TV REVIEW: The Walking Dead 5.01 “No Sanctuary”

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Love it or hate it there is no arguing one simple fact, The Walking Dead is popular. Last year the show brought in record ratings by getting 16.11 million people to watch it’s season four premiere. Last night 17.3 million watched live breaking it’s own record by over a million viewers.

With the show’s success it makes sense that the special effects budget has ballooned. Each year we’ve seen set pieces grow, bigger explosions, and designs for the living dead get crazier and crazier. Ever wonder what it would be like to see a zombie gnaw off someone’s face while engulfed in flames? Then you have come to the right place.

As a side note it did feel rather odd that the bloodiest episode of the show directly follows a finale that censored a classic line from the comic due to language.

As a side note it did feel rather odd that the bloodiest episode of the show directly follows a finale that censored a classic line from the comic due to language.

You might think by that description The Walking Dead has abandoned all remnants of substance for flash and gore. Luckily the writing has gotten better right along with the aesthetics. Instruments like metaphor and foreshadowing that had been rusty at best before were sharpened and added to the writers tool belts over the past year. This episode begins with villain flashbacks, a device used to perfection in two of last seasons best episodes featuring David Morrissey’s character The Governor.

There is however one problem left to be conquered. Every season after the first has started strong with a great premiere before quickly losing steam. Season two had characters repeating the same boring conversations over and over on Hershel’s Farm, season three had Andrea and The Governor flirting their way through Woodbury, and season four had a bad case of the flu back in the prison. If The Walking Dead has an arch enemy it is long periods of stasis. It may seem obvious but the show seems to work best when something is happening.

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As for this season I can’t judge a show for episodes I haven’t seen but you can’t blame me for being wary. I do however remain optimistic the show might thrive where it would have stumbled in the past. There are also enough questions left unanswered in the premiere to fill out the season without padding episodes with unnecessary fluff. And despite spending half a season getting there it does’t look like our merry band of characters wants to stick around Terminus any longer than they have to.

The best reason to remain optimistic is The Walking Dead has a history of learning from it’s mistakes. For example, in early episodes of the show deaths would come unexpectedly but often felt uninformed by what the show was doing as a whole. In contrast character deaths (sometimes the same characters) in the Image Comics series almost always worked in the greater context of the story. Coming off a rare season finale with no major character deaths seemed like the time to roll that random character death die. I won’t spoil the episode but the events of “No Sanctuary” don’t feel random in the least. In fact, ever since Scott M. Gimple become showrunner just before the beginning of season four (holding the job longer than any of his predecessors already) the writers have discovered a solid balance between hitting key moments from the comics and beating a new path. The Walking Dead may have some missteps ahead of it but at least it no longer feels like a television show at war with itself.

Even after the darkest episode the future has never looked brighter for the well seasoned zombie series.

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Bite Sized Zombie Thoughts:

• Be sure to stay turned after the credits for a secret scene featuring the return of a fan favorite character.
• I have to wonder if the non linear mode of storytelling that bookends the episode is a preview of things to come.
• Michonne has a new weapon but I hope the show knows they need to find her a new sword stat!
• Episode director Greg Nicotero should also be credited for the extraordinary zombie effects in this episode. In addition to directing Greg also works on the show as an executive producer, a special effects makeup artist, and zombie actor!

• [SPOILER] Highlight to read: Did Tyreese really kill that guy? In an episode that shows such graphic content it felt like a weird spot to cut away.

• [SPOILER] Highlight to read: There are more than a couple visual references to Nazi death camps so I’m certain it was on purpose, but why?

• Does anyone still watch Talking Dead? I still can’t make myself watch a talk show about a different show.

• That’s it for now! Can’t wait for next week’s episode? Watch a sneak peek below!

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