I wasn’t too thrilled with the Alexandria storyline last season, but after the mess of dangling plotlines and cipher personalities rife in Fear The Walking Dead, The Walking Dead shines quite a bit brighter. “First Time Again” opens not long after the deaths of Pete (the abusive surgeon) and Reg (the beloved First Husband who designed the wall). Rather than take its usual pace of arduous place setting, TWD launches straight into one of the biggest episodes it’s ever done. Surprisingly enough, they more or less pulled it off. And once again the show proves it’s aces at premieres and finales.
When TWD switches tracks from family drama to zombie horror, it usually succeeds, and last night was no different. It was a tense hour and a half. Greg Nicotero’s direction was a little clunky in parts, but all was forgiven in the wake of some seriously amazing practical effects and walker makeup. Same for the superb as always sound design and soundtrack. Not only did the episode go big with the sheer amount of cast and extras on screen, it went big in plot action. The plan Rick devised to herd and destroy the tens of thousands of walkers piled in the quarry was as epic as the aerial views of the walkers fanning out into the woods on the way to Alexandria. No shame to Reg’s wall, but pure chance was the only thing protecting the Alexandrians all this time, and that luck has finally run out. As convoluted as Rick’s plan was to draw them a day’s walk away, it’s still the most viable plan they have, no matter how much Carter didn’t like it. Not that his opinion really mattered anyway.
As enjoyable as the premiere was, it definitely didn’t need to be 90 minutes long. Most of that padding came via the black-and-white flashbacks, a technical device meant to distinguish the time periods but mostly grated like an overused gimmick. Few of the flashbacks provided new information or offered any significant character development that couldn’t be discovered elsewhere or simply left out altogether. The flashbacks also had the frustrating habits of intruding on a suspenseful moment in the present and cutting away right when the past got interesting, thus deflating the tension on both counts.
That’s not to say all the flashbacks were pointless. Fewer flashbacks means less telling and more showing, leading to a tighter focus on plot. Carol’s flashback conversations with Rick and Morgan revealed just how deeply embedded she is as a double agent. She’s far more cunning than anyone gives her credit for, even to those who know exactly what game she’s playing. The Alexandrians look up to Deanna while our heroes follow Rick’s word, but Carol has the real power. She could easily turn either group against Deanna or Rick with some select Machiavellian machinations. I don’t think she’s on Rick’s side anymore than Deanna’s. Carol is on the side of survival, and if that means pushing out Rick for Morgan I can’t see her hesitating much before pulling the trigger.
Carter is the only major disappointment in the premiere. He never formed as a character beyond someone who disagreed with Rick. He was all of the Alexandrians’ stupidity and myopic arrogance funneled into one person. Clearly the show wanted us to side against him because he was against Rick. Problem is, Carter was kinda right. Rick’s plan was unnecessarily risky and relied on too many uncontrollable variables—as the horn going off in the town proved. The writers constantly push Rick into a moral gray area but never allow him to go full anti-hero. That disconnect makes it difficult for any character to contradict him. Rick must always be right even if his means of getting there are wrong, therefore anyone who challenges him must be reduced to an evil Big Bad or an incompetent asshole. Such restrictions are to the detriment of both Rick and whomever his foil is in any given week. Of course Carter had to put the whole operation at risk and of course he had to die because otherwise Rick might be proven wrong in his assessment of the Alexandrians as weak-willed and dangerously incompetent.
The setup is going have some real conflict when it comes to Morgan and Rick, however. Beyond whatever is going on back at the town while everyone else is herding walkers, the major conflict this season looks to be Rick’s pragmatism versus Morgan’s optimism, with Deanna caught in the middle. Rick and Morgan both understand the nature of the world they live in, but where Rick is all too willing to kill for the greater good, Morgan only does so as a last resort. If Morgan becomes Rick’s antagonist the writers will have a very steep hill to climb in terms of making Rick look better than Morgan. As they stand, any opposition to Morgan’s calm demeanor makes Rick look like the loose cannon. Not sure how I feel about where this thread is going, but I’m ready to give the show the benefit of the doubt. Man, I never thought I’d say that. Just shows how far TWD has come since its early days.
“First Time Again” was a exciting welcome back, even with its dependence on the strawiest strawman to ever straw. The show teased some tantalizing plots that I can’t wait to delve into: the clashing personalities of Morgan and Rick, Sasha dealing with her PTSD by coming to terms with it, Abraham dealing with his PTSD by getting wasted, the fumbling beginnings of a possible romance with Rick and whatshername, Glenn and Nick becoming uneasy allies, Father Gabriel and whatshername’s kid festering dissent amongst the lower ranks, the Wolves waiting in the shadows. I’m not ready to get my hopes up that season 6 will live up to its own hype—we’ve been burned too many times before with failed expectations, hackneyed scripts, and characters who exist only as plot devices—but I can’t wait to see where the show is headed. After all, it can’t be any worse than Fear The Walking Dead, right?
- A clever choice by the show to have Carol play innocent as she builds her defenses. She had a lot of practice at that when she was married to Earl in the before times. Morgan misinterprets her surveillance as cop-like, but it’s closer to victim behavior. She keeps her eyes on both the exit and the enemy and bides her time with sweet nothings. Under Earl she did it to keep him from beating her or Sophia, but this time she has agency and can use it to her advantage.
- A little curious as to where the Alexandrians got balloons. A lot curious about where they got the helium to fill the balloons.
- What a waste of Ethan Embry.
- Speaking of whom, when is Fox going to release FreakyLinks on DVD?
- Reminder that I’m only covering the premieres and finales, not weekly episodes. See ya’ll back here after the midseason finale on November 29.
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.