Tonight’s season six premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead was supersized in more than just its 90-minute runtime; it featured the biggest number of Walker extras ever used at one time in the show’s production history. The opening scene revealed just why so many flesh-and-blood Walkers were needed. But before we get into the details of tonight’s opener, let me just make sure you’re caught up on Season 5; you can use our handy-dandy video recap to do just that. And by the end of this recap, if you’d like a different opinion, be sure to check out Chris Cabin’s review. Now, on with the show!
While the two most striking things about “First Time Again” may have been the sheer scale of the Walker herd and the use of black-and-white versus color to help ease the transition between timelines, we must not overlook that very first scene in which we briefly journey back to the moment that Rick Grimes executed “Porch-Dick” Pete on Deanna’s orders. Not only does this revisitation serve to punctuate the severity behind the decision Rick and Deanna made, but as Rick’s cut and blood-soaked face recedes into a gray-scaled visage of a skull, it reminds us that Death (with a capital D) lurks everywhere. The question that remains is just how far Rick is willing to go as a death-dealer in order to protect the people he cares about. Season six should go a long way toward answering that.
Now, let’s get to that other opening scene that showed the massive herd of Walkers all gathered in a quarry on the outskirts of town. We haven’t seen anything on this sort of scale before so it’s a great way to open up a new season; it’s also a great moment to view on the big screens of Madison Square Garden, another thing this season’s premiere achieved. When presented with a Walker problem of this size, one might wonder just how Rick & Company will handle the very serious threat of this group escaping their purgatory and wiping out Alexandria, despite its walls. Well that’s exactly what this episode aimed to answer, though whether their plan was a good one or not is up to you to decide. (Me, personally, I would have rounded up some demolition dynamite and blown the herd sky-high, or doused the lot of them in some sort of flammable liquid – not precious gas though – and let em burn; then, you could always use construction equipment to bury the rest.)
The other divisive issue in this episode that fans are going to be chatting about Monday morning is the use of black and white versus color. Call it pretentious, call it French New Wave Walker, I didn’t mind it for the very simple and practical reason that it made the episode’s internal continuity very easy to keep track of. If you want to reach a little further along the lines of artistic expression, you can also make a case for the black-and-white scenes being a nod to George Romero’s original 1968 film Night of the Living Dead, or even the pages of Robert Kirkman’s comic. (Or maybe it was easier/cheaper to render all those Walkers in the quarry in monochrome.) If you were able to get past these elements, chances are you enjoyed the episode, so let’s break it down.
We’re going to tackle the black-and-white scenes, ie flashbacks, first. The Alexandrians are still reeling from the loss of Reg Monroe and the execution of Pete. Though Reg deserves a proper burial and farewell, Deanna and Rick won’t bury a killer within their walls, so it falls to Rick and Morgan to dispose of him elsewhere. This decision doesn’t particularly sit well with Pete’s son Ron, who follows the duo in order to note the location of his dad’s grave, but neither does it agree with Morgan. The wandering Morgan, who is more than capable of handling himself but has a new found appreciation for how precious all life is, acts as a guiding moral hand to Rick’s eager and bloodthirsty one. So while Rick suggests they just leave Pete’s body to the elements, Morgan forces the issue and starts digging a grave. This is about the moment that Rick hears the thousands of Walkers milling around in the quarry.
Honestly, this is one of my favorite settings in the series. It seems that most of the Walkers in the area leading to Alexandria have fallen into this massive pit; the noise of those thrashing and shambling around in it have drawn more and more Walkers over time. This is the show’s writers explanation for how Alexandria managed to stay relatively untouched by Walker herds since only a handful were able to squeeze out of the quarry at any given time. As you might have guessed, this makeshift prison system is about to fail and the Walkers will be free to sweep over Alexandria like a rotten tidal wave. Obviously, it’s up to veteran survivalist Rick Grimes to come up with a plan.
It’s in the devising and delegation of this plan that we meet some new faces and learn of some new tensions springing up among the Alexandrians and Rick’s group. Heath (Corey Hawkins) is a newcomer to the show but a respected member of Alexandria who’s been on an assignment outside of the city walls for a few weeks. Heath bonds quickly with Eugene over their long hair (in Eugene’s mind, anyway), and also comes to respect Rick and his people, especially Glenn. Carter (Ethan Embry), on the other hand, plays what some might call the voice of reason, and what others might call a whiny bitch. He wants more of a defensive plan while Rick obviously wants to go on the offense. Since Rick has Deanna’s support, the town goes with Rick’s plan.
Essentially the plan is this: Much like Tommy Lee Jones redirected the dangerous and powerful flow of lava in the 1997 film Volcano using precisely demolished skyscrapers and well-placed construction barriers, Rick plans to lure the quarry full of Walkers down a series of roads lined with cars on either side and with reinforced barriers at turning points. What could possibly go wrong?
That’s where Carter comes in, since he not only questions every step of Rick’s plan, he eventually offers to help shore up the weak points. As the flashback scenes show, Rick takes drastic measures to convince the Alexandrians that they’re not ready to combat the threat outside their walls; Carter nearly gets killed right off the bat during construction of the path, eventually forcing Rick’s crew to step in and save the day once again. Point made.
Meanwhile, in town, the folks who are planning to risk their lives on the Walker Walk make sure to get their houses in order with those who are staying behind. Glenn convinces Maggie to stay back and keep an eye on Deanna, to try to get her confidence back. Nicholas, who previously tried to get Glenn killed on numerous occasions, does his best to win Glenn’s trust again. Maggie breaks the bad news to Tara about Noah’s death and confides in her about Nicholas’ betrayal; I never knew these two were so close but as of this episode, they might as well be sisters. Daryl disagrees with Rick, saying that they should continue to find more people outside the walls, while Carol still pretends to be Suzy Homemaker to everyone but Rick (even if Morgan is onto her). And while Rick is awkwardly making sure that the recently widowed Jessie can take care of herself, Carter and his pals are up to no good.
Eugene, ever the stealthy one, overhears Carter threatening to kill Rick before he kills the rest of them. Unfortunately for Eugene, he drops a jar of food and quickly finds himself at the barrel of Carter’s drawn gun. Unfortunately for Carter, Rick and the others soon intercede; let’s just say that Carter learns in short order that he’s not cut out for this kind of violence. Luckily, Rick’s bloodlust is quenched for the moment and he stays his hand, allowing everyone to prep for the Walking of the Walkers.
While the black-and-white sequences have been revealing the planning stages for the episode’s big stunt as well as the character dynamics between the survivors, the color scenes were all about “The Plan.” I will give a tip of the hat to the editing and writing teams for this week’s episode because there was a nice relationship between moments of foreshadowing and scenes of exposition. It’s not the easiest way to deliver a plot line, but it was certainly an entertaining one.
Though this is the team’s first coordinated effort to redirect a herd of this size, you’ve got to ask yourself if it’s the smartest possible plan. Essentially, Daryl will lead the Walkers down the predetermined path thanks to the throaty roar of his unmufflered motorcycle, accompanied by the odd pairing of Sasha and Abraham in a station wagon. The equally untried team of Glenn, Heath, and Nicholas are then tasked with eliminating a noisy bunch of Walkers penned up in a nearby business (since they’ll distract the rest of the herd), while Rick, Michonne, and Morgan keep the Walkers moving forward via flares and gunfire. When the occasional Walker wanders off the path and starts drawing stragglers with it, clean-up crews on either side step in to eliminate the wanderers and ensure the plan continues along smoothly.
Then Carter had to go and screw the whole thing up by getting his face eaten. For whatever reason, Carter seemed to believe that he was on par with Rick in survivability so he goes off on his own to keep Walkers in line … and promptly gets his cheek bitten into. Since his blood-curdling screams are attracting more and more Walkers, and Rick’s attempts to silence him aren’t working, Rick is forced to end Carter’s suffering with a knife to the base of his skull. Or was he? Do we think Rick let Carter go off on his own on purpose? Earlier in the episode, Rick confessed to Morgan that he wanted to kill Carter back in town because people like him weren’t made for this new world, and eventually he’d do something stupid that put himself and the others in danger. So was this moment just proving Rick’s predictions correct, or did Rick engineer this self-fulfilling prophecy? It’s something to keep in mind as the season goes on.
Up until the last few minutes of this episode, it looked like this cartoonish plan might actually work … and then some loud airhorn starts to sound from the direction of Alexandria. The best laid plans of Rick and Glenn soon go awry as the Walkers are all pulled off their well-designed path and head straight toward Alexandria. All that effort has seemingly gone to waste as now the team has to race back to get ahead of the herd and set up some sort of defense, but as the next episode’s preview reveals, the town is already under attack. Is it the Walker herd … or some other threat?
The execution in this episode was exemplary, even if the writing came across as a bit of a head-scratcher from time to time. Embry’s character was a great addition if only to provide a counterpoint to Rick Grimes, however temporarily, and remind us that second guesses and a weak constitution have no place in this new, savage world. Then again, through no fault of his own, Rick’s plan failed spectacularly where Carter’s may very well have bought them some more time. That’s not the point though. The point is that Rick is a man of action, so even when his actions are questionable or downright wrong in hindsight, at least they were actions taken, not merely talked about. Season six certainly seems like it’s setting up to be the ultimate test for Rick Grimes; while this is a great start, the challenges are only going to get more harrowing as the season goes on.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good
Abraham: “Damn straight! We’ll do it live!”
Great effect: Walker sliding between two trucks as his skin sloughs off.
Tara (to Eugene): “Thank God! Nothing happened to your hair.”
Rick: “I ask, you answer; it’s common courtesy.”
Morgan: “Sometimes you’re safer when there’s no way out.”
Heath: “Anything big happen while we were gone?”
Eugene: “It’s good to see someone like me. I fully respect the hair game.”
Morgan: “Michonne, back when you were in that place, where I lived … did you take one of my protein bars?” Michonne: “No.” Morgan: “See I coulda sworn there was one more peanut butter left.” Michonne: “That’s how it is, isn’t it? You always think there’s one more peanut butter left.”
That massive line of Walkers shambling along the streets and mindlessly smashing into walls is exactly what San Diego Comic-Con feels like.
Maggie: “Glenn saves people, people like that.”
Morgan: “You a cop, too?” Carol: “What makes you say that?” Morgan: “You’re always watching, you always seem ready.” Carol: “For what?” Morgan: “To handle things.” Carol: “Well, ain’t you sweet.”
Rick’s takedown of Carter and his resulting speech was pulled nearly line by line from the comics; very well done.
Abraham: “I still think I got someone’s brains in my ear.”
What is going on with Abraham? Do we think he has a death wish at this point?
“What was that screaming?” Rick: “It was Carter. He got bit, right in the face. I stopped him.”
RIP Carter. We hardly knew you.
Rick: “I know this sounds insane. This is an insane world. We have to come for them before they come for us, it’s that simple.”