Headed by Glen Mazzara, the third season of The Walking Dead got a lot of praise from the geek community but nearly killed my interest in the series. Put off by the prospect of reiterating week after week the same complaints about cardboard characters, drawn-out storylines, and heavy-handed nihilism, I resolved not to post further reviews, leaving the site with a sixteen-episode gap I promise to fill during the winter break. I’m just grateful I decided to keep watching after Scott M. Gimple was announced as the new show runner.
Gimple has written some of my favourite episodes of The Walking Dead, and “No Sactuary” keeps up the tradition, paying off last year’s cliffhanger with equal measures of high-octane suspense and thoughtful character work. More importantly, it wraps up the Terminus plot in just under forty-five minutes instead of dragging out the conflict for a season and a half like that whole Governor debacle. I love the economy of language here, how the villains’ cannibalism is confirmed, for example, without anyone having to shout, “Oh, my God! They ate so and so! Those bastards!”
This allows “No Sanctuary” to deliver genuine character beats amid all the action, presenting our reunited tribe not just as three-dimensional protagonists but as bona fide heroes worthy of our weekly investment. Consider Glenn’s insistence on freeing every prisoner: “That’s still who we are.” I’m surprised Rick needs the reminder, but then there really are two versions of him in The Walking Dead: the upstanding community leader and the maniac who can slaughter his way out of any situation. Switching off the latter persona has grown increasingly difficult for Deputy Grimes, as exemplified by his friends having to talk him out of eradicating the Terminus tribe.
For all of her cruel pragmatism, Carol seems to have a stronger sense of self, though her arc here intrigues me. Early seasons of The Walking Dead introduced Melissa McBride’s character as a passive wreck, beaten down by first an abusive husband and then her daughter’s death. The woman has since grown into quite the badass, but her final words to Mrs Cannibal hint that she may, in fact, prefer the broken wallflower persona (or at least thinks of it as her true identity): “You’re not here. Neither am I.” Either way, I adore the loving manner in which Daryl greets her at the end of “No Sanctuary”. It was a long time coming, of course, but who would’ve guessed the hillbilly tracker had such big, fluffy hugs in him?
On the subject of unlikely conjecture, The Walking Dead has been teasing Eugene’s cure for half a year now, and I still think the man’s serving up a truck-load of baloney. Sure, his plan to alter secret biological weapons to strike the dead sounds all sciency and stuff, but it’s also the sort of thing a fan-fiction writer with delusions of grandeur could easily cook up, provided you throw in an awkward make-out session between Rick and Daryl (hashtag DarrickYes). At any rate, I like that our heroes are given a proactive mission for once, even if it is going to blow up in their faces like, say, a dozen signposts indicating to desperate scavengers where they might find your post-apocalyptic shelter.
This leads us to the book-end flashbacks depicting the Terminus tribe’s transformation from naive idealists to blood-thirsty cannibals. I find it amazing that, even in an episode as jam-packed as “No Sanctuary”, Gimple finds the time to turn the tables on us, recasting our monstrous villains as existential victims of the new world order. This makes Rick and his group all the more valuable as the sort of folk who’ll correct a deceitful signpost on the road, thereby saving Morgan’s life in the post-credit sequence. Man, I’m so jazzed to be reviewing The Walking Dead again!