Airdate: October 11, 2015
Directed by: Greg Nicotero
Showrunner: Scott M. Gimple
Written by: Scott M. Gimple, Matthew Negrete (episode); Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore (graphic novels); Frank Darabont (creator)
The title of tonight’s season premiere episode refers to the renewal of the relationship between Rick and Morgan, something fans of the show (and the comic book) have been anticipating for a couple of years now. The actual focus of the episode, however, was on the fallout of the series of events from last season’s finale, not the least of which was the clear shift in power from Deanna to Rick, and the group’s discovery of an enormous horde of walkers disquietingly close to the town walls – a horde that Rick is determined to deal with. Click through after the break to get my breakdown of the main events, and suggestions about where we might be headed this season.
<<Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss at length plot points of The Walking Dead S06E01, “First Time Again” – read more at your own risk.>>
This was one of the biggest episodes so far, in two ways. First, length: it comes in at just over an hour and a half with commercials, meaning an actual air-time of over one hour; second, the sheer number of zombies. Nicotero mentioned on Talking Dead after the show that their previous high number had been 300 walkers – here, there are closer to a thousand. In fact, Nicotero and his people created a zombie production line, Gimple referring to Nicotero as the “Henry Ford of zombie films.”
There is, however, a problem that arises due to this reliance on size as a “wow” factor: the episode itself never really finds its feet. I enjoyed it, finding it more than merely serviceable, but it never comes close to achieving the tension or narrative heights of last year’s season opener. There was so much going on there that it would have been a nigh-impossible task to replicate the same feeling here, so perhaps going with a slower burn was a conscious decision to scale things back a bit. After all, even with the rip-roarer to start last season, they still had to step back and slow down the pace by episode 504, leading to some criticisms at that time as well. This slower pace to begin gives Gimple and co. the opportunity to ramp things up toward a mid-season finale, much as they did successfully in Season 5.
Tonight’s episode – also directed by SFX guru Nicotero, who directed the finale last season – uses a series of interwoven flashback cutscenes to emphasize beats in the main timeline, showing us various reactions in and around Alexandria to Pete`s death, as well as Morgan`s gradual integration into the group. We also meet a few more Alexandrians, returning from a long run to find things…changed, shall we say? Of these, Heath is clearly the most important from a narrative standpoint. He’s a character that fans of the comic will immediately recognized, and although he’s bound to be played out differently than the print version, he’s a welcome addition to the fold.
Morgan’s interactions with Rick play well, with a continuation of Morgan’s “Love and Mercy” themes from last season’s finale. Rick has changed, although Morgan continues to insist that he’s still the same man he met way back in the series premiere; by the end of the episode, events unfold that force Morgan to recognize that his friend is no longer the same.
In one of the flashbacks, Rick addresses this directly. Carter [Ethan Embry] is a local Alexandrian who questions Rick’s methods, and tries to talk a group of them (including Tobin) into killing Rick. Eugene overhears, and Carter pulls his gun on him. Enter Rick, who quickly disarms Carter and holds him momentarily at gunpoint. Rick steps back, hands off the gun, and they walk away, Rick eliciting a promise to work together from his would-be assassin.
Morgan uses this experience as an example to prove that Rick is the same man he met a couple of years before, claiming that he knew Rick wouldn’t kill Carter. However, Rick disabuses him of this, telling Morgan that he did want to kill Carter, but that there was no point – people like Carter, he says, always end up dying in the end. This proves prophetic, as the scene shifts back into the current timeline, only to see Carter get chewed on by a walker trapped by a tree (it’s guts are wrapped around the bole). Tellingly, it’s his face that gets bitten. The face is symbolic of direct representations, meaning that what Carter represents, the cringing behind walls hoping for the best method of survival, is doomed to fail. And it is Rick, forced to silence Carter’s screams lest their walker-herding go awry, that ends Carter’s life after all, in front of both Morgan and Michonne. Morgan is obviously unhappy, but tells Michonne, “I know it’s the way it is.” She agrees. Morgan is a free spirit, a lover of life, but perhaps there is a place for him in Rick’s pragmatic world.
Events in the flashbacks show several arcs taking place. While the main one is Rick and Morgan’s renewed friendship, we also see: Glen and Nicholas dealing with their new, uncomfortable arrangements post-attempted murder; Eugene openly happy that Tara has survived the knock on her head; Rick telling Gabriel not to bury Pete, and Deanna agreeing, all while Pete’s son Ron looks on; and Rick heading out with Morgan to dispose of Pete’s body, only to run into Ron out in the boondocks, and finding a quarry full of trapped walkers.
This last event leads to the current time stream, where the group is attempting to herd this horde away from Alexandria. Flashbacks show the preparations, while Carter tries to foment rebellion, and Rick basically leads the troops. The group is forced to abandon a dry run, and in Abraham’s words, “do it live,” when one of the trucks trapping the thousands of walkers in the pit slips and falls, opening an exit. Using groups with flares, reinforced walls at intersections, and two vehicles leading the walker parade (Daryl on his bike, and Sasha driving with Abraham), everything seems to be going quite smoothly. There are bumps – Carter’s death is one of these, and Abraham, expressing an apparent deathwish, leaps out of the moving car to deal with some stragglers in another – but they manage to get the walkers out of the quarry, and onto a road heading east. All they need to do is lead them on up about another 20 miles or so, and they won’t have to worry about the walkers, when suddenly a loud horn begins to blare – a horn leading the walkers directly to Alexandria.
Of course, this is where the episode ends. Who is blaring the horn? The obvious answer is that it’s the Wolves, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them trying to break through Alexandria this way; after all, this is exactly how they managed to break into the compound where Noah’s family was holed up last season. Another possibility involves a character/enemy group from the comics, the name of which I won’t get into here. Let’s just say that if it is this other group, our group could be in for some tough – and tragic – times. Then again, the Wolves might actually be this group I’m alluding to, much like last season’s Termites turned out to also be The Hunters.
Regardless of who is sounding the horn, the group has definitely lost control of the horde, and must hurry back to Alexandria to try to defend it. Next week’s episode will likely be a much faster-paced affair, which will be a nice change after this week’s largely introspective opener. Heath is a welcome addition to the group, working well with Glen and Nicholas, and Morgan has reestablished his friendship with Rick, likely setting himself up to be the new voice of humanity/compassion, much as Dale and Hershel were before him. Not an amazing episode, but one that featured important character development, and gave us a chance to reacquaint ourselves with our favorite band of walker hunters.
Steve’s Grade: B
Not nearly so tense or high-stakes as last season’s opener, Season 6 still opens with a suggestion of impending conflict, as we’re all left wondering who hasn’t turned off the car alarm. Morgan and Heath will be welcome additions to the cast, and the casting shows its strength again by placing excellent actors even in small, basically one-episode creations like Ethan Embry’s Carter.