There’s a man in a cabin in the woods. He wears a Detroit Tigers baseball cap. He chews bubble gum. He talks too much. He has a name: Martin. Martin used to have friends. But that was a long time ago.
“I used to watch football on Sundays, I went to church… I know I did it, but I can’t picture it anymore,” he says. “It’s funny how you don’t even notice the time go by. Horrible s–t just stacks up, day after day. You get used to it.”
Not everybody who lives in the world of The Walking Dead gets “used to it.” Certainly not Tyreese, the larger-than-life bear of a man serving as Martin’s jail keeper. Tyreese can barely bring himself to kill a lone walker, let alone another person. He’s “the kind of guy who saves babies,” as seen by his traveling companion and friend, an infant named Judith. For Tyreese, killing is a last resort; it’s not even in the conversation of first options.
In Martin’s world, two options exist: Kill, or be killed. It’s simple. So simple, in fact, that Martin can hardly believe that Tyreese hasn’t killed him yet. From Martin’s perspective, his continued survival is nothing but a thorn in Tyreese’s side; if he’s allowed to live, he’ll return to the cannibal sanctuary called Terminus, gather up his friends cohorts, and track Tyreese down. What’s the sense in that? Why should he be allowed to live? Where’s the benefit?
Tyreese and Martin’s philosophical divide isn’t the flashiest or most explosive aspect of The Walking Dead‘s excellent season five premiere episode, “No Sanctuary.” It’s not as obviously sickening as the trough scene, in which the denizens of Terminus use baseball bats and knives to bleed out their prisoners, turning them into supper. It’s not as action-packed as Carol’s one-woman assault on Terminus, resulting in the whole “sanctuary” falling apart, and our heroes escaping with their lives intact.
Nonetheless, the cabin scene might prove the most prophetic for the rest of season five. If season four focused on Rick’s eventual acceptance that the days of farming, barbecue picnics, and community activity are over, then season five appears to be about the other side of that transformation. What happens to formerly good people who embrace the coldness of the new zombie-populated world, ditching their ethics and moral codes of yesterday? Do you have to adopt Martin’s numb, gum-chewing philosophy in order to survive? Can baby-savers like Tyreese exist in this world, or are they doomed to die — if not today, then tomorrow?
It’s a question that rings in other corners of the Walking Dead premiere. During the Terminus escape, Glenn demands Rick’s help in saving some other trapped prisoners, rather than just letting them fall in the surrounding chaos. “We have to let those people out,” he says. “That’s still what we are. It’s got to be.”
Put Glenn in the same camp as Tyreese, then — the men who are defiantly against Martin’s worldview, the ones who still believe that light can win against the darkness. Maybe he’s right. Or maybe it’s as Gareth, Martin, and there set of Terminus say: “You’re either the butcher, or the cattle.”
In the end, even Tyreese takes steps toward Martin’s side of the line, punching the gum-chewer’s ratty face over and over. Later, Tyreese tells Carol that he killed Martin, but we never see the body. So which is it, Tyreese? Are you still mooing, or are you ready to wield the cleaver?
With the fall of Terminus, Rick and his companions have avoided their juicy fate as steaks on a plate — for now. But if Tyreese’s heartfelt rejection of Martin’s new world order becomes the group’s prevailing wisdom, is a larger-scale butchering inevitable?