Why I’m watching… The Walking Dead season 6
by Thom Yee
If I’m right, and I usually am when it comes to prognosticating on a TV show that I’ve already read well ahead of in its counterpart/inspiration comicbook series, then this might be the last season of The Walking Dead that’s… like… this. Alexandria may have been a big shift for Rick and co., offering the first real, lasting, modern-living respite our heroes have ever had, but if our heroes wind up staying here on the TV show as long they do in the comic, then we’ve only begun to see where this story is headed. In addition to the internal strife that will probably be forming between Rick and Morgan this season, it looks like we’re also on a collision course with the mysterious Wolves that have been skulking around the edges of this show all last season, something that may lead to our first confrontation with the biggest big bad in the entire series. Think the Governor, only bigger, meaner, with no sense of morality, and directly responsible for the brutal, sadistic beating to death of a beloved long-time character.
So that’s coming. And like I pointed out in my coverage of Fear the Walking Dead, what else do I really have to do on a Sunday night? Certainly not something productive.
6×01: “First Time Again”
Happy Thanksgiving Day, all you Canadians! If you’re anything like me, you’re probably thinking about how our Canadian Thanksgiving Day is also America’s Columbus Day, but we don’t have a corresponding holiday and we don’t get the day off when America celebrates its Thanksgiving in November, and that’s really unfair and cause for making me feel much less thankful today. Even though you’re probably not the bitter, self-pitying husk of a human being I am, there’s a good chance that, like me, you did spend part of your Thanksgiving/Columbus Day holiday thinking about The Walking Dead season six premiere, “First Time Again”. Even if there wasn’t actually that much to think about.
After a brief, six-episode warmup with the just-completed, first season of Fear the Walking Dead, it’s nice to finally get back to the waves of zombies and horrific death scenes of the real show. The thing that I admired most about Fear the Walking Dead is that it generally felt more real than anything/everything we’ve seen in The Walking Dead, and its dramas didn’t feel as forced. That show’s show runners really did succeed in making a lot of what happened in Fear feel like what would happen in real life, but after watching last night’s Walking Dead return, maybe the best thing about Fear the Walking Dead and its more reasonable approach to societal breakdown is that it makes it okay for The Walking Dead to be the stupid, balls-out, freak-flag-flying show we really want to see.
We open our sixth season with the type of frantic, kinetic action scene that few shows can afford to open with (both literally in terms of their production budget and figuratively in terms of their storytelling economy), and it’s a strong reminder that summer’s really over, The Walking Dead is back, and that if we left the preceding zombie show that finished last Sunday with a bit of trepidation, at least this zombie show, this Sunday, probably won’t be boring (even if it doesn’t always hang together). Flashing between colour scenes in the present as the combined forces of Rick’s group and some of the more adventurous Alexandrianites are herding hundreds of zombies away from the Safe-Zone, and black-and-white scenes of the recent past filling in the details of how we got here, “First Time Again” offers some of the most dynamic and actually exciting action we’ve ever seen in the series. There were times that the episode really did seem like a movie. The black and white choice may come across as a bit hoary (my favourite word of late), but it’s an old standby that’s more applicable in this genre than most others, and it has a certain type of additive validity in zombie movies in the same way that the tank-like, almost busted controls in Resident Evil games added to the suspense of that series.
Whether or not you like these storytelling techniques, it’s at least an attempt on the part of the Walking Dead’s showrunners to do something out of their ordinary, and it all seems to work pretty well. Having said that, though this episode is wrapped up in an overarching action sequence that’s tight, straightforward and fairly interesting (and still ends in a cliffhanger despite its 90-minute broadcast time), it’s also an episode that mostly serves to catch us back up on what was going on. I’m not someone who devotes a lot of thought to The Walking Dead in the offseason, so I kind of momentarily forgot about a lot of things like what was going on between Glenn and Nicholas, that Abraham was starting to go off the deep end, that Tara appeared to recover from her injuries (damn her!), and who it was that Rick shot at the end of last season. As much as the story around Ron, Pete’s son, feels like it’ll turn into another hoary, old trope where any resolutions in its story will most likely come back to haunt our characters later at the worst possible time, it’s at least a reminder of how strained things are probably going to be between Rick and Jessie now that he’s the (perhaps rightful) murderer of her husband.
We also get some newer developments, including the introduction of Heath, who seems like he has just enough attitude to become an important addition, the continuing dismissal of Father Gabriel (another story development that, if anything seems destined for a certain level of backfiring hoariness), and maybe most importantly the realization that Carol and Morgan are both perceptive enough to understand what the other is really doing. As the sides begin to form between Rick and Morgan, the understated Carol/Morgan conflict has the potential to become one of the more interesting elements. Or it may fall by the wayside because this show has never been that good at the understated.
With the discovery of Zombie Gulch in this episode, it’s interesting to note that, even without the sinister plans of the evil, conniving forces surrounding them, hunting them, preying on their naiveté… Alexandria was doomed anyways. If it wasn’t Rick’s group, the Wolves, the Claimers (Jerks), or whatever other roaming band of ‘we’re-taking-what-you-have/you’re-not-ready’ types might have been out there, the so-called Safe-Zone would eventually have been run over/overrun by an unstoppable zombie horde slowly making its way out of the nearby quarry. It’s like Rick said when talking to Morgan on the porch steps:
[People] like that… they’re gonna die no matter what.
The Walking Dead — “First Time Again” final score
Items of Note
- Damn, Heath looks exactly the same as the comicbook version. I mean, they didn’t have to have the dreadlocks and ponytail, but they damn-hell-ass went and got dreadlocks and a ponytail.
- The peanut butter bars really are the best ones! Also, great call back.
- Okay, so the walkers were following the flares because they were drawn to their light, but they weren’t drawn to the sounds of the flare guns being fired behind the makeshift walls?
- So how long till Nicholas is killed? Episode eight, just before the break and just long enough to establish a completed redemption arc?
- A Carl-free episode? What the whuuhhh…?