Arrrgh! Nooooo! Eeeeee! Oh god! Those are just some of the noises your old friend made while watching the pre-credits sequence of The Walking Dead's latest episode. And can you believe that it's season five already? Blimey.
As you may recall, season four left off with Rick and the gang all locked up in a box. Thankfully, they get out of the box again quite quickly – though being marched into a (literal) slaughterhouse was probably not what Rick had in mind when he boldly stated “they're screwing/f**king* with the wrong people” last year.
This is one of the grimmer moments in the show's history (in itself an impressive achievement), especially a front-on throat slitting that's not for the weak of stomach. It is, however, a fantastic opening. Tense as hell, too, especially for readers of the comic who are teased with... well, never mind. It's a statement of intent for the new season: this is going to be a bleak, bloody ride and no one is safe. Par for the course, then.
It also succeeds in making you empathise with Rick. He's mad as hell and when he says he's going to kill these people, you really want him to. Frankly, it seems like the only sane option.
Of course, The Walking Dead tries to be more subversive than that. Despite his promise to gut one of his captors with the “machete with a red handle”, that moment never comes. (What, were you expecting him to stand over his corpse and make a pithy one-liner? C'mon.) Instead, the episode's prologue and epilogue force you to empathise with the Terminus gang (hereafter known as the Termites). These were good people once, it says. Aren't Rick and Michonne and Daryl basically the same as them?
The burning zombies were a mixture of practical and digital effects – director Greg Nicotero has described it as a 70/30 split.
Well, sort of. This aspect doesn't quite work. The argument espoused by the Termites is this: the world is a brutal place. You either resort to brutality, or you die. It's seemingly backed up by Ty beating a guy to death and Carol letting the Walkers chow down on one of the kidnappers. They survived because they showed their enemies no mercy.
The thing is, there's arguably quite a difference between using violence in self-defence and trapping and slaughtering passers-by. The Termites take glee in their atrocities, glibly chatting to each other while stoving in heads, or trying to score intellectual points while threatening to kill a baby. Sure, they've been through some horrible experiences, but who hasn't in The Walking Dead? The point stands that they really are some hateful arseholes, and few will be sad to see them as Walker-bait.
All that said, this is a good, more than solid start to the season. Light on plot, but with some strong character moments. Make-up guru/director Greg Nicotero sure knows how to shoot a massive zombie attack (ooooh, flaming zombies too, nice). Plus Carol gets to play the tried-and-tested trick of coating herself in Walker guts to avoid detection. Classic.
There's also one of the show's rare, but vital, moments of hope when Rick is reunited with Baby Judith. It's been a long time coming, but it's a moment of small triumph amid the morass of guts and gore.
*Depending on if you bought the DVD or not.
End Of The Line
So after all that trekking through the wilderness, is that Terminus done with? We're guessing not entirely and that we’ll see more of the surviving cannibals. The next stop must surely be to find out what the hell has happened to Beth, who’s still AWOL. At least Daryl thinks that she’s still alive.
It’s not Michonne or Daryl, but uber-pragmatic Carol who gets most of the action here, taking out zombies, shooting people, letting Walkers chow down on one talkative woman and generally going all out to save the rest of the group. After so long apart, it’s good to have her back with the rest of the team.
The Walking Dead airs on Sunday nights on AMC in the US and Monday nights on Fox in the UK.