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“First Time Again,” the Season 6 premiere of The Walking Dead, employs a bit of a rote stylistic tic in its separation of the past and present, using black-and-white footage to designate the old and color to represent the new. It’s the only truly irksome part of the otherwise stellar opening of Season 6, but it offers one truly haunting image at the start of the episode, which revisits the moment when Rick (Andrew Lincoln) shot Pete (Corey Brill) and Morgan (Lennie James) entered Alexandria. The camera is at a low angle on Rick, as if looking from Pete’s perspective, and only the gunshot causes the frame to light up. The effect of this is that Rick’s face quickly goes from being clearly outlined to looking like a skull and then goes to complete black, just as we hear Morgan say “Rick?” Whether purposeful or not, this moment foreshadows, or merely reiterates, the grim specter of death that’s been hanging over Rick since he entered Alexandria, growing increasingly into a man who is familiar, comfortable, and skilled in the ways of death.
What’s become more and more evident in The Walking Dead since the beginning of Season 3 is Rick’s obsession with control and his distrust of those who do not exercise a similar sense of ruling force in themselves. This came to a boiling point in “Conquer,” the steering Season 5 finale, but following the death of Shane, its been an elemental part of his persona, which is now beginning to calcify his more humanistic ambitions. As “First Time Again” opens, Rick is exerting other aspirations, specifically ensuring the evisceration of an alpha-horde of biters that has gathered in a local quarry, held in only by a few trucks. Most of the episode tracks Rick settling into his new role as Alexandria’s de-facto leader, the formulation of the plan to get rid of the horde, and the final enacting of the intricate plan, most of which goes off with the kind of efficiency only seen in Swiss clocks. The narrative acts as a kind of reflection of Rick’s newfound sense of responsibility and command, and as one might suspect, it’s for the better … up to a point.
Rick’s ambitions have escalated from survival to domination in the time between the beginning of Season 5 and “First Time Again,” which is more than a little akin to the philosophies of Rick’s erstwhile nemesis, the Governor. As a result, the exquisite tension of the show now comes from the balance between Rick wanting to be a good man and his brutal need to maintain the safety of his people, which is now all of Alexandria. There’s a stirring scene that shows him attempting to teach a pair of Alexandria’s denizens, one of which is played by Ethan Embry, to kill walkers by not helping them when a few crawl out of the woods. Even as the biter seems only seconds from devouring Embry’s character, Rick stays away, only coming to his rescue after Morgan steps in. This reflects Rick’s exhaustion from being a democratic leader, both as an absolute protector and a man who must be questioned and doubted.
Morgan is now essentially playing the role of Rick’s conscience, and it’s working, but there are clearly dangers in putting such a burden on another person, one that can be ignored or even killed. It’s a distinct issue when Morgan questions his treatment of Peter’s body, which Rick thinks should be left out to be consumed by a wandering walker or picked apart by nature. It puts Alexandria’s new leader at a particularly unstable position with Pete’s son, Ron (Austin Ambers), who still can’t see Pete for the coward and monster he ultimately became. And Rick may still become an even greater monster, if not for the intervention of those he has survived with for so long. The cohesiveness he brings to Alexandria is a positive force for all, including Glenn (Steven Yeun), who becomes quick allies with Corey Hawkins‘s Heath and even begins to forgive and trust Nicholas (Michael Traynor). Nevertheless, the weight of the crown is clearly making Rick harder and less forgiving, and before the end of Season 6’s opening salvo, his disposition has brought on the kind of death that doesn’t shake so easily.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good — Damn fine television
The Walking Dead Season 6 premieres on AMC at 10 p.m. on October 11th. Check back on Collider for our upcoming “Where Things Left Off” video recap for Season 5, as well as Dave Trumbore’s weekly recaps.