gotten his sh*t together and is following Rick’s (circular) trail through the woods.

Status Check:
Officer Rick – The return of the Ricktator.
Carl – Sigh. Present.
Carol – DAMN GIRL.
Glenn – Rick’s new moral compass.
Baby Judith – Somehow still alive.

Worst thing seen/heard this week: The reality of cannibalism.

Zombie kill of the week: There were so many, but Daryl to the head with a pipe came up gold half a dozen times.

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