Now carrying official status as the most successful cable show in television history, The Walking Dead season six was facing extra pressure to deliver. Not that you'd have noticed from bold season opener 'First Time Again'.
Consisting of tranquil character interplay and walker-filled threat – something a series named The Walking Dead can be surprisingly low on at times – this episode may not have bettered season five's thrilling opening in action, but managed to exceed it in quality.
Here are the five main talking points we took away from the first episode.
1 | The Walking Dead goes arty
From the opening scene, we're immediately placed at an indeterminable time in the future with a handful of characters – most old, some new – overlooking a pit filled with more walkers than we've ever seen before, barricaded in by lorries, a stone's throw from their current home of Alexandria.
The plan (which we're drip-fed through flashbacks, boldly shot in black-and-white, filling in the gaps between season five's finale and this opening scene) is to collectively lead the horde away from the pit through the use of flares, guns and Daryl's motorcycle. It goes well until it doesn't (see number five).
But for a show in its prime to openly shun convention through beginning its sixth season by messing with time structure for the first time was an assured decision from a team who evidently feel they're in no danger of shedding viewers. Who would have thought that six years ago?
2 | The Ricktatorship lives on
Rick, Rick, Rick; it's no secret that the former sheriff's dependiblilty has fully transitioned into depraved lunacy.
Spending the latter stages of last season attempting to assert himself as Alexandria's new authority, his leadership is all but sealed now the safe zone's former charge Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh) is falling apart following the brutal loss of her husband Reg. In fact, she's his biggest supporter right now, usurping any Rick doubters... and there are a few, namely Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge) whose husband he violently murdered and son he basically threatens; that he still tries to hit on her displays some chutzpah.
In flashback, we see Rick – played by Andrew Lincoln – barking the orders like some kind of feral oracle, attempting to convince everybody that keeping them safe is his priority. Case in point is the scene where he stumbles upon Alexandria resident Carter (Ethan Embrey) holding a gun on the hapless Eugene (Josh McDermitt).
The change in Rick is startling; grabbing the weapon and tackling him to the floor, he directs the gun squarely at Carter's head while churning some spiel about protecting his friends. "Do you have any idea who you're talking to?" he taunts, thus dispelling any doubts that he's TV's biggest antihero since Walter White.
3 | Rick and Morgan's head-to-head has been put on hold
With season five ending as Morgan (Lennie James) rocked up to Alexandria just in time to see Rick shoot somebody's face off, many assumed the helmet-batting of these two characters – whose history dates right back to the first ever episode – would be at the center of this premiere. But it seems this stewing battle will lie dormant for a while yet despite being hinted at through concerned looks, gentle admonishing and downright pleading to his sanity; Morgan knows full well that Rick needs saving from himself, and if anyone can provide an antidote to this brutality, surely it's Morgan.
If the sparing interactions shown in the monochromatic flashbacks serve as a pointer towards character allegiances, it seems Rick may even be on the verge of losing loyal followers Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Daryl (Norman Reedus), with the latter former righthand man voicing concern over one of Rick's decisions. At your peril, Daryl.
4 | Poor Carter?
It's hard to feel sorry for a character who is thrown into the action despite having never seen them before, however Carter (who we're assuming was friends with Pete, the guy Rick offed in the season five finale) goes from being a right jackass in the flashbacks to actually alright in the scenes where we see the gang mid-mission. Having previously been against the plan, he admits his error and even shakes Rick's hand when he realises he was wrong. So of course Carter has his cheek bitten off by a stray zombie about one minute later. It's a knife to the back of the head, courtesy of Rick, that ultimately puts him out of his misery. Just when we thought he was decent; Axel's memory looms large.
5 | Who the beep is beeping?
...so the plan goes perfectly well until, out of nowhere, an unknown figure begins honking a bleedin' horn (of all things) from an unknown location, drawing the walkers back towards Alexandria, the (no longer) safe-zone, thrusting every single character into mortal danger. Think the climax to Game of Thrones' 'Hardhome' and multiply it by ten.
So who is causing the noise: could it be a scorned member of Alexandria? Perhaps Jessie's aforementioned son who Rick gave a stern talking to earlier on in the episode?
Our money, though, is on The Wolves, the band of hostile survivors glimpsed towards the end of season five. Morgan, who has already encountered them, does briefly mention the 'W-man" to Rick, reminding viewers they're still loitering in the shadows.
Whoever it is – this being The Walking Dead – we're sure it'll lead to bloodshed next week.
- Michonne and Morgan's stern discussion over who ate the last peanut butter protein bar, above the sound of zombie groans, was magic.
- After Fear the Walking Dead showed us how normal the walkers looked in their early stages, it was an extended shot of the extremely decayed walkers at this episode's start that successfully reminded us of just how much time has passed since the apocalypse arrived.
- It was a very quiet one for Carol. The scene where Morgan lets on that he can see beyond her innocent homemaking behaviour – "You're always watching; always ready to handle things" – was music to her ears. Her subsequent response – "Ain't you sweet?" – was plain eerie.
- Did anyone else think Rick had an air of Marv from Sin City about him? The black-and-white, the plasters, the reckless behaviour...
- It's reassuring to know the characters can't stand Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) as much as the viewers...
Line of the week:
"I'm supposed to be delivering pizzas, man"
Glenn (Steven Yeun) to Heath (Corey Hawkins) as he prepares to take down a building full of walkers.