The Walking Dead, S6 Ep1 – First Time Again

“That’s how it is, isn’t it? You always think there’s one more peanut butter left.”

The Walking Dead is back and doing what it does best: filling our screens with a giant horde of hungry walkers!

The season six premiere hits the ground running with Rick and company mobilized to deal with a quarry brimming with walkers, while the citizens of Alexandria still have their doubts about whether they can trust Rick’s drastic and authoritarian ways. By now, everyone expects some spectacle during big season premieres like this one, and it certainly did not disappoint. All the blood and gore audiences have come to expect as well as smaller, quieter character moments and significant dialogues, were skillfully balanced during the thrilling episode.

The Walking Dead, S6 Ep1 - First Time AgainThe episode followed an interesting structure with scenes going back and forth between the recent past and the zombie-horde-threatened present. Shown in black and white, the flashbacks picked up where the story left off at the end of season 5, with Rick executing a man with Deanna’s tacit approval and in front of the newly arrived Morgan. The look on the latter’s face implied his disapproval of Rick’s actions, but he has also been around long enough to be able to understand the need for extreme measures.

The present storyline begins when Rick and Morgan go beyond the walls to bury Pete and stumble upon a huge quarry filled with walkers. What used to be a camp of a handful of people evolved into a vicious crowd of walkers, with the original denizens having succumbed to the plague and the subsequent noise they made attracting more and more walkers and trapping them in the quarry. Upon seeing this, Rick realizes that this was one of the reasons the people in Alexandria had survived for this long without having to deal with too many walkers; it’s something I wondered about as well, considering all the walkers Rick’s group had had to deal with on their own. It turns out that the Alexandrians’ survival and relative comfort was due more to this lucky circumstance than to their own ingenuity or the sturdiness of their walls (which, frankly, I doubt would hold out against a serious horde such as this one.)

But they are running out of borrowed time as the trucks that kept the walkers trapped were falling apart, and soon there would be no barriers keeping the swarm from reaching the community. Rick understands this in a single glance, so he hatches a plan that will lead the walkers away from the road to Alexandria and hopefully, keep them all safe. He presents this to the group as the only viable option, and though many of them have their doubts because of Rick’s recent actions and his questionable leadership style, they reluctantly agree. Because at the end of the day, while Rick’s methods are extreme and problematic, they are effective and he is someone who truly understands how best to survive.

The Walking Dead, S6 Ep1 - First Time AgainThen follow some of the most impressive scenes of the episode, which really does not scrimp on spectacle. You have the walker horde in the quarry and then the carefully orchestrated walker parade. Whenever you think that you may have already seen your fill of walkers through the years on this show, they come up with scenes like these that cannot fail to impress. I mean, Daryl on a motorbike leading the walker parade? Awesome!

In a way, the sheer amount of walkers in this episode somehow compensates for the lack of walkers in the recently concluded Fear the Walking Dead. Granted, the spinoff was set in a vastly different timeline in the universe, but it was still a bit disappointing to only get a handful of walkers here and there (except in the finale, of course.) And not even the really gross kind! (Clearly watching these shows helps build one’s threshold for dealing with disgusting images.)

But the episode wasn’t devoted only to action and spectacle. The Walking Dead has shown time and again that it can balance big, bold sequences with small and subtle character moments, and this episode was a testament to that. When the characters weren’t implementing Rick’s plan, they were sharing meaningful conversations with one another, which helped the audience catch up with all their favorites.

As usual, the cast does an excellent job of portraying their characters from the action-packed sequences to the smaller, more intimate scenes. It’s always a challenge for shows with large ensembles like this to be able to do justice to all the major characters but somehow, every character in this episode had their moment.

The Walking Dead, S6 Ep1 - First Time AgainAndrew Lincoln continues to make Rick a compelling, if problematic, character. His dynamic with fellow Brit, Lennie James (Morgan), was always intriguing to watch. Both characters have come such a long way since they were first introduced; Morgan went mad and somehow recovered and Rick may have descended into a sort of madness as well. They were re-acquainting themselves with one another (hence the title “First Time Again”) and adjusting to the changes in  the other’s personality. For instance, after recovering from his mental instability, Morgan seems to be in a more zen, peaceful place, which contrasts with Rick’s increasing mania and decreasing altruism.

Before the season started, we were teased that there would be a clash between these two characters, but while there was some tension between them in the premiere, they were still mainly on the same page. But some seeds have been sown with Morgan’s quiet, disapproving glances. He probably deferred to Rick for the moment for the sake of the plan’s success but once things calm down again (if they ever do), he might question some of Rick’s decisions.

The Walking Dead, S6 Ep1 - First Time AgainMorgan’s addition to the group also allowed for some interesting interactions with the others. He’s a keen observer and immediately pegged Carol as a force to be reckoned with, despite her whole harmless, soccer-mom disguise. He also had a fun conversation with Michonne, an unexpected moment of levity in a heavy episode, and indicative of a good rapport between the characters. I’ve never heard peanut butter protein bars discussed in such grave tones. It’s clear that he and Michonne share some tacit disapproval of Rick’s actions and while they’re both willing to support him so far, they are also among the few who can really stand up to him and call him out on his crap.

A handful of new characters were also introduced as Alexandrians who had been out on a supply run for a few weeks and so were not present for Rick and his group’s arrival and regime change. Luckily, most of them were on board for the walker parade, even if there was an inevitable dissenter in the form of Ethan Embry’s Carter. But he was gone before he could make any real impact. (Poor old Ethan Embry. I hadn’t expected him to be killed off so soon, but that’s the way this show rolls.)

And then, of course, just as things seemed to be going more or less according to plan, sirens blared and the walkers were directed towards Alexandria. Who is behind this? How is Rick going to rectify the situation? Is Alexandria finally going to fall? Who took Morgan’s last peanut butter protein bar?

The Walking Dead is back and we can’t wait to see what happens next.