Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Walking Dead Season 6, Episode 1: First Time Again

It's the long-awaited season premiere of The Walking Dead! And what a premiere it was! This extra long episode was truly epic in scale and seemed more like a season finale than an opener. What the hell are they going to do for the second episode?

The premiere was written by showrunner Scott Gimple, and directed by Greg Nicotero, the show's co-executive producer and special effects makeup supervisor.

Much was made of the fact that this episode would feature more walkers than we've ever seen before, and they weren't lying. There were thousands of shambling zombies milling around in the bottom of the Alexandria quarry. Supposedly there were around six hundred walker extras in this episode, a record for the show. They were enhanced of course with a goodly number of CGI zombies.

Remember back at the beginning of the second season, when penny-pinching AMC executives were trying to reduce the budget and asked if it would be possible to just "hear the zombies rather than see them?" How times have changed.

It was good to finally see Morgan back. I'm hoping he's not going to become another Hershel though, constantly lecturing Rick and trying to keep him from going too far to protect his family. There's only so many times we can watch that same plot line unfold.


The Plot:
This week's episode features current scenes in color, with numerous flashbacks in black and white.

Current: The Alexandrians stare down at a quarry filled with thousands of walkers. Rick goes over his plan to lure the walkers away from Alexandria. Suddenly a semi truck that was blocking the quarry's exit collapses, freeing the walkers. Rick is then forced to put his plan into action a day early.

Flashback: During a town meeting, Deanna mourns the loss of her husband Reg. Rick keeps his friend Morgan under lock and key until he's sure he can be trusted. Rick sees Father Gabriel burying Reg and Pete (the man who killed Reg). Rick refuses to allow a killer like Pete to be buried within the walls, and Deanna agrees. Rick and Morgan take Pete's body outside the walls. They're followed by Pete's son Ron, who attracts a group of walkers. Rick saves Ron, who almost falls into the quarry full of walkers.

Rick realizes that the quarry has served as a giant walker trap, which is why Alexandria has always been relatively zombie free. He worries though that the quarry's barricades will fail soon, allowing the thousands of walkers to overrun the town. He comes up with a plan to free the walkers and then lure them twenty miles away, where they'll pose no threat. Team Rick is on board, while the Alexandrians think he's nuts.

Later on Carter (a redshirt Alexandrian we've never seen before) discusses killing Rick and taking over the town in a secret meeting. Eugene overhears him and is discovered. Carter's about to kill Eugene when Rick walks in and disarms him.

Current: Everything goes according to plan as Daryl, Sasha and Abraham lure the vast walker heard down the road. Carter sees the plan is actually working and apologizes to Rick. Just then Carter is bitten in the face by a walker. His screams attract walkers away from the "parade route," so Rick stabs him in the head, putting him out of his misery and shutting him up. The stray walkers rejoin the herd and continue marching.

Suddenly a horn sounds in the distance. Rick realizes it's coming from Alexandria. The episode ends as the back half of the enormous herd breaks off and heads toward the town.

• Lennie James (who plays Morgan) now appears in the opening credits. I guess that means he's sticking around. Sonequa Martin-Green (Sasha) has also been upgraded to opening status.

• The choice to film the flashbacks in black and white was odd but effective, as it helped you figure out what was happening when. I have to wonder though how many people thought something was wrong with their set and tried adjusting it.

Haven't they done the black & white thing before? Maybe I'm thinking of a different show.

• I liked the relentless, throbbing score in the cold open as the walkers broke through the barrier and exited the quarry. It reminded me a bit of The Return Of The Living Dead theme.

• The walkers look much more deteriorated and disgusting this season. They're practically falling apart! Showrunner Scott Gimple commented on this, saying the plan was to show them in progressively worse shape each season.

If this keeps up though, by Season 10 the walkers will no longer be a threat as they'll be too desiccated to move.

• Why did Rick have Morgan locked up in Alexandria's makeshift jail? I get that it's probably SOP to hold newcomers for observation until it's determined they're not a threat, but Rick knows Morgan. Of course the last time they met, Morgan wasn't exactly firing on all cylinders, so maybe Rick was right to be suspicious.

• Rick and Morgan share a cool callback in this episode. Rick visits Morgan in the improvised jail and sees he's practicing his sweet bo staff skills. He asks where he learned it, and gets no response. Rick says, "I ask, you answer. It's common courtesy, right?"

Way back in the very first episode, Morgan's son hit Rick in the head with a shovel, thinking he was a walker. When he came to, Morgan was standing over him. After getting no response from Rick, Morgan says, "Look, I ask, and you answer. That's common courtesy, right?"

Speaking of Morgan's bo staff, he finally tells Rick he learned to use it "After." We briefly see the map Morgan used to find Rick, and beside it is a copy of The Art Of Peace. It's written by Morihei Ueshiba, the creator of Aikido, a martial art which typically involves a bo staff.

• Looks like Tara's finally out of her coma. I liked her line to Eugene: "Thank god nothing happened to your hair."

By the way, Eugene seems kind of sweet on her. Are they just friends, or is he hoping for something more? He does know she's a lesbian, right?

• Suddenly in this episode, Heath, Scott, Annie and Carter appear out of nowhere. All four were characters in the comic, and we're told they've been out on an extended supply run for the past two weeks. Funny that none of the other Alexandrians ever mentioned them before.

I can overlook this though as it was a quick and efficient way to introduce some more redshirts, er I mean characters to the show. And it's good to see fan favorite Heath finally show up. He looks exactly like he does in the comic.

• So it looks like the quarry serves the same function as the swamp surrounding Hershel's farm back in Season 2. If you'll recall, back then Rick determined the farm was relatively walker-free because they stumbled into the surrounding swamp and became trapped. Lucky!

• I get that the quarry full of walkers is a ticking time bomb, but surely there had to be a safer way to dispose of them than marching them all out of town?

Why not try and burn the walkers while they're packed in the quarry like sardines? Toss a few fire bombs into the quarry and watch 'em burn. They were close enough together that the fire ought to spread from one to another, and we've seen before they're attracted by flames, so they'd probably walk right into a big bonfire. Surely it'd be worth a try.

• When Rick is going over the plan with the Alexandrians, Glenn whispers to Maggie that she should stay behind and keep an eye on Deanna, who's just lost her husband Reg. Maggie agrees, but says, "That's not the only reason." Glenn replies, "Yeah, it isn't."

In addition to Glenn's annoying practice of using the word "yeah," when he means "no," I'm betting he wants Maggie to stay behind because she's secretly pregnant.

• The camera seemed to linger longer than necessary on the Reading and Marshall Roads street sign. Are those names significant somehow?

• There's a nice little scene between Morgan and Carol, where he sees right through her little suburban housewife act.

• In a flashback we see Rick knows the tractor store is full of walkers that could distract the parade, but leaves it to be cleared out later. Apparently that never happened, because in the present Glenn, Heath and Nicholas have to hurriedly clear it out and almost die in the process.

There was absolutely no reason for Rick to not clear the store when he had the chance, other than to give Glenn and Co. something to do later in the story and eat up some screen time.

• After Sasha descended 98% of the way into madness last season (remember when she laid down in a mass grave of walkers?), suddenly in this episode she's fine. In fact she seems to have it together more than Abraham, who I'm afraid is going to do something stupid and get himself killed next week.

• The plan is going fine until a loud horn sounds from Alexandria, drawing half the walker heard toward the settlement. Ruh roh! Honestly I don't see how the walkers could hear a horn or anything else over their incredibly loud moans and shuffling.

So who's blowing the horn back in Alexandria? It would be fitting if it was Father Gabriel. You know, Gabriel? Horn? Jesus, people, read your bibles!

• This is some extreme nitpicking, but here goes-- every review I've seen of this episode has mentioned the fact that it's 90 minutes long. It might have aired in a 90 minute time slot, but the actual content of the episode was only a little over an hour. An hour and five minutes, to be exact. That means they stuffed it with an entire 25 minutes of commercials. Jesus! No wonder I never watch live TV anymore!

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