* SPOILERS … AND A MOTHER LOAD OF WALKERS ALL WALKING YOR WAY AHEAD *
“One must either take an interest in the human situation or else parade before the void.” (Jean Rostand)
No prizes for guessing which side of the equation the walkers, and there are an insanely large number walkers, in this episode, fell upon, in some cases literally, in this gripping opening episode to the 6th season of AMC’s undead rating juggernaut, The Walking Dead.
Using a clever visual demarcation, which rendered current events in colour, and past events in dramatically-effective black and white, “First Time Again” – the title refers to the way Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Morgan (Lennie James) must get to know each other again after a whole of zombie-filled water has flown under the bridge since the beginning of the series – gave us an awe-inspiring look at the lengths the Alexandria survivors must go to if they’re to stay one step, or preferably more given the undead can chomp away, from the walker hordes.
And what a horde it was.
Greg Nicotero, who directed the episode, and writers Scott Gimple and Matt Negrete, delivered up a visual spectacle that astounded at every turn, as many hundreds of walkers, trapped in a quarry and close to getting out as the trucks barring their exit threatened to fall away, were herded away from Alexandria, which is where they would have naturally ended up, and off to the west.
Not everything went to plan of course, but then when does it ever do that, especially in the wildly unpredictable and brutal surrounds of the zombie apocalypse?
For a start, the truck holding all the walkers on one side of the quarry – Rick and Morgan discovered the hidden menace when they went to bury Peter (Corey Brill) the murderer of the township’s patriarch and leader Deanna’s husband, Reg (Steve Coulter) far out in the woods, seen only he deceased’s angry son Ron (Austin Abrams) – tumbled over into the undead abyss way earlier than expected, meaning that practice run suddenly became an all too real actual undertaking.
Everyone in Rick’s team was left unfazed, springing into action without a moment’s thought, but the native Alexandrian contingent, including near-mutinous “Kill Rick!” Carter (Ethan Embry), newly-arrived back from a weeks-long supply run Heath (Corey Hawkins) and Nicholas (Michael Traynor) weren’t so quick off the mark.
They pulled their weight of course but only after much coaxing and reassurance from Rick’s seasoned team, confirming Rick’s assertion – delivered a little to bullishly at times it has to be said – and only when, in some cases, the threat was right up against them and impossible to avoid.
The dichotomy between Rick’s team and the Alexandrians, largely cossetted from the apocalypse by a safe, secure township almost from the start of the apocalypse, was starkly illustrated, and even though many of the latter group realise they must act to safeguard their unique place in a deadly world, they’re woefully under-prepared for what lies ahead.
They know it, and Rick knows it and getting them to the same place, without all hell breaking loose, will provide some interesting drama in the weeks ahead.
The other great unforeseen event was the great, big booming truck horn that sounded just as the massive walker swarm was mere miles away from no longer posing a threat to Alexandria.
The obvious culprits naturally are the Wolves, who seem determined to kill off everyone but their own twisted cohorts, but given the episode ended with everyone running in the direction of the sound, with the walkers in shambling pursuit – towards Alexandria, not away from it as was the ’til then nearly-well-executed plan – and no real resolution, that will likely remain pure conjecture, though well-founded, for at least another week.
The whole sequence was suitably, grippingly immersive, a non-linear retelling of events that upended many of The Walking Dead‘s narrative conventions, in favour of some pretty clever, innovative, back-and-forth storytelling.
But it wasn’t just big Cecil b. DeMille action set pieces that enthralled and delighted.
In among the cacophony of sound and fury signifying a threat beyond imagining, there were some truly astoundingly-wrought moments of character interaction.
Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) was shut down at every turn, at one point with a simple, curt, angry “No!” by Rick when he offered to take part in Operation Big Ass Quarry Herding – not its official name but it really should have been – and Rick came to realise that his actions have consequences, especially with Pete’s widow, and his one time possible lover, Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge) who has taken none too kindly to Rick’s dispatching her husband, justified though the action may have been, and Rick’s attempt to tell her son Ron how he should react to the events surrounding his father’s death.
Close, revelatory conversations abounded with Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Nicholas reaching an unexpected but clearly genuine detente – as Maggie (Lauren Cohan) observed, her husband like to save people, even those who have nearly killed him – Maggie and Tara (Alanna Masterson) affirming that onetime enemies can become close friends and allies, and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) making it clear to a freakishly reckless Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) that she no longer wants to die.
Daryl (Norman Reedus) revealed he’s not as enamoured of Alexandria as he once was, Carol (Melissa McBride) kept up the whole innocent grandmother schtick – though Morgan saw through it quickly enough – and Deanna acknowledged over and over that her once-perfect world is no more and accorded Rick the right, with her continuing permission, to set the agenda for the town’s survival.
The most penetrating conversations came courtesy of Rick and Morgan, who though they know each other well, or once did, realise they must get to know each other, as the people they are now, all over again.
The recurrent affirmation though, from Morgan’s side at least was, corrupting an influence though the apocalypse may be, that who a person truly is never really goes away.
Rick didn’t look completely convinced but it was a return to the last few season’s recurrent question – can you ever truly go back and is anything left of who you are?
These small, intimate moments, all of which served a purpose and slotted into the overall narrative perfectly, were emblematic of a startlingly good opening episode that contrasted the big action sequences with small human-scale moments, setting the tone for what looks like an engrossing, narratively-adventurous season to come.
- Who’s sounding the truck horn? Is it who we think it is? Find out in next week’s episode “JSS” …