The Walking Dead S06E01 “First Time Again”
Airing in the UK on: FOX, Mondays, 9pm
Writers: Scott M Gimple & Matthew Negrete
Director: Greg Nicotero
Essential Plot Points:
- In the present, we see Rick briefing a team of people, some new, some familiar. They’re standing on the lip of a quarry where hundreds of Walkers are corralled. As they watch, one of the trucks holding them in place slips and falls…
- In the past, and in lovely black and white, we see the immediate aftermath of Rick’s execution of Pete and Morgan’s arrival at Alexandria.
- Morgan is remarkably relaxed about being essentially imprisoned. He’s also painfully aware of how brittle Rick is and steps in when Rick confronts Gabriel about burying Pete’s body inside the town. On Deanna’s suggestion they take it out of town to be buried.
- Elsewhere, Nicholas is surprised to find Glenn covering for him despite his attempts to end the life of the world’s toughest pizza delivery boy last season.
- In the present, we see more of the attempt to lead the Walkers away. The Alexandrians have built barricades to keep the horde on track. They’re led out of the quarry by Darryl on his bike and Sasha and Abraham in a car. The parade of the dead is huge, and will only keep moving if they move just a little faster than the leading edge.
- In the past, we see Rick and Morgan bury Pete. Rick hears something and follows the noise to the quarry, followed by Morgan. They’re interrupted by Pete’s son Ron who is pursued by Walkers. Rick saves him and the three return to Alexandria to warn the residents.
- There, Rick develops a plan to lead the Walkers away. Carter, an Alexandrian resident, violently objects but is talked around by Morgan. They plan to lead the zombies down one road in particular, building a curved wall to “push” them miles past the town, led by Sasha and Darryl.
- In the present, Rick, Michonne and Morgan arrive at the curve and use flare pistols to keep the horde moving. Nearby, Glenn, Nicholas and new arrival Heath are told to destroy a small Walker pocket trapped in a store. They discover the store’s shutters are down and blow the windows out, drawing the Walkers to them. The fight gets messy and Glenn is saved by Nicholas, despite telling him not to get involved.
- In the past, we see the plan put into action and various characters struggling with the realities of their new life. Rick advocates not looking for anyone else. Darryl feels differently and says so. Glenn, Maggie, Nicholas and Tara make peace and Abraham quietly begins to drink himself into oblivion. Carter contemplates violent revolution and is overheard by Eugene. Rick, Morgan and Michonne arrive and Rick, instead of killing Carter, asks him to help. Later, Rick and Morgan talk and Morgan attempts to reassure his not quite friend that the man who spared Carter’s life was the man he always knew. Rick responds that people like Carter couldn’t survive in this world anyway.
- In the present, Glenn’s team meet up with Rick’s and they get form up around the Horde, making sure they don’t wander off the road. Carter, admitting he was wrong, shakes hands with Rick. He volunteers to run off to secure the front of the horde and Rick agrees.
- Then everything goes to hell. Carter is mauled by a walker. Rick arrives, kills it and tries to calm the dying man whose screams are attracting the horde on the road. Unable to silence him, Rick finally murders Carter just as the others arrive. He tells them what happened and while they accept it, neither Morgan nor Michone seem happy.
- Then everything really goes to Hell. A car horn triggers, the noise dragging the Walkers towards it. The horn is coming from Alexandria and now thousands of walkers are heading for the town…
Nicotero’s direction is amazing. Not just because of the classy black and white either, although that’s a lovely touch. There’s a welcome spring of experimentation in genre TV at the moment and it’s especially nice to see this structure used in the same week Doctor Who had so much fun breaking the fourth wall. Both shows trust their audiences, both shows play with their expectations a little and both absolutely nail complex structures and interesting, challenging visual ideas.
Plus the black and white is just amazingly pretty. Honestly, I’d watch an entire season shot this way. (Didn’t they actually repeat an entire season in black and white in the US a while back? Maybe that’s where they got the idea?)
No, Nicotero really excels because he gets out of the damn way. Look at the Glenn, Heath and Nicholas versus the tractor store zombies fight. There’s minimal fuss, nothing showy, just three guys fighting an undead horde of indeterminate size. You winced, when Glenn is jumped because Nicotero parks the camera right over his shoulder.
The episode’s full of moments like that and Nicotero revels in showing us the ridiculous size of the zombie horde. The shot of Rick, Michonne and Morgan behind the RV, with only a thing line of aluminium siding between them and absolute death was amazing. Likewise the recurrent, absurd yet horrifying, image of Darryl in the slowest motion motorcycle chase in human history.
That’s reflected in the writing too. The five seasons in hell these characters have endured has changed them all and there are some moments of real gentleness here. The opening sequence, as various people check in on each other is especially sweet and spins some lovely character beats out into the episode itself. Glenn, in particular, and his harsh but fair refusal to let Nicholas off the hook, is especially great. Steven Yeun has always been one of the best actors in this cast and he turns in seriously impressive work here.
But, inevitably, the bulk of the episode’s emotional heavy lifting is between Rick and Morgan. Andrew Lincoln and Lennie James are two of the most phenomenal actors of their generation and every scene they have here proves it, largely because they do so little. There’s a sense, not of two alpha predators circling one another, but of two frightened, wounded animals trying to work out if they need to fight. Rick is traumatised, spiky, always ready to put someone down and not quite as hardened as he thinks he is. Morgan is quiet, polite, clearly desperately sad and absolutely prepared to put Rick down if he needs to. It’s like Shane and Rick without the chest beating and it’s revelatory work from the actors and writers alike.
It’s also one of the best-written examples of emotionally intimate male friendship you’ll see in genre TV. These two men are survivors, both rendered down to their component parts countless times and yet somehow still here. Their approaches are almost completely different but they have an intensely strong bond through shared trauma. Morgan’s right, Rick’s still in there. And the man Rick truly is isn’t buried that deeply beneath the man he’s become.
Except this is The Walking Dead and nothing’s ever simple, or easy.
Firstly, the quarry zombies are one of the subtlest, cruellest ideas the show has ever had. Rick is proven absolutely correct; Alexandria isn’t even a little safe. The only reason the town hasn’t been overrun is sheer blind chance. That’s one of the nastiest twists of the knife the show’s ever done and it’s clearly why everyone gets on board as fast as they do.
Well, I say everyone.
Ethan Embry’s Carter makes a lot of very good points. He’s like the opposite of the character most shows throw exposition at; Carter knows exactly what’s going on, is mystified as to why and wants to plan just a little bit more thanks.
What makes him significant is not only his death but how it’ll be perceived. Carter’s not a brave man, just an unlucky one. His reconciliation with Rick is genuine and his loss is all the more tragic for it, especially given how it’ll be perceived. Rick’s authority isn’t secure by any means and the show subtly keys us into this. If Michonne and Morgan aren’t okay with him killing Carter for very good reasons, God only knows what the town will think.
That extra problem, of perception rather than action, is one that could only happen in a stable location like Alexandria. More than anything else this episode, it’s an indicator of how far the show, and the characters, have come.
That’s the genius of “First Time Again’. It shows us how much the characters have changed, how much they want to change and how fragile their world still is. The episode inevitably focuses on Rick and Morgan, but we get moments with everyone else that show just much they’ve opened up in Alexandria. Whether they’ll survive what looks like the near certain destruction of the town remains to be seen. Damn this week-long wait!
- “People out there, gotta take care of themselves. Just like us.” The “Rick processes his feelings” arc this season looks to be far more nuanced than it’s been in the past. He’s a good man, albeit a horrifically psychologically scarred one, and he’s turning inwards. He’s got a town, he’s got his family and that’s all he needs. Or at least all he thinks he needs.
- “Look if you’re still looking to get buck wild with the breath impaired…” Abraham, spirit of tact.
- “It’ll hold.” “Well that’s good, you know, considering where we’re standing.” The entire Rick, Michonne and Morgan at the barricade conversation is amazing, especially the protein bar joke. But this line in particular, a joke so dry it’s basically granular, is the standout.
- “Morgan, maybe we just leave him here.” “…That’s not who you are. I know.” “Hey…you DON’T.” The constant back and forth between Rick and Morgan, two men who’ve had to completely rebuild their lives at least twice, each, is amazingly good. This is Rick being offered understanding and friendship and the last time that happened was Shane, or Hershel. No wonder he turns Morgan down.
- “This was supposed to be a dress rehearsal.” “I was supposed to be delivering pizzas, man.” NEVER CHANGE, Glenn. NEVER. And please stay away from baseball bats.
- “Going out, finding more people, that IS taking care of ourselves.” Darryl, careful, considered, utterly terrifying conscience of Rick.
- “Darryl’s been teaching me how to shoot.” “I think you got the hang of it.” The episode, hell the series, is at its best in these quiet moments of careful humour. Rick and Carol bantering about how she’s a Bringer Of Death To All Who Oppose Her is lovely.
- “You can try to work with us. You can try to survive. Will you do that?” Rick is still absolutely terrifying and clearly ever so slightly hatstand. He’s also still a decent man. This line, and the clear, absolute terror Ethan Embry as Carter sells the entire scene with, is brilliant.
- “Somebody like that, they’re gonna die no matter what.” This entire conversation, and Rick’s monologue, looks set to be a lynchpin for the season. It’s such a sweet moment and it’s undercut with this cold, hard, brutal view of the world. Even this is development for the man who last season was executing potential threats without batting a blood-soaked eyelid.
- “I know its how it is. I do.” “Yeah. I do too.” Now this is interesting. Morgan’s zen warrior, compassionate approach is clearly going to be opposing Rick’s survival based pragmatism. But this scene is all about Michonne, a woman whose literally and metaphorically come in from the wastelands to stand with these people. The fact she isn’t cool with what’s happened is a huge indicator of trouble to come.
- Nothing. Seriously. This is an amazingly good piece of TV.
- Okay you want some bad points, here they and we had to dig for them all because this episode is so damn good.
- Surely both Carter and Rick’s plans could be implemented? If the quarry horde is the only reason Alexandria hasn’t been overrun, wouldn’t it make sense to corral some zombies there and periodically clear the quarry out of them and all the ones they’ve attracted?
- Of course that may well be the plan. Assuming Alexandria’s still there next week…
- Minimal Carlpoppa this week, but what we get is very sweet and leads to yet another ridiculously pretty black and white moment.
- Minimal Carol the Deathbringer this week too, although what we get is hilarious. Her. “Gosh, this is terrifying,” moment in the town meeting is good but her exchange with Morgan is even better. I hope those two, and Daryl, get more scenes together.
And The Random:
- Corey Hawkins impresses straight out of the gate as Heath. It’s unsurprising too, given he’s been turning in impressive work for a while. He’s fun in the sort-of-Taken-on-a-plane Non-Stop, had a brief appearance in Iron Man 3 and did excellent work as Doctor Dre in Straight Outta Compton. Now all we need is for the show to forget the “one in, one out” rule it’s often had with regards to black male characters…
- Oh Carter we hardly knew you. Aside from the whining and complaining and mid-level incompetence. Ethan Embry wins, possibly forever, the title of The Walking Dead Cast Member Who Appeared In A Brilliant Cult Movie. Embry was in Empire Records, along with Liv Tyler, Rory Cochrane, Renee Zellweger and Tobey Maguire’s shoulder. Seriously. The film cut two entire characters, one of whom was played by Maguire. His shoulder is briefly visible in one scene and in fairness it has incredible presence. The story of one of the last independent record stores on the best, and worst, day of its life, Empire Records is a chaotic, sugar-rush covered joy. It’s crammed full of amazing people doing great work and is as sweet natured and mildly attention defective as Embry’s character, Mark. And yes, you could watch it and be smug about how indie record stores are all but dead now. But you know what? Don’t. It’s a joyous movie, the characters are clearly all fine and we mustn’t dwell. It’s always Rex Manning day somewhere…
- Shot of the week could be any of the images we get of the horde or the quarry. But for sheer scale this nails it.
- The Walker that peels itself as it pulls out of the quarry is the most gleefully disgusting thing the show has done to date. Well done, folks.
Reviewed by Alasdair Stuart