In talking about The Walking Dead this past summer, I learned that some are not very satisfied with Rick and the gang posting up in Alexandria. Well, they’re either going to have to settle in for what will likely be a long stop or re-watch a lot of mediocre episodes of Fear The Walking Dead, because the gang do not seem to be going anywhere. In fact, this season premiere episode introduces us to the Rick Grimes we are going to have to get accustomed to – Darth Grimes.
This dubbing does not come lightly. We have watched Rick Grimes grow in all sorts of ways over the years, but his latest turns have certainly pushed him even further than before. With this season picking up after Rick blew a man’s face off in front of an entire town, it is clear that Rick really is done taking chances with people. He’s flirted with this before of course, but with his people and a new town of people to ‘look after,’ Rick really does seem to want to lay down the law.
We are now in the 6th season of The Walking Dead, with no signs of the series slowing down. I am digging into Rick because we are once again given an episode that wants to make it loud and clear that he is the center of the series. No matter how much we like Daryl, Carol or Jedi Master Morgan, it starts and ends with Rick. What helps is how the series is at least trying to make him interesting. He has been something of a bore for me in the past, but while some may not like Alexandria, I welcome it, if it means giving us this dark and complex version of Rick. But what else is going on?
Well, this episode has plenty of fun finding an excuse to make a stylistic gimmick disguise the fact that we got two episodes in one. Rather than laying out the episode’s story in a linear fashion, director Greg Nicotero and showrunner/writer Scott Gimple decided to mix current events with B&W flashbacks to the events that directly followed season 5’s finale. As a result, we get an episode that is as watchable as The Walking Dead ever is, but with the thought of narrative ambition.
Oh and we also got to see hundreds of freaking walkers being led along by Daryl on his super loud (and completely practical) chopper. These premiere episodes certainly like to go big and while the action we saw at Terminus in last year’s premiere may have been more dramatically satisfying, anyone who needed more zombies in their lives must have certainly been pleased by the massive amounts found in “First Time Again.”
It helps that there was a convenient reason for so many walkers to be present. Given the relative safety of Alexandria, this was the episode that dared to answer the question of why it was so safe, beyond the large walls the town has. As it turns out, a large quarry has been collecting almost all the walkers that have come near the town, but it looks like time is running out on keeping this walker deposit area secure.
As a result, the entire portion of this episode dealing with the current timeframe is about moving this gigantic herd, while the flashbacks tell the story of how we got to that point. Fortunately, both timeframes allow us to get some insight on the large cast of characters for those uninitiated or in need of a check-in on who’s is all about what. This leads to some good material, as you get some nice humanization of both Glenn and the man who tried to kill him, for example, along with an understanding of what kind of crazy Abraham and Sasha are currently dealing with.
Of course, not everything is easy and while this episode is surprisingly sparse on a lot of conflict, given the danger of a massive walker horde, we still have to deal with Carter. Carter is the kind of character this show loves in a way that has not helped the series reach a level of maturity to make it one of the great shows currently on the air. He is not so much a person as he is a walking plot device. Despite some fine work from Ethan Embry in the role (seek him out in other films, such as Cheap Thrills), the guy has nothing to do except complain (and seem generally weak, compared to Rick).
Much in the same way Jessie embodies not so much a real character, but a representation of what Rick would love to have – a family life, Carter is the exact portrayal of what Rick does not need in his life anymore and is happy to dispose of, if possible. As a result, despite seeing a full tilt in Carter regarding how much he can rely on Rick, Carter is still bitten in the face and knifed in the back of the skull. For all the progress this show has had, it still creates some fairly familiar sources of conflict, with very simple solutions. Of course, we now have to wonder how far the show truly wants to go, even if we know Rick will never actually be deemed the bad guy in the eyes of the writers.
As far as making the show incredibly watchable, well-designed as far as shaking things up in the makeup and production-design department and raising the tension when necessary, this was one heck of an episode. It helps that we have come a long way in a show that has somehow gotten better or at least worked through the issues that have plagued it in past seasons. While there is a sense that this show is happy to ride on what it knows it can do well in an effort to hide the shortcuts it takes in deeper characterization, this is still one of the most watchable shows on television simply for doing its zombie stuff right.
It is good to see a new season once again. Let’s get ready for all the craziness that is sure to come.