First Time Again Plot Summary:
Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Morgan (Lennie James) come upon the biggest herd they’ve ever seen within a blocked off quarry. With the imminent threat of an undead march on the horizon, Rick crafts an extremely dangerous plan to bring the herd elsewhere.
Promotion for a new season of The Walking Dead tends to follow a pretty similar formula. With every new batch of episodes, cast and crew promise that the new material is “more intense” than anything that has come prior. Of course, this isn’t always an exaggeration. There frequently is a next level that still has yet to be hit, a level that the new season is promised to reach. Season 6 is no exception. This is supposed to be the “biggest and most intense season of The Walking Dead ever.” Fortunately for us, the Season 6 premiere, “First Time Again” actually pushes this truth. However, its own structure kept holding it back until the last several minutes.
The way this premiere unfolds is something akin to an episode of LOST. It opens up with the enormous herd escaping its truck and rock walled confines to begin a death march on Alexandria. Rick exclaims that they’re “doing it now,” despite Carter (Ethan Embry) exclaiming they’re not ready, and everyone gets into their pre-planned positions. Once this scene goes by, we jump back and forth between the past to watch this herd being discovered and exactly what plans were set into motion to get rid of it. Whatever isn’t known in present day is eventually revealed in a stylishly black-and-white flashback.
Those flashbacks, despite revealing every essential detail that we need to know, are actually my biggest issue. They completely interrupt all the tension that this episode was delivering in present day. In practice, this set up was probably done so producers could carry the walker march chaos across the entire extended premiere. However, what ended up happening is we’d watch thousands of undead following Daryl (Norman Reedus) or Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) killing stragglers, and suddenly we’d jump back to a scene of wall building or Rick talking to Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge). This was especially notable with the present day’s music. It was so epic and made you feel deeply unsettled, but then like someone ripping your headphones out, it immediately stops. It was quite jarring.
Carter’s death was horribly predictable too. For a show that promises anyone can die at any time (and really does maintain that), it’s far too often that this “anyone” is a secondary or tertiary character we care little about. This was just another example. Carter didn’t appear at all in Season 5, but now here he is talking about taking Alexandria back from Rick. He wants to rebel. A gun to the head later and Carter is suddenly on board with Rick’s crazy plan. Back in the present day when everything is actually going well, Carter happily acknowledges that Rick was absolutely right. Then he says, “I’ll head to the front” to keep the herd going, and you just KNOW he’s about die. Then he does no less than one minute later and ends up being the only death of this premiere. I’m not saying I want the producers to start culling out our named favorites, but it would be nice for them to stop giving side characters extra material for the purpose of us “caring” about their death.
Outside of this, the premiere was nothing short of spectacular. I love that the show has officially brought on herd wrangling because that’s now such an important part of staying alive in the comics. Thousands of walkers shouldn’t be attacked like a small group. It’s much better just directing them elsewhere. I’m also glad this didn’t fall into the extremely predictable territory of a plan falling apart. Had that giant bumper wall not succeeded in moving the herd elsewhere, I would’ve been so disappointed that the writers would fall down into this exceptionally predictable trap. Instead everything actually works out! Rick and his crew may have held back from celebrating, but you just know they were all ecstatic that this insane plan went by without issue.
Things went really well for Glenn (Steven Yeun), Nick (Michael Traynor) and newcomer Heath (Corey Hawkins) too. They’re job was to take out about a dozen walkers in a locked store and they actually pulled it off. The brief action scene was awesome too. After watching six episodes of Fear the Walking Dead where no one knew what to do, it was amazing watching this trio take out a whole clump with just pistols. This is what the Fear cast will (hopefully) become in the future, should they live that long. Nick to his credit stopped being an annoying little ass too. He pledged to legitimately work with Glenn for good, and then proved his mettle by taking out a few walkers. Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Tara (Alanna Masterson) were wise to keep what happened in the forest private. It does look like Nick will finally get along with Glenn after all.
Obviously, since this is The Walking Dead, all good fortune comes to an end. Right when the group is at the home stretch, a massive truck horn starts booming near Alexandria. Now thousands of walkers are barreling down on this extremely unprepared community. Who put a death warrant on them? My guess is The Wolves but we’ll likely know for sure next week. It is great that this is happening already too. As early as next week we could watch Alexandria get assaulted by thousands of dead, officially beginning the crazy “No Way Out” arc from the comics.
Something that I noticed throughout the night was the sudden increase in humor between the characters. The apocalypse is obviously a very dour time, so there isn’t a lot of laughs around, but our survivors are getting confident, and with confidence comes comfort and jokes. When Eugene (Josh McDermitt) finds Tara alive, he slays the mood by saying how weird he’s making it. Morgan talks to Carol (Melissa McBride) how she’s always watching people, and she hilariously keeps selling her “I’m a weak housewife” persona. She even meekly agrees with Rick’s plan during the meeting. When Rick, Morgan, and Michonne (Danai Gurira) wonder if their wall with hold, Morgan asks if Michonne took his last peanut butter protein bar. Subtle hinting of their blossoming relationship aside, it’s funny watching these characters concerned over inconsequential things like this bar. Even if it’s horribly short lived.
This was an excellent premiere that will hopefully lead to another excellent season. At this current time, the promise for “bigger and more intense” actually appears to be coming true. A herd of thousands is now shuffling toward Alexandria. The Wolves (probably) have this community in their crosshairs. There’s even a shortage of PEANUT BUTTER PROTEIN BARS (runs screaming from room). If only the intensity could have remained consistent, and certain character deaths weren’t as transparent.