The Walking Dead's sixth season comes around with big shoes to fill. Season five's premiere shocked the world with its intense, unforgettable brutality which pushed the limits of cable TV as Carol had to storm into Terminus to save our band of survivors from being cannibal feed. Season six takes a different approach.
We've come quite a ways since Terminus and lost a lot of friends on the journey. We've also seen a lot of bad guys come and go when they try to stand in the way of Rick Grimes. Season six comes along with a lot of questions. Many of us are so focused on what the dynamic between Rick and Morgan will be we're forgetting about the looming issue of the Wolves. Let's also not forget Deanna, the leader of Alexandria has lost her husband, Glenn and Nicholas just tried to kill each other in the woods, and Father Gabriel is a scoundrel full of betrayal. These issues are tackled head-on in The Walking Dead's season six premiere - well - most of them.
With an interesting story-telling format, Greg Nicotero, who seems to always get it right, having directed some of our favorite episodes including last season's premiere, "No Sanctuary," takes the helm of "First Time Again." There is no more fitting title for this episode because everything about it truly feels as if we're actually meeting The Walking Dead for the first time again. Showrunner Scott Gimple has repeatedly said that the show will reinvent itself every 8 episodes and with episode 6x01, The Walking Dead does just that. It reinvents itself by going back to its roots with great character dynamics and lots and lots of zombies.
Seriously - the amount of zombies in the season six premiere of The Walking Dead would be enough to spread out through all of seasons two and three to make up for their lack thereof and still have enough for a crazy episode. It's as if the production team made up the entire Georgia town in which they filmed with walker garb and sent them out into the streets. Beware, though, because the trailer isn't exactly honest about what is going on with all those zombies. There is no way to predict the events of "First Time Again." There's also no way to predict that late in the episode there's an honest jump-out-your-seat moment which is exactly what The Walking Dead needs to keep its viewers on their toes.
The episode's story telling is unique to any predecessor. Its story is told through a combination of flashbacks and shots of the present. The present's shots seem a bit extended on walker-herd close-ups or Daryl bike rides when we're thirsty for answers and action but when the story comes together - all of that is forgiven. First Time Again provides a jaw-dropping finale with a cliffhanger of Carl-getting-shot-in-the-woods proportions. This episode could have easily been a season finale but instead it sets us up for a week of wondering just what the heck is going to happen next and what promises to be an undoubtedly non-stop season.
All zombie hordes and cliffhanger's aside, The Walking Dead's return still has more to offer. What may actually be the best aspect of the premiere is the manner in which it handles the relationships left altered in season five's wake. Rick and Morgan's conversations bring the always prominent questions of humanity to the forefront but this time they're not as in-your-face or well, boring, as they can sometimes be. Their relationship has a lot of growth in its future and First Time Again appropriately handles their reintroduction. Fear not, this is not the only relationship to be explored on October 11. Rick and Jessie won't be treated like an elephant in the room to be ignored but, instead, a tastefully and realistically managed plot point while Glenn and Nicholas may start to find some resolution in the aftermath of their feud, as well.
The characters also each seem to have an added layer to them. Perhaps that layer was always there but this time around, Nicotero has found the proper way to exploit it. Abraham is such a man. Sasha's issues are still lingering. Daryl may start to feel at home. But above all, Carol fans are going to have a field day with her character. Though not given a hefty amount of screen time, McBride's Carol Peletier remains a strong foundation for the group with her sly performance as the undercover post-apocalyptic friendly neighbor.
To top it all off is one of Andrew Lincoln's best performances to date. It definitely didn't hurt to have Ethan Embry's brand new character bring out all the best Lincoln has to offer. He's taking the reigns as the fierce leader of Alexandria who doesn't take chances anymore and definitely won't put up with anyone who scoffs at his views or plans. Unless it's Morgan, Daryl, Carol, or Michonne.
Had the episode featured more than what seems like a side note about the Wolves just because it couldn't be completely ignored, it may have just been perfect enough to satisfy every single viewer. It's a bit frustrating, though, to see such a build about the apparently villainous group accumulate in season five only to be almost completely shrugged off in the premiere. Sure, they're not far, but it has felt as if they're hardly existent at times and the premiere is one of those times.
All in all, the premiere is going to satisfy die-hard Walking Dead fans and Walking Dead critics alike. Staunch performances from the well-known cast and tremendous execution of character relationships combine for a a satisfying 90-minute premiere of The Walking Dead. Then, they're given the show's largest horde of walkers - ever - to cap things off and send the show back to its roots. Bring on season 6.
The Walking Dead's season 6 premiere episode, "First Time Again," airs Sunday, October 11 at 9 PM EST on AMC.