The dead are back in town….just spread the word around.
AMC’s crown jewel, The Walking Dead, has returned for its sixth season, in what may very well be it’s biggest episode yet, and not just in its running time of 90 minutes. The stage has been set for an onslaught of walkers the likes of which Rick and company, or us, the viewers, have never seen before. This was an episode that was worthy of the big screen – it certainly had the production values and scale of a theatrical release. So, with a warning for spoilers from episode 6.1, “First Time Again,” here’s a recap and some observations.
The episode takes place in the immediate aftermath from where last season’s finale left off. From there, we cut to a giant quarry containing hundreds, maybe thousands of walkers, that are mostly contained by precariously positioned trucks. The walkers, however, are finding some openings and slipping through. And the sounds made by so many of them are just attracting more and more. Rick deems this an imminent threat, and proposes they undertake a risky, but what he feels is a necessary plan, to lure the walkers past Alexandria down the road twenty miles away and out of range. The episode goes back and forth between the moments following the reunion of Rick and Morgan, which are shown in black and white, to the present day efforts, just a short time later, to herd this massive swarm of the undead away from the town, with these scenes shown in all their bloody color. It is a daring, yet effective technique, which little by little, peels away layer upon layer of what led us to where we are. Kudos to director Greg Nicotero, who, if they ever do decide to do a theatrical feature, as The X-Files has done, has proven to be more than capable. From the opening moments of the giant zombie pit to the enormous hordes of walkers we see at the end, this is storytelling in epic proportions.
For all the grand scale action of the show, it’s all the wonderful character moments that really drive The Walking Dead. From heartwarming scenes like Morgan holding baby Judith for the first time to funny beats such as Rick shutting down Father Gabriel’s request to help with an emphatic, “No, who else?,” the episode packed a lot into its 90 minute running time. And with so many characters, from Rick’s group to the townsfolk of Alexandria, you really need more than an hour (40-some minutes, with commercials) to cover everyone to at least some extent. In this episode, we were introduced to even more people – Carter, who proves to be a thorn in Rick’s side, and Heath, Scott and Annie, who had been out on a run. Heath and Eugene have a memorable exchange at the gate in one of many cleverly written scenes by showrunner Scott M. Gimple and Matthew Negrete. There’s also Carol continuing her charade of a happy homemaker. However, an astute Morgan lets her know there’s more to her than meets the eye as he’s noticed her reactions in certain situations. It will be a cathartic release for the audience when Carol ultimately throws away her apron and goes back into her full-on mercenary attack role.
This episode could have been titled, ‘Redemption,’ or ‘Second Chances,’ as there are a number of instances where characters could go either way towards becoming a productive and worthwhile member of the town, or not. Certainly, Carter is someone Rick could take out at anytime, especially upon learning of his mutinous plot, because, as Rick says, he’s “just somebody who shouldn’t be alive….now,” and runs the risk of endangering the rest of them. But, as much as Rick wanted to kill him, he realized he didn’t have to, that he knew he would end up dying soon enough anyway. Morgan explains to Rick that the man who let Carter live is the Rick he knows. Of course, Rick has constantly struggled with balancing his humanity with doing whatever it takes to protect his family, and the group, which he considers family as well. But, as he tells Morgan early on, “I don’t take chances anymore,” something Morgan throws back at him when he intervenes during a ‘walker-killing training session’ Rick has set up.
Another resident of Alexandria who the word is still out on is Nicholas, who tried to kill Glenn, and did get Noah killed. In a terrific scene between Maggie and Tara, where Maggie fills Tara in on the extent of Nicholas’ wrongdoings, she explains that Glenn left it up to her whether to tell everyone else, thus expelling Nicholas to outside the walls and certain death. Maggie decided to follow Glenn’s lead of forgiveness and is now giving Tara the same opportunity, wherein she opts to follow Maggie’s lead as well. Indeed, Nicholas does step up to help Glenn and Heath during a zombie attack. He may not have entirely redeemed himself yet, but he’s heading in the right direction. Abraham, having made up with Eugene, still finds himself in inner turmoil, which only seems satisfied by booze or taking chances among the walkers. Late in the episode, he asks Sasha if she wanted to die when volunteering for their dangerous mission. She smiles and says no, seemingly at peace with herself after a rough patch upon losing her brother, Tyreese. It’s a place where Abraham isn’t quite at yet. Hopefully, he will get there.
Finally, as the plan to lure the walkers away from Alexandria appears to be working, they are distracted by a honking car horn. What looked like a successful attempt to protect the town could now backfire and spell the end of them all. Who could possibly be behind such a reckless maneuver – the mysterious ‘Wolves’, to whom Morgan used a similar tactic? Or a townsperson out for revenge, like Father Gabriel, or Jessie’s son, Ron, mad at Rick for killing his father? For anyone watching the preview scene showed at the end of Talking Dead, it could be someone else with less sabotage on their minds, or maybe even more. We’ll find out in next week’s episode, entitled “JSS,” referring to the mysterious letters Enid writes on the window of a car.