NOTE: What follows involves serious spoilers if you have not already seen Episode 501 of The Walking Dead, "No Sanctuary." If you have, no worries about 502. I'm behind on everything. However, also spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which if you haven't seen...then there's no hope for you and you should probably just read on.
Season Four--which the more I think about it, the more I enjoy it--left me rather worried. Not worried about the fates of the characters--I've been reading the comic since Day One, so I know "Don't Get Fucking Attached" is the rule of the day. (Granted, that's what Doc said to warn me about getting involved in A Song of Ice and Fire, but it applies.) No, I was worried about what was going to happen, since a descent into cannibal-fueled torture porn wasn't going to be my favorite thing in the world. Anyone who's been reading this site for a while knows that I find the torture porn subgenre to be reprehensible and downright lazy, invented by cinematographers who wanted to avoid chasing victims through the woods and thought a victim bound to a chair would simply be easier to light and shoot. And having practically everybody locked in a boxcar surrounded by a freaking army of heavily armed pretty-much-guaranteed-they're cannibals didn't seem to leave much room for anything else.
I was also disappointed because the comic book storyline that this seemed to spring from, "Hunters," was a really intense one and well executed in the comic. I was also...confused. Because while we spent all of Season Four establishing that there wasn't a lot of food to go around, the idea of settling down and letting your food come to you might be brilliant for a small group...but for the army that seemed to be holed up at Terminus...how in the hell would you get enough long pig to sustain that many people? And wouldn't you be better served as using the people as forced labor to help get some crops going? Stuff didn't make sense. So much that I was postulating that maybe the Creepy Big Reveal was that they had also figured out a way to nosh on the zombies themselves--a not unheard of idea since I believe it was put forward by Eyepatch Guy on the television in Dawn of the Dead. (And I don't think we saw any zombies near Terminus...which, if you're harvesting them, makes sense.)
So when the trailer for Season Five came out, I was greatly confused. Because of the other thing people have started doing, (and let's call it for lack of a better term, although an actual term may exist) Editing Trailers Just to Fuck With You. At least one later appearance of Gareth is cut in with a scene from 501, and a line that he hasn't spoken yet was placed over footage of Rick from 501. (Or it was cut from the scene, who knows?) They also cut the trailer specifically to make it look like Terminus and Our Gang were going to team up to make their way to Washington: the ultimate Fun Run for the Cure. Which is how pretty much everybody interpreted the trailer...except stuff still didn't make any sense. If so, why is Terminus letting a massive buffet (Our Gang has, what, thirty-five people in it at this stage or something?) wander off? And if Gareth is with them (which is how the trailer was cut to look), why wouldn't they just shoot him and be done with it? Surely by this point they can't be that Inherently Good to the Point of Doing Stupid Shit?
The only theories I had left on the eve of 501 were firstly, that Terminus was bad and was willing to send Our Gang and Gareth and crew off to Washington but had kept Judith as collateral. This makes sense primarily because I can't imagine what a pain in the ass it must be to film anything that involves a real-life baby. Or, Theory #2: Terminus actually was not bad and the cannibal cult thing had a Secondary Reveal behind it. But that latter one I couldn't reconcile. And there was a good reason for that.
Because I don't think anybody expected the Secondary Reveal to be "Terminus Goes Down in a Single Episode, Thanks Mostly to the Carolnator."
It is quite true that somebody might have postulated that somewhere, but I don't seek out a lot of sites that post such theories because they tend to also post spoilers. But let's consider how risky a prospect this was from a writing perspective. Terminus was the focal point for the entire second half of Season Four. It was the destination for every damn body. That's a lot of build-up which demands a lot of payoff. Paying all of that off in a single episode? That's just nuts. And I don't mean that in some sort of testicular fortitude pun way, although it does fit. Congratulations, creators of The Walking Dead. Here is your Bill Hicks Memorial Wheelbarrow for Your (Collective) Balls.
If I had to roll my eyes at one thing, it's the idea that Carol could use one bit of fireworks to ignite a leaky propane tank. Speaking as someone who has used fireworks for activities not listed on the tin before...I can tell you that the only reason I still have both my eyes is due to the fact that fireworks are not easily aimable.
But you know what? I don't care. And not just because the Carolnator fired that thing with conviction--(Because, shit, even if you were an inanimate object, would you want to get in Carol's way? Hell no.)--but because I was too busy enjoying myself. The bit with Our Gang in the boxcar MacGyvering up weapons? Awesome. The killing trough scene where they brought back Robin Lord Taylor just to kill him? Mindblowing. Poor guy didn't even get a line! The fact they kept hovering behind Glenn with a baseball bat? (Ahem.) Also, once they started killing people the cinematography was so gorgeous it, to borrow from Simon Amstell, "distracted from the narrative." And the fact that they delivered on the promise of Rick's closing line. No...they had no clue who they were screwing with. That was a crapton to achieve in a single episode and they nailed it.
Not only that, but they made it make sense, even if you do stop with the entertainment and consider it. The fact that the Terminusians didn't start off as lunatics, but were brutalized into being that way. They probably added willing participants as time went on because they felt they needed reinforcements against future rapey/bludgeony assholes, so the whole thing was an ad hoc sort of setup. So of course things like a strategic long-term plan weren't really in the cards.
The whole thing was a delightful surprise filled with splode and righteous asskicking. And Lennie James. I love this show, don't get me wrong, but Lennie James rocks Morgan so hard, his showing up in the coda of 501 had me in mind of, "Yes, this show is now worthy of me to come in and rock it yet again. So. You all had better sit down."
More TV shows should incorporate Lennie James. I think that's the main thing I'm saying here.
In closing, I have not seen 502, but here are two new theories.
Michonne not have her katana? Blasphemy! Since we know Gareth shows up later (again, footage from the trailer), I think he has it. And perhaps Gareth isn't the only survivor and we still get to have the "Hunters" storyline mostly intact. That would be nice.
Well, I hear the sound of a wheelbarrow on the move, so let me go find 502...