After an achingly long hiatus (normal length for cable, really, but goodness, it felt like forever) our favorite fictional Motorcycle Club is back and dealing with the consequences of last season. The season five premiere of Sons of Anarchy, “Sovereign,” felt like the perfect follow-up to last year’s finale. Where last year seemed like an constant uphill battle of tension, this episode felt like we were tumbling in a free fall as a result of the  fallout from last year’s struggles.

Our thoughts on the gritty premiere (with spoilers) inside. 

This episode was full of moments where I said to myself, “Oh that’s not actually going to happen. This is just a tease.” And then guess what?  That “it” I thought wouldn’t happen – it happened. Pretty much every time. And sometimes worse than I expected. For every thirty minutes on screen, a character – like a real character with a name and everything – died. No, not any regulars. It’s just the premiere. Let’s hold off on that. Even Kurt Sutter isn’t going to do that to us. But characters died. Secrets were revealed (wrapped in other secrets, naturally). Tension reached new heights.

Only a couple weeks have passed in Charming since last season’s finale, but the consequences of Jax (Charlie Hunnam) sitting at the head of the table, Opie (Ryan Hurst) shooting Clay (Ron Perlman), Tig (Kim Coates) killing Damon Pope’s daughter and the Galindo Cartel revealing their CIA affiliation is still fresh for all the members of SAMCRO (at least the ones that know about each of those things…Secrets everywhere!). These massive reveals that season 4 built up to were not left by the wayside.

I think the most impressive thing to me was how on all of the actors were. As Jax navigates the waters of leading a broken crew as well as keep the two very demanding women in his life happy, Hunnam plays it with a politician’s smile. He never waivers on the outside. Not when Opie wants a break from the crew. Not when Clay reveals that he killed Piney and Opie was the one that shot him. Not when Tara (Maggie Siff) and Gemma (Katey Segal) reach new levels of tension as they play the shared three boys in their lives against each other repeatedly. Not when the crew looks to him, their new leader, for guidance in the face of new enemies. Hunnam manages to maintain a kind of ease on the outside. Yet every time the camera pulls in for a closeup, the twinge of anger, fear and frustration sits in his eyes. It’s a new level of acting for him – and he’s been brilliant every season, so that’s no small feat.

But there is more than just Jax’s issues. Gemma is spiraling out of control. So far, in fact, that she is waking up in strange places not remembering all the people she had sex with the night before. That’s right. Multiple people. But her drunken encounters have led to a new connection for her son in Nero (Jimmy Smits), though something tells me that won’t work out in the end. And the other woman in Jax’s life, Tara, is now full-fledged old lady. She’s angry, smokes, keeps a gun by her side and sees no other outlet with her hand destroyed. Siff is bringing new depths to that character that I never expected.

Tig is dealing with another betrayal from Clay, in his allowing Tig to believe that LaRoy shot him. Granted, Tig’s response shouldn’t have been running LaRoy and his girlfriend down in a public place, but it’s done. And that one move, a move that could have been avoided if Clay had been honest with the one guy who was always there for him, caused Tig to lose his daughter right in front of him. Damon Pope (Harold Perrineau) is a frightening new villain for the crew. But, and I hate to say this, I kind of got why he did it. I mean, Tig killed the guys daughter. Plus, karmically, didn’t it all even out after Pope bought all those kids ice cream? That was pretty sweet. (I kid. The guy is still super evil – but I really want some ice cream…)

Back to Tig for a minute though – how amazing is Kim Coates? Those scenes with Dawn’s death and the aftermath… he was heart-wrenching. I don’t think I will ever be able to unhear his cries of horror as Pope’s guy lit Dawn on fire. My stomach was in knots and even now, just thinking about it, I’m starting to get choked up. Sutter is not going to take it easy on us this season, obviously, and this death and the inevitable hellstorm it will rain on Charming is proof. I can’t wait to see what more Coates will bring to the character of Tig. He’s always one of my favorites in SAMCRO. How far will he fall in response to this loss?

But this episode wasn’t just the free fall – there were hints of new builds. More drama with the cartel (who else is glad that Danny Trejo and Benito Martinez are still around helping Jax solve problems, while starting some more?). Bobby is back as VP and maybe more, if Jax decides to tell him about the Cartel. And let’s not forget those new members of SAMCRO who we saw beating up Unser (Dayton Callie) at the end of the episode. We just met them, but I’m ready for someone to beat them up. No one is allowed to hit Unser. Except maybe Gemma.

Honestly, the episode was a lot to take in. It was an endless stream of me yelling at the screen “WHAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW?” and it shows that Sutter is not playing around. He is not backing off the endless confrontation this show brings not only to the characters, but to the audience.

What was your favorite part? Are you scared for 3 members of SAMCRO being wanted by the cops? What about Juice (the perfect Theo Rossi) still being under Roosevelt’s thumb – where will that lead?

Follow me on Twitter @serrae and check back every week for my SOA reviews!