Spoiler Alert: The following discusses plot points from Sunday Night's The Walking Dead Season 6 premiere.
When Season 5 of The Walking Dead wrapped last March, Team Rick were firmly entrenched in Alexandria, and their kill-or-be-killed philosophy seemed to be hitting home with the town's cozy residents. Sure, that all only happened after Rick went girl-crazy, then just crazy-crazy, and waved a gun at everyone. And Glenn was nearly murdered by Nicholas, after the latter basically got Noah killed. Oh, and Daryl and Aaron almost became walker bait courtesy of the Wolves, but were saved at the last moment by samurai Morgan. Speaking of Morgan, he walked into town to greet his old pal Rick, but instead found Grimes executing Pete -- who he already wanted to kill a few episodes prior.
Things pick up shortly after the Pete situation in the Season 6 premiere, in a 90-minute episode directed by Greg Nicotero. The episode shows the Grimes crew largely in control of Alexandria and planning a massive walker roundup to lead the undead away from the community. Over the course of the premiere, the action flashes back and forth in the planning stages of the zombie corral. Although there is action, the story is largely character-driven, as the plot explores how Alexandria has changed our survivors, and vice versa.
But is it a successful premiere? Editor at Large Aaron Sagers and Contributing Editor Tara Bennett break down the episode of The Walking Dead, which airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC. Read ahead, then let us know what you think about the kickoff to Season 6.
Tara: By the time a hit TV series makes it past five seasons, the scenario is usually one of tired showrunners, creatively spent writers and actors bored with doing the same old, same old. However, I'm thrilled to report that the sixth season opener for The Walking Dead is brashly bucking that crusty trend. Led by the creative vision of showrunner Scott Gimple and elevated by the visual skills of director Greg Nicotero, "First Time Again" offers up non-linear storytelling that demands the audience's attention and rewards with an equal measure of tension, action, enigmatic character beats and gross outs that will please all spectrums of the show's fandom.
Aaron: As much as The Walking Dead tires me out at times by feeling repetitive, this Greg Nicotero-directed premiere packed a lot of storytelling in it. The recent flashbacks, in black and white (evoking the comics) served to pick up the story immediately following last season's finale, while moving the plot along.
Tara: As for the epic structure of the overall goal of the episode, funneling a massive herd of walkers away from Alexandria, it works both as an impressive set piece (which is tough to do from a show that has an unending need to churn up fresh, precarious scenarios) and a vital stake to set up the season. Marry that with Gimple and Nicotero's bold decision to shoot a good portion of the episode in black and white, and you get an episode that is vital, and I daresay, remarkably artistic.
Aaron: I enjoyed watching Rick and the Grimes Gang working within the Alexandria community to create a massive plan to lure walkers away from their homestead. This actually struck me as the smartest these survivors have behaved in some time; creating barriers, and strategic diversions to keep the walkers moving was better than the brute force I've come to expect from our protagonists. In fact, Rick earned his leadership role more than he has in a while.
Tara: I was also struck by how Alexandria has changed Team Rick in only the brief span of their residence. This bastion of safety (albeit a really dysfunctional one on many levels) is finally something worth reinforcing and fighting for as it could be their new "normal". The premiere is all about the lengths they'll go to protect it, from working side-by-side with their Alexandria "enemies" to Rick showing restraint (what?!), to smaller beats of Sasha coming down from her sniper tower, and even Father Gabriel maybe stepping back from the dark side (complete with a subtle smackdown that is an episode highlight).
Aaron: I also wish to applaud Nicotero and Gimple (as well as Matt Negrete, who co-wrote this episode with Gimple). This is Gimple's third season as showrunner (after taking over for Glen Mazzara, who took over for Frank Darabont), and he continues to approach this series with a fresh energy. I admit to getting tired of the survivors roaming from one encampment to the next, and am hopeful they'll stick around in Alexandria for a while. This premiere did feel like the beginning of a new chapter in the show.
With regards to Nicotero, the visual effects wizard has grown enormously as a director since he first tackled the webisodes back in 2011. Now, 12 episodes later, he's crafted a great mini-movie that manages to make the walkers threatening when they're just, well, walking. And the walkers still look great. The one who was squeezing through the two trucks, and was peeling its skin off all the while? Yummy.
Tara: That gag is awesome and eagle-eyed fans will love the continuity regarding it throughout the episode. I also got goose bumps from the last shot of the episode for the sheer audacity of what Nictotero and his KNB Effects team practically put together for this episode (more than 900 real walkers in this episode!).
Aaron: I don't think we can talk about the premiere without getting into Lennie James as Morgan. This was Rick's episode, to be sure, but Morgan is a cool presence reminiscent of Caine from Kung-Fu. He has walked the earth, and worked through his crazy (and while I want the backstory on when he learned to fight with the bo staff, I also want it to remain a mystery). Instead of being a moral compass for all the survivors, a la Hershel and Dale, Morgan seems to specifically be the samurai Jiminy Cricket on Rick's shoulder, and is present for the latter's key decisions. I dig this because it reminds Rick, if only a little, of the peace officer who initially encountered Morgan so long ago. Rick says to Morgan, "You don't know me," but he does (Aside: I was hoping that Morgan was a figment of Rick's mind. That he would be receiving guidance from this link to his recent past, and then it would be revealed no one could see or hear him. That obviously doesn't work since other characters interact with him; still, there was a chance for some cool Sixth Sense stuff right there).
Tara: That's an interesting scenario there. I'd watch it, but I am digging this Zen Morgan. But I'm also getting plenty of enigmatic from his character which makes the rediscovery of him exciting to anticipate. How in the hell did he get from loner, Wile E. Coyote walker killer genius in "Clear" to cool-as-a-cucumber Morgan? I can't wait to see how that happened and if it reveals maybe a less than stable Morgan inside.
Aaron: Otherwise, everyone showed incredible restraint in the premiere. Daryl seems to be a true believer of the Alexandria community philosophy that they need more people; Glenn exhibits some incredible forgiveness in not killing off the dude who set him up in "Conquer"; even Rick holds back on killing someone trying to kick start a coup.
Maybe it is because Rick is growing out a mullet Eugene would approve of, but this is the most likable these characters have been in at least a season or so.
So what didn't work for you in this episode? There were a couple moments where I thought the Alexandria residents appeared a little too childlike, but it wasn't a major issue for me. And I hope Abraham doesn't become so reckless that he becomes an impulsive teenager in the survivor camp. I also want to exist in Alexandria for a bit of time before dealing with outside human threats. I know the Wolves are not far, but I hopefully they're not right next door, either. Serve up a walker threat for a bit of time before we get another evil tribe of survivors.
Tara: I think the juxtaposition of some of the Alexandrites latent stupidity is still smart to showcase. It makes Rick's leadership position more defendable to the residents and Deanna in the wake of the Season 5 finale chaos. And the back and forth of the timelines that play out in the story is a inspired way to continue where the finale left off yet also progress the development of the merging clans in a way that isn't boring or tiresome to watch unfold.
Otherwise, I'm not sure if the final cut will be tightened up a little for the premiere night but there were some lingering walker shots that seemed a bit overlong as they ambled in their herd. It's nitpicking only because the editing and pace of the entire episode is overall so tight. I think it's one of the shows best premieres as it covers all the bases of action, gore, stakes and character progression or subtle foreshadowing (i.e. a great Carol and Morgan moment). I was mad when the episode ended because I wanted more and if you can do that to me 83 hours into a series, you have my admiration and continued commitment to watch.