Warning: This recap for the "No Sanctuary" episode of The Walking Dead contains storyline and character spoilers.
If you're looking for a one-sentence wrap-up of the Walking Dead Season 5 premiere, here you go: Rick and all the others who were trapped in train car A in the Season 4 finale escaped Terminus and are now on the road again.
P.S.: So are Carol, Tyreese, and baby Judith.
But cast interviews and that Comic-Con supertrailer had already confirmed most of that, so now it's time for details.
They're the Cattle
Rick and the others are still trapped in train car A, and they're ready to overtake their Terminite captors when a smoke bomb is dropped into the car. Flash-forward a few minutes, and Rick, Daryl, Glenn, and Bob are inside a room that can only be described as a slaughterhouse. They're lined up alongside a few other men, on their knees and with their heads hanging over a trough.
In a dizzyingly fast and shockingly brutal scene — a scene so harsh cast members said they weren't certain it would actually make it to air — one Terminite begins to whack the men in the back of the head with a baseball bat, followed by a Terminite with a giant knife who picks their heads up and slices their throats. As blood pours into the trough and pools around a drain, it's clear this is, or has become, an easy routine for them.
Gareth enters the room and chats with his butchers, tries to get info from Rick on the bag Rick and Daryl buried in the woods, and allows Bob to beg for mercy, but with four down and the batter starting his swing towards Glenn's head — that's the scene from the Comic-Con trailer that had everyone worried about the beloved Mr. Rhee — gunshots and an explosion rock the room. Gareth flees to check out the source of the commotion, which allows Rick — who had a knife hidden in his pants leg — to cut himself free of his cuffs, kill Batter Up and Knifey, and cut his friends loose.
The guys flee, passing through a room where bodies and body parts are littered around, with a skinned torso hanging from a hook. This is the drying room Gareth spoke of earlier, and the last bit of proof needed to officially label the Terminites cannibals. As they grab weapons, Rick tells his friends, "Cross any of these people, kill 'em, don't hesitate... they won't."
The men make their way through a chaotic Terminus courtyard — walkers have infiltrated, walkers on fire are chewing the faces off Terminites, and residents are running around shooting at the undead — and free their friends in car A. With Rick laying down cover fire, they all make it to the Terminus fences and climb out of the sanctuary, but not before Rick sends a bullet into Gareth.
Meanwhile, Back at the Railroad Tracks...
Carol, Tyreese, and Judith are following the signs that promise sanctuary at Terminus. Carol tells a still-shaken Tyreese she's making sure he and Judith get there safely, but then she's leaving. They spot a walker, and Tyreese tells her he just can't kill anything yet. "You're gonna have to be able to," she says as she stabs the walker in the head and spots a whole herd approaching.
The trio lams it and comes upon a cabin where Martin — that was his name, right? The chatty Terminite at the cabin? — is talking to someone at Terminus via walkie-talkie. They hear Guy Probably Named Martin mention Carl and Michonne, and they deduce he and the other Terminus types are up to no good. Carol packs up her weapons and all of the fireworks Guy Probably Named Martin brought and makes her way to Terminus, while Tyreese guards Judith and a tied-up Guy Probably Named Martin.
Guy Probably Named Martin tries to get in Tyreese's head, sensing Ty is conflicted about what life in the zombie apocalypse requires of survivors. "You're the kind of guy who saves babies," he tells Ty. "That's kinda like saving an anchor when you're stuck without a boat in the middle of the ocean."
Carol, who covers herself with dirt and zombie blood so she can make it to Terminus undetected by the walker herd also heading thataway, gets to the compound and quickly spots a bound-and-gagged Rick being dragged on the ground. She also sees a giant propane tank, which she opens up with gunfire, and then shoots a giant firework rocket right into. Result: a flying flambé of walkers, and the explosion that serves as the distraction that allows Rick and company to escape.
As for the action back at the cabin, Guy Probably Named Martin gets close enough to Judith to threaten to break her neck and orders Tyreese to go outside, right into a throng of walkers surrounding the cabin. But he has underestimated Tyreese's love of Judith and commitment to protecting her. Ty goes wild on the walkers — one is stuck on a stake — and bursts back into the cabin to make sure Judith is permanently safe from Guy Probably Named Martin. Now Guy Who Probably Was Named Martin.
Reunited, and It Feels So Good
Man, we earned the reunions between Daryl and Carol, and Tyreese and Sasha, and Rick and Carl and Judith. When Daryl turns around and sees Carol standing there in the woods outside Terminus and he runs towards her, grabs her into a hug, and won't let her go? Sorry, Carol/Daryl shippers: It doesn't feel like a romantic reunion. It feels like Daryl is a puppy who hasn't seen his BFF in a really long time.
They're the Butchers
In impactful flashbacks that bookend the episode, we learn the history of Terminus. It was, once upon a time in the post-apocalyptic world, a sanctuary. "We were trying to do something good. We were being human beings," Flashback Gareth tells his friend as they're locked up in a train car, so frightened they're shaking, while women around them cry. The women are dragged in and out of the car by a man whose motives are confirmed by Mary, who manned the grill at Terminus when Rick and his friends arrived in the Season 4 finale.
Mary explains to Carol in the present that they, and Terminus, became what they became when a group of very bad men arrived and took over. They locked them up, raped and murdered Terminites for weeks, and laughed about it. "But we got out, and we fought, and we got it back!" Mary says. "And we got the message. 'You're the butcher, or you're the cattle.'"
As Rick, Daryl, Carol, Glenn, Tyreese, Michonne, Maggie, Carl, Judith, Bob, Sasha, Abraham, Eugene, Rosita, and Tara walk away from Terminus on the railroad tracks, they pass one of those Terminus signs that promised sanctuary. Rick picks up a handful of mud and wipes it across the sign, until "Sanctuary" is the only word still readable. He writes "NO" above it with mud, and walks ahead with his friends.
This Episode's MVP
Carol. No character on the show has evolved the way she has from Season 1 through Season 5. From her losses and the very tough but necessary decisions she's been forced to make to the ridiculously badass actions she's carried out, Carol Peletier has become one of the smartest, most fierce action heroines on TV. Even Rick, who not so long ago cast her out of the family, warmly embraced her and thanked her when he realized she's the one who had saved his bacon at Terminus. Or rather, saved him and the others from becoming bacon at Terminus.
Yes, yes, it was Morgan — the shell-shocked survivor we last saw in Season 3's "Clear" who lost his wife and son — in a surprise appearance at the end of the episode (after the preview of next week’s ep, in case you missed it). Not only is he alive, but he appears to be headed towards a reunion with Rick.
* While in the train car together after Rick, Daryl, Glenn, and Bob were taken, the other members of Rick's crew start asking Eugene about the zombie cure he claims to have. He's coy at first, but then tells a persistent Sasha: "I was part of a ten-person team at the Human Genome Project that weaponized diseases to fight weaponized diseases … pathogenic microorganisms with pathogenic microorganisms. Fire with fire. ... I believe with a little tweaking on the terminals in D.C., we can flip the script, take out every last dead one of 'em. Fire with fire. All things being equal, it does sound pretty badass." Actually, it sounds like a bunch of gobbledygook meant to throw people off a suspicion that Eugene is a scammer, but Josh McDermitt's delivery of the epic misdirect was indeed badass.
* Doesn't Gareth (Andrew J. West) look and sound like Glenn Howerton, aka Dennis Reynolds from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia? Speaking of Gareth, Rick shot him as the gang was hopping over the fence and out of Terminus, but it isn’t a spoiler to say Gareth didn't die, because he's in the Season 5 trailer in scenes that did not take place in the premiere.
* Uggs? Ugh. Except on baby Judith. Adorbs.
* "Public face"... that's Gareth's phrase for the phase of Terminus life where they pretend they're not psycho cannibals.
* More of the episode's most quotable moments: Guy Probably Named Martin on why he has no friends: "I know people. Just a--holes I stay alive with."
* Glenn to Rick, on why they have to take time to free other Terminite victims locked away in train cars: "That's still who we are. It's gotta be."
* Bob, trying to talk Gareth into halting his barbaric practices by explaining Eugene is privy to a way to cure the zombie outbreak: "We can put the world back to how it was."
* We didn't see Beth yet, but she was mentioned briefly, as Daryl was telling his friends in train car A about her kidnapping.
Now share your feelings with the group, Dead-heads: Rick's plan is to simply hit the road and get as far away from Terminus as possible; Abraham wants to get Eugene to Washington ASAP... who's going to get his way? Do you think Eugene really believes he has a zombie cure? When do you think the gang meets up with Gareth again? When they do, can he be trusted, or should they kill him the first chance they get? Has Tyreese really accepted what he has to be able to do to survive, or was he only able to kill Guy Probably Named Martin because he was protecting Judith? Given this cautionary tale of how the Terminites became so twisted, will Rick and the others take extra care to make sure they keep their humanity in check? How long do you think we'll have to wait to see Beth? And who do you think will be the first major cast member to die in Season 5?
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.