The Walking Dead 6×01 ‘First Time Again’: The march forward

The Walking Dead 6x01 Cover

Say what you will about The Walking Dead, but I’m at least thrilled to see that they’re willing to go big. Because that’s what The Walking Dead is really about: spectacle. Season 5 started out with “No Sanctuary”, a fantastic opener that raised the stakes and had a carnage-filled battle through Terminus as its centerpiece. Here, there is an attempt to replicate that, and while it’s a lot of fun, it’s not quite what “No Sanctuary” was. It’s not necessarily because “First Time Again” isn’t a tense episode of television, but rather because it’s one that pushes some of that tension aside to set up what is to come.

The Walking Dead 6x01-1

Source: AMC

“First Time Again” opens with Rick having hatched this insane plan to deal with a quarry filled with thousands of zombies, as the horde is getting closer to breaking through the barricade and funneling towards Alexandria. The stakes here are fantastic, as a horde of zombies would certainly obliterate the town and its residents, and the issue re-centers the show around zombies as a threat. Obviously, human threats are a little more interesting to manufacture, as they can have motivations, personalities, and so on, but The Walking Dead is still a show about zombies, and Scott Gimple has managed to make zombies interesting again by basically pushing a couple thousand of them together.

The Walking Dead 6x01-2

Source: AMC

But as interesting as the new threat is, especially by the end of the episode, when a twist sends a portion of the zombie horde straight for Alexandria, the 90-minute runtime sags a bit. It especially does this when it reverts to The Walking Dead’s habit of having two characters spell out what the writers are trying to communicate to the audience. Flashback scenes work well when they’re between Rick and Morgan, but when they focus on Sasha and Abraham, or on Glenn and Nicholas, they really detract from the quality of the overall episode. And it’s still because a lot of these interactions can be summed up in a sentence or two. Nicholas was scared so he hurt Glenn, but Glenn gave him another chance so he’s trying to redeem himself. Sasha and Abraham are reeling from loss and are borderline suicidal. These plotlines have the chance to be compelling, but the issue remains that the dialogue is so concrete and pointed that the nuance is sucked right out of the story. Sure, it would be nice if Nicholas redeemed himself, but do I really care? Eh, not really, because the show hasn’t developed Nicholas into a person with complex motivations. The show hasn’t really done that to Glenn either, to be honest.

The Walking Dead 6x01-3

Source: AMC

However, the scenes focusing on Rick and Morgan are absolutely the highlights of the episode, as they show Morgan becoming frustrated at Rick’s increasing hostility and aggression. The Walking Dead, at its core, is about the struggle for humanity in a world where the status quo has shifted towards inhumanity, and Rick’s struggle continues to be the focal point of the series. The perception of Rick in the Alexandria community works well in this episode to entertain multiple perspectives. What Rick does is somewhat necessary, as the brutal world outside Alexandria’s walls will eviscerate though who are not ready for it. However, there’s a point where Rick’s scheming and aggression seems dangerous, like it might tip over and damage those around him. Of course, Morgan and Rick don’t know each other like they once did, but that earlier perspective of the other helps Morgan see just how far gone Rick may be. When he sees Rick commit the violent, aggressive acts that he does in “First Time Again”, he sees how easily Rick could become unhinged if more tragedy strikes him. But he also sees Rick with Judith, how gentle and loving he can be, and he sees the humanity behind that rough exterior.

The Walking Dead 6x01-4

Source: AMC

We also see how it makes sense that Rick is losing it again. He has been tasked with leading these people all the way from Atlanta, and now that there are even more people to take care of, the stakes are too high for one person to carry. There’s a level of inhumanity necessary to being a ruler (a point that Game of Thrones has made very well), and Rick has to carry that with him so that others don’t necessarily have to. While Michonne and Morgan show remorse for Carter’s death, Rick has to move on, following through with the plan. This is a great thematic point to mine as the first half of the season trudges forward, and, as the stakes amplify, it’ll be a great point to come back to as Rick inevitably becomes more and more inhuman.

The Walking Dead 6x01-5

Source: AMC

The Walking Dead is also, at its core, a show that thrives off of a frenetic, adrenaline-fueled pace. There’s a reason that episodes like “Too Far Gone” and “No Sanctuary” work, and it’s because forward motion and shifts to the status quo keep the plot interesting. Season 2 was a great example of “what not to do”, as the stationary pace of that season kept it boring and tiresome. Sure, there are quiet episodes that are great, and some that are the series’ best (“The Grove” may be my absolute favorite), but those episodes are always narrow in scope. It’s the reason that “Conquer” wasn’t as great as it could have been. The character dynamics were interesting, but there was too much going on to care a great deal about anybody. While “First Time Again” had some of the frustrating content that we saw in “Conquer”, it also contained a huge, huge set-piece, one of the things that keeps The Walking Dead fresh and exciting.

“First Time Again” is a great way to kick off the season. Sure, it sags a little bit, but it sets up an insane problem for the Alexandrians, immediately amplifying the stakes in a way that feels significant. I mentioned the other day, in a conversation with a friend, that all I really care about in The Walking Dead is that it’s interesting and fun. Because that’s all The Walking Dead really needs to retain its viewership. It’s always going to be a show where a group of people fight for their humanity, where one of them occasionally dies in a horrific fashion, where they have to move from one place to another while fighting cartoonish villains. As long as the characters remain interesting and the plot remains fun, The Walking Dead has done its job.

And while “First Time Again” may not be laudable television like Mad Men or The Leftovers or Rectify, it’s at least doing what it’s supposed to.

So what did you think of the Season 6 premiere? Who do you think is going to end up zombie food? Let me know in the comments.

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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