This Walking Dead season 6 premiere review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 6 Episode 1
The sixth season of The Walking Dead began with one of the best setpieces I’ve seen on the show. I remember how impressed I was by Carol’s assault on Terminus last season, and this premiere delivered more of that precious action that season 5 seems to have forgotten in its second half. In fact, this might have been the first Walking Dead episode in a long time to be driven by a horde of zombies instead of an outside human threat. And it feels good.
I think what I missed most from last season was the zombie threat. Where were they? Sure, they were there, and they even got to eat some people (RIP Bob, Tyreese, and Noah), but amidst a season full of human threats, the zombies were used more as shock value than anything else. Gone were the days of an approaching zombie horde that promised impending doom. But tonight I was reminded of late episodes in season 2 when the walker horde began to slowly make its way towards Hershel’s farm or the first half of season 4 when they continued to collect around the prison’s fences. You got this feeling while watching that these walkers were going to eat EVERYONE eventually and that it was only resilience and determination to survive that kept Rick and his group fighting. Because the end was inevitable.
But last season forgot these things a little, as every threat seemed ultimately defeatable, from the bumbling Terminans to the ill-prepared Atlanta hospital. We did get to watch Rick and friends march IN FRONT of a creeping platoon of zombies as they made their way north. It was the only time I can remember where it really felt like it was over for the group, nothing but zombie bait. Those death march scenes are still some of the best the show has ever had to offer, even if the episode as a whole was too depressing to possibly like.
In comparison, “First Time Again,” which was directed by zombie ringleader Greg Nicotero, feels like exactly that: a first time again. This episode is what I always liked about this show: the group finds a new place to lay low and then it’s all about keeping it safe from the walkers, who are always basically knocking at the door. We saw it on Hershel’s farm and in the prison. But not in Alexandria. The safe zone came too easy. Besides the danger inside the walls, which Rick and his group could overcome quite easily (we saw Rick do it with Carter tonight), there hadn’t been much for these characters to do but “adapt” to their new lives.
The Walking Dead has always been at its best when the survivors are adapting to the walker threat. It’s the essence of what makes a good zombie story. Yes, social commentary is important. Yes, humans need to ultimately be the real villains. But a good zombie movie/TV show has to also be fun. And in order for it to be fun, you need a lot of undead, guns, and gore. Simple. And Gimple, Nicotero, and friends bring all that by the ton in this episode. There’s not a lot of this episode that isn’t fun.
I think Rick deciding to attack the walker problem head-on tonight was the right move, both for Alexandria and my entertainment. I’ll admit the plan is a little confusing, and the way it unfolds in flashbacks throughout the episode was probably not the best way to go about it, but it does give us a little context when things go wrong towards the end of the episode for Carter and with the cliffhanger.
Okay, let’s talk about Ethan Embry’s Carter for a minute or two. His short rivalry with Rick isn’t exactly the best part of the episode. It reminds me too much of the town hall meetings, politics, and cocktail parties from last season. Carter is clearly still stuck in the old world, where he thinks people like him can deal (and overthrow) men like Rick, who will do anything to survive. In short, people like Carter have to go, and Rick’s attitude is that it’s best if they do. Learn to defend yourself or die. Scheming in a pantry is not going to help in the new world.
Of course, the scenes with Carter do help to solidify the juxtaposition between “in here” and “out there.” Rick knows what the cowardly Carter can’t possibly understand: you can’t just build higher walls. It’s good that the season has established those differences in philosophy early. It sets the stage for the moral questions that will undoubtedly surround it.
Morgan, Daryl, and Deanna are all wondering if Rick’s way is best. Daryl doesn’t agree that Alexandria should stop letting people in. He believes that welcoming new people and building a stronger community is the only way to survive. Aaron, who we see almost none of (I really like Aaron), seems to have rubbed off on him. For her part, Deanna doesn’t really feel very diplomatic at the moment. The warm politician is as cold as ice in this episode, not allowing Pete to be buried within Alexandria’s walls and agreeing to follow Rick’s harsher way of doing things. With battles being fought beyond the walls and coups being planned, Deanna’s hold on the safe zone is quickly disappearing.
But it’s Morgan who is really front and center when it comes to challengers to Rick’s methods. The guy who we last saw losing his mind in season 3 is suddenly very zen about things. He believes in the goodness in people in a way that Rick no longer can. It’s interesting since both men have suffered the same amount of loss, although perhaps Morgan hasn’t seen as many atrocities. Still, Morgan thinks Rick is still the good man he met all the way at the beginning, and I think he knows he might be the only person who can temper the Sheriff a little. Rick won’t listen to anyone, but he values Morgan’s opinion several times throughout the episode, and shares a camaraderie with him that we don’t see Rick show to anyone else. It’s a sweet scene when Rick lets Morgan hold Judith.
I still think AMC has thrown in a bit of a red herring in its promos and trailers about Rick and Morgan’s rivalry. I honestly don’t think their difference in philosophy will play out in any physical way. We have loads of Alexandrians (and the incoming Wolves and walkers) to do that. I think Morgan will instead take the place of past moral centers, such as Dale and Hershel, and advise Rick and maybe even turn him around a bit. Playing this out in a violent confrontation is definitely not the way to go about it.
Overall, the episode does a lot to show all of The Walking Dead‘s good side, with very few missteps along the way, and I’m excited to see who’s blowing that horn next week. Most of all, I’m just really glad the walkers are front and center again, and will hopefully remain so for another episode or two. I’ve really missed them. Here’s to The Walking Dead being a zombie show again for a little while!
Stay tuned for our weekly reviews of The Walking Dead season 6! And don’t forget to listen to the new episode of our weekly Walking Dead podcast, Den of Geek Presents No Room in Hell: