*This review contains spoilers.
While watching ”First Time Again,” the first episode of season six of AMC’s The Walking Dead, I couldn’t help but wonder where this series is going. There are the comics to offer some insights, but loyal readers will know that some of what happens in print never happens on the show. Still, in this episode there was such a sense of almost total hopelessness, and there is a problem with that – if the characters have nothing to strive for, no hope for things to get better, then how do they plan to keep the show from falling down an abyss from which it can never return?
The main issue in this show has always been survival at almost any cost – but now going into the sixth season the question is for what purpose? The arrival of Lennie James as Morgan has brought this into greater focus. Perhaps he is there as a moral compass, for surely Rick (Andrew Lincoln) has shaken off the coil of the sheriff’s job he once had, which in essence is like in an old western when the disgusted hero throws his badge into the dirt and walks off into the sunset, but there is no sense that Rick has changed anything for the better. Morgan calls Rick on this point. Morgan admits that they are all killers, but what else are they that has been lost?
In this episode Rick and Morgan discover a quarry where thousands of walkers have been blocked in by tractor trailers (nod to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead noted). Rick hatches a plan to herd the walkers, almost like cattle to the Rio Grande in some sense, to lead them far away from Alexandria as possible.
On a practice run with some of the weak and unprepared Alexandrians along for the ride, Rick and the gang scout the situation and then all hell breaks loose as the walkers begin escaping (just as Rick said they would). One voice of dissent is a guy named Carter (Ethan Embry), who no doubt is inserted in this episode to clarify how unready the Alexandrians are. Rick ignores his pleas about not being ready and goes ahead with the plan.
Basically the plan involves Daryl (Norman Reedus), Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) driving ahead of the walkers to lead the herd way off into the wilderness. It works at first, and Rick seems to be right again.
At this point after the events that ended season five, Rick appears to have been put in charge by Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh), after her husband is murdered and Rick executes his killer. Obviously, other Alexandrians aren’t okay with Rick Jung Un’s rule of thumb, but hell, Rick has been out there and knows what it takes to get through the day alive.
Another aspect of this episode that provided a change of pace was the juxtaposition of black and white flashbacks with color sequences of the present. Show runner Scott M. Gimple and director Greg Nicotero have taken an old Hollywood trick and used it advantageously here. It works because the flashbacks show us the aftermath of the season five ending, while the present sequences bring us along with the walker cattle ride.
In the flashbacks we also see that Carter tries to start a mini-coup to unseat Rick (and basically kill him), but Rick happens in on the meeting and Carter is like a quivering bowl full of jelly faster than you can say “Shane.” When Rick points a gun at him and asks, “Do you know who I am?” it is like a Dirty Harry moment with Harry at his dirtiest.
Towards the end of the episode, Carter makes the fatal red shirt mistake of running ahead of the crowd. Here he is grabbed by an unusually strong walker that starts sucking his face – literally – which is no way to start a relationship. Of course, the steady evidence of Alexandrians being unready is brought into light again, and Rick has no way to save him, so he dispatches Carter as Morgan and Michonne (Danai Gurira) look on less in shock and more like dismay. They know Rick couldn’t save Carter, but there is no bedside manner either – killing has become routine to Rick, whether it’s a zombie or another human being.
The very last sequence involves someone in the distance blasting a rather large horn. The noise stops the walkers from going in the right direction, and suddenly thousands of them make the turn and start heading through the woods – and straight toward Alexandria. Besides making Rick’s plan look pretty ill-conceived now, the bigger issue is that they are heading toward the people whom we know are not ready for their arrival.
Overall, this was a satisfying season premiere of TWD. It’s fast-paced nature and the thousands of zombies involved offer a sharp contrast to Fear the Walking Dead, which just ended its rather ho-hum first season run. I guess the big brother is showing the little one how it should be done. I only lasted two episodes of FTWD, but I have watched every episode of TWD and will be back next week.
My only concern is that problem with a lack of hope. We know the Army or Marines are never coming, but there has to be something – similar to the hope of a cure to stop the dead from coming back to life that Eugene (Josh McDermitt) once proclaimed but then revealed was a lie. Because even a lie that gave hope was better than no hope at all. That’s the sad truth in what has become of the world in TWD universe.
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Photo credits: AMC, ew.com