WARNING: If you haven’t seen episode one yet, this review contains spoilers.
Common consensus isn’t always the best judge of things, but when common consensus decided that season four of The Walking Dead was its finest yet, it was all but impossible to disagree. If the twin terror of the prison’s virus outbreak and the return of The Governor inspired nails to be bitten off almost entirely, then the subsequent scattering of Rick, Michonne, Daryl et al to the wind combined with the mystery of Terminus left many viewers with little more than stumps for fingers.
The cliffhanger that last season’s finale presented us with was an exercise in torture of the cruelest kind. No sooner had Rick’s diminished posse arrived at Terminus – and it became clear that it may well be their very final destination – than the season was brought to a shattering end. Summers the world over were instantly ruined, as we all wiled away sun-filled days wondering if a fresh collection of bones could soon be added to the huge pile seen on Terminus’s outskirts.
As if to atone for such wickedness, The Walking Dead team conspired to give us what may be its best episode ever (and yes, we did rave most fervently about Season Four’s opener too, but for sheer visceral reaction, this trumps it). The first five minutes alone gave us by far the show’s most horrifying scene (think Hostel meets Texas Chainsaw Massacre), without a single zombie in sight – quite a feat for a series that had only just put its audience through the wringer of infanticide. Near relentless brutality followed, with the resultant adrenalin rush only staunched by an emotional reunion that would have induced tears, were it not for the comical ‘who are all these weirdos?’ look on baby Judith’s face.
That the new season was promoted in the UK with a pop-up ‘human flesh’ burger restaurant might have been a dead giveaway, but discovering that our heroes were to be served as prime fillet, not for the walkers, but for their fellow humans was no less horrifying. Especially when we witnessed the crude baseball bat/butcher’s knife/steel basin set-up that comprised Terminus’s abattoir, with the camera refusing to stray from the moment of gruesome blood-letting.
Of course, not everyone was being eyed as a delicacy at an all-you-can-eat cannibal buffet: Carol, Tyreese and baby Judith were still en-route to Terminus. Which is fortunate, as after intercepting one of the Terminus scouts it meant the episode could essentially become ‘The Triumph of Carol’, as she went all out Jane Rambo and initiated a one-woman, Expendables-style rescue mission. Granted, Rick 2.0 played his part in saving the group from becoming barbecue food, but without Carol’s explosive intervention everyone would have ended up as nicely basted morsels slowly digesting in the stomachs of their captors.
Her re-admission to the group, coupled with Rick and Carl being reunited with the decidedly nonplussed Judith, rounded off what was a perfectly self-contained opener. But by bookending the episode with the backstory of Terminus leader Gareth (who was still very much alive, give or take a bullet or two, come the end), it appears the greatest threat this season will come from a world in which the normal conventions of humanity are as dead as the zombies that inhabit it.
The Walking Dead Season Five airs every Monday at 9pm on FOX.
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