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THE WALKING DEAD Season 6 Premiere Review: “First Time Again”

Howdy, my fellow Walker Stalkers! Joe here, and I’ll be reviewing each and every episode of our favorite show throughout the hugely anticipated sixth season of The Walking Dead. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts as well as share with you my own. What are my Walking Dead credentials, you might ask? Well, as I write these words, I’m sitting atop a huge chest full of plastic cups and paper plates used by The Walking Dead’s cast and crew while they’re shooting in Senoia, Georgia. Yup, this is my fifth visit to the show’s magical (albeit woodsy and humid) set at Raleigh Studios. And I’ll be posting plenty of interviews in the weeks ahead. But, for now, let’s dive into the super-sized season 6 premiere…

Season 5 of The Walking Dead ended on the show’s strongest cliffhanger yet. For it wasn’t the lives of our heroes that were at stake, but their souls. Specifically that of Rick Grimes, who’d just shot and killed Pete at the command of Alexandria’s leader Deanna — after Pete had slit her husband Reg’s throat. It was at this very moment that Rick’s long lost friend Morgan finally found the man who’d served as a source of hope and inspiration for him in the wake of his own loss. Hello, disillusionment, meet your old friend Morgan.

In truth, Morgan handles the situation better than I thought he would, and much better than the show’s season 6 poster led us to believe (featuring, as it did, the two grimly determined men standing opposite one another). Though the conflict Rick’s act creates forces the two men to reevaluate their relationship and determine if they can again become friends after what’s passed. (“Gotta get to know each other again. For the first time again.”) Their feeling of loss is mirrored quite literally by the decision to drain this episode of color in its flashback scenes, starting with Rick’s execution of Pete, and alternating them with the in-color action taking place in the present. These latter scenes focus on Rick’s plan to direct the many thousands of zombies that have collected near Alexandria away from the safe zone, and teach the Alexandrians a thing or two about self-defense in the process.

The inter-cutting of black-and-white hasn’t been used by the show before, and it proves an effective technique, essentially trapping Rick in Kansas until he can prove himself worthy once more of Oz. And Morgan? He’s the cyclone that carries the erstwhile leader over the rainbow. It’s a role that others have played — from Dale to Hershel. Michonne, too, had once served as Rick’s conscience. But Rick’s relationship with Michonne has evolved past the point where she can function as mere spiritual advisor. Lest one fear, however, that Morgan will remain in Alexandria as nothing more than the magical African-American sent to help white people with their personal problems, the widower continues to demonstrate plenty of inner life and a sly sense of humor, all while kicking all kinds of ass with his staff. Which, we must note, should become as iconic a weapon as Michonne’s sword or Daryl’s crossbow. But just how did he become a kenpo expert?

As for the aforementioned present/color scenes, they allow the show to, as we were promised, feature more zombies than it ever has before in a single episode. (EP and makeup maestro Greg Nicotero, who directed “First Time Again,” has gone on record saying his team was required to prepare three-hundred zombies for this opener, with many more depicted via CG effects.) The initial set-up, with Rick commanding his troops in the foreground as countless walkers march across the barren landscape behind him, is epic in a biblical sense — recalling Moses’ parting of the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments. It looks like the Helm’s Deep of The Walking Dead, with trucks packed full of zombies toppling off quarry cliffs, bursting open with blood as they smash into the ground. If only the action that followed was as grand. Ah, but what season opener could be as suspense-fueled as last year’s “No Sanctuary”? It’s hard to find fault when, here again, the show tries something different, and ends its season premiere on another cliffhanger, matching that of its latest finale. In the end, half the walkers are lured away from the herd by what sounds like a truck horn, sending them on a direct collision course with Alexandria.

Even after five seasons, The Walking Dead continues to resonate most deeply through its character interactions, specifically the pairings of mismatched comrades-in-arms. Whether its Eugene reconciling with Abraham while dutifully waiting for Tara to awaken from her head-trauma-induced slumber, or Abraham fearing for Sasha after seeing himself in what he perceives as her suicidal tendencies. The show’s real suspense is found in just watching people try to connect with one another.

The Walking Dead 2

Undead Afterthoughts

  • “That’s how it is, isn’t it? You always think there’s one more peanut butter left.”
  • Sure it was fun to see truckloads of zombies plunging into the abyss, but the shot that occurs when Rick rescues Ron, of walkers sprinting off the cliff, is even more satisfying.
  • Did anyone notice how the cinematography was especially strong in this episode? As cinematic as Game of Thrones is, The Walking Dead—due in no small part to the fact that it may now be the only major American TV drama that still shoots on film—looks even more like a big-budget movie.
  • Glenn’s sparing of his assailant’s life makes him a hero (and it fits into the episode’s overall themes of compassion and forgiveness) but it feels just a tad out of character. After all, what’s to stop this guy from harming him again later, or, even worse, Maggie?
  • Morgan’s asking Carol if she, like Rick, was once a cop due to the way that she handles herself, and her response (“Aren’t you sweet”) was adorable. Is it too soon to start shipping “Marol”?
  • The zombie makeup in this episode is extraordinary not only for its quantity, but it’s quality; with the walkers appearing more decayed, and varied in their decay, than we’ve ever seen them.
  • Anyone else thinking the Wolves are behind that damn horn?

Eugene’s Evergreens

  • “Hey, it’s good to see someone like me. I fully respect the hair game.”

What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).

Image Credit: AMC

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