This review contains spoilers.
6.1 First Time Again
One show ends with a giant zombie horde attack, the other show begins by attempting to avoid the same fate. If you ever wanted some ammunition to compare the first season of Fear The Walking Dead to the sixth season of The Walking Dead, this is it. One has one of the largest cities in the world depicted as mostly empty. The other has a tiny town in the suburbs of Washington DC beset by what appears to be thousands of zombies milling around in a gravel pit, shambling down a road, and smashing recklessly into haphazardly-built retaining walls. One’s the best-performing new show in cable history, and the other is five seasons of being the biggest, most-watched show on cable, breaking history with every season debut. At some point, walker fatigue will have to set in, but it doesn’t seem to be happening any time soon and the opening episode of The Walking Dead‘s sixth season won’t hasten that decline.
Rick took control of Alexandria last season. He knows how to survive, and his people know how to fight, and it’s up to them to keep Alexandria safe. As experienced walker-killers, they know that the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. After a brief reminder of Rick’s fateful words last season, we jump from black and white to colour, with a whole mass of zombies hanging out in what looks like an old quarry. There’s some kind of plan afoot, and what was supposed to be a dry run of the plan becomes actually doing something with the plan. What that plan is, no one says. However, this gives Abraham a chance to channel Bill O’Reilly and announce, “We’ll do it live!”
What they’re doing is going to be explained over the course of the episode, as we get a slightly more linear combination of past and present, almost like Pulp Fiction style, but less so. The lead up to the big plan to get the zombies out of the pit and as far away from town as possible is intercut with the lead-up and preparation. It’s a pretty bold plan: use Sasha, Abraham, and Daryl to lead a zombie parade out of the quarry (based on the real Bull Run Quarry according to my Virginian friend) and away from town, with walls of cars, sheet metal, and loud noises to keep the herd a herd and prevent the group from breaking up. All they have to do is lead them twenty or thirty miles away from town and everything will be fine. Right, because herding several thousand zombies out of a pit and away from Alexandria is a simple task, particularly when the only people you can trust to do it are your own people and the Alexandrians have little to no experience doing anything other than hiding behind walls.
Greg Nicotero is a master of visual direction, and it’s not a surprise that he’s getting debut duties yet again for The Walking Dead. His episodes have all been very good, and the impressive thing isn’t the way he handles the visual aspect of directing—you’d expect that from a guy who knows how to make latex and corn syrup look like every possible combination of shredded body part—but the way he handles the actors. He’s got a touch with the people in front of the camera, and I’m not sure it’s because he’s used to having a team at his disposal to work together, of if it’s because he knows who he needs to work with and who he needs to leave alone to get good work out of them.
There’s a lot of stuff at work this episode; Rick’s group is still struggling to adapt to their new environment, and Deanna’s people are still adjusting to having what is essentially a two-legged wolf pack in their midst, telling them what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. This is communicated quite well through body language and expression, and Nicotero’s stylistic choice to use black-and-white for the flashbacks versus colour for the current events is a smart one. The thing that might need more spelling out is spelled out, for once. It helps keep things clear for those who might not be paying total attention during the episode, as a lot of folks are no doubt distracted by AMC’s beloved two-screen experience.
One big difference between this season and previous seasons is that rather than telling us all this directly, they show it. Eugene stumbles across a plot by Caleb to dethrone Rick and kill him. Now, the fact that Eugene can sneak up on someone is in and of itself proof that these people are incapable of survival on their own. To make matters worse, they don’t have a guard posted outside to keep an eye out for, you guessed it, Rick. Unsurprisingly, Rick and the gang bust in and catch Caleb holding a gun on Eugene and, rather than just shooting Caleb, as Rick probably would have a few weeks previously, he lets Caleb live. Second chances, and all that. Glenn gives Nicholas a second chance. Sasha is claiming her second chance. Morgan… well, you know all he’s been going through, and everyone’s looking to prove it to the folks around them rather than simply saying they want a second chance and having it granted to them, or endlessly talking about who deserves what and why.
Another fun change is the way the show continues to develop a sense of humour. Daryl is always funny, but Abraham has turned into the show’s king of one-liners. He cracks off several good ones this week, and his brand of crazy plays well with Sasha’s brand of crazy in the script from Scott M. Gimple and Matthew Negrete. The interplay between Morgan and more familiar faces like Carol and Michonne is also brilliant. I loved Morgan’s discussion with Michonne of the peanut butter protein bar, and the way Morgan can see right through Carol—and her reaction to that—was also a lot of fun.
There’ll probably be some disagreement about this, but I like that Rick’s plan works so well only for outside forces to screw it up for him. Alexandria’s in no shape to repel such a large zombie horde (no place really is, in the real world or in this world) and that means something’s going to have to get those zombies back on the right path, or Alexandria’s going to find itself overrun. It sets up a fun episode for next week as Rick tries to figure out who ruined his plan while also trying to keep his new community from getting smothered under a layer of walker brains.
Read Ron’s review of the season five finale, Conquer, here.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan would love to see someone driving around a post-apocalyptic Blues Brothers mobile, cranking out loud tunes and giving updates over a loudspeaker. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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