The Walking Dead returns with an episode – “First Time Again” – that is much more creatively realized than most previous episodes have been. The structure throws viewers into the thick of the action first with Rick and a mixture of his original crew and Alexandria residents executing a plan to remove a collection of a few thousand zombies which are trapped in a quarry by four tractor trailers. These sequences are in the typical vibrant color the series offers, but we shift into stark black and white to fill the gap between the Season Five finale and the initiation of the plan.
By shifting back and forth, the creative team rather ingeniously reinforces the mundane planning and execution the survivors undergo to deal with the zombie horde while eliminating the mundanity of the situation. As a result, the season premiere is most likely one of the better ones the series has offered.
The trapped zombies have been effectively keeping the threat away from Alexandria for a while now, yet the trucks are starting to give way. If the horde breaks free, then it will most certainly overrun the Alexandria safe zone. Rick and team engineer a plan to draw them away from the living and down a highway about 20 miles away, even going so far as to construct a massive wall to help the walkers make a sharp right turn. As they execute the plane, we flash back in black and white to the aftermath of the Season Five deaths with most characters able to reinforce their current social and mental state. Most importantly, Rick’s emotional and near blood-thirsty attitude is gradually tempered by the quieter resolve of the recently arrived Morgan (Lennie James, joining the main cast for the first time in the series). Lest you think all of the tension exists within the color segments, the black and white backstory is filled with interpersonal dread and a lack of trust between the survivors, including Ethan Embry’s Carter who would rather kill Rick than follow through with his plan.
The Walking Dead needed something like the parallel time structures to chop up the action and give the audience the information and suspense it needs to stay integrated with the series without being bored by an overabundance of either side at any given time. Plus, it’s very nice to see the black and white cinematography used in the past sections. At times, I thought it felt flat and undercooked, but there were absolutely moments of sheer beauty that color cinematography probably would never have captured, particularly when multiple characters filled the screen giving the proceedings a near-3D sense of depth and perspective.
The acting in “First Time Again” is on par with the series. Ethan Embry has a few very strong moments as he genuinely fears for his safety given his inexperience with the zombie apocalypse. Rick warned them last season that they were too soft – that safety within the walls of Alexandria had made them incapable of dealing with the harsh new world. Embry’s Carter becomes the living embodiment of Rick’s philosophy, and, without spoiling anything, let’s just say that Rick was unfortunately right. I still think the series is underusing Melissa McBride’s Carol, but I’m holding out hope she has bigger and better things brewing in the future.
Overall, the sixth season premiere felt at once massive and intimate. The sheer scale of some scene felt almost Game of Thrones level, and some sequences felt appropriately suffocating and claustrophobic. Director Greg Nicotero has clearly learned how to steer this ship in the right direction, and his steady hand is felt all over this great episode. By the end, there is an unexpected flaw in Rick’s plan – something he perhaps should have expected – that seems to have redirected the zombie horde directly toward the Alexandria Safe Zone.
Chances are, next week’s episode is going to be a doozy. Can’t wait.