Best Shots Advance Review: THE WALKING DEAD Season 6 Premiere

Still from "The Walking Dead" episode 601.
Credit: AMC

The Walking Dead Episode 601 - “First Time Again”
Written by Scott M. Gimple and Matt Negrete
Directed by Greg Nicotero
Airing Sunday, October 11 on AMC
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

The Walking Dead is at its best when it presents a problem for the group to solve. Sure, throughout its run it has delved into all sorts of themes; ones of morality, choice, and even mortality as a whole. But the show never crackles quite like it does when there is some sort of obstacle or hindrance in the way of our cast. The sixth season premiere plants a big fat problem in the way of the Alexandria residents — namely, an overwhelming zombie horde — and then slowly layers how exactly they plan to best it throughout the episode. While these scenes are tense, and as Carol so aptly puts it terrifying, “First Time Again” still stumbles (or perhaps, shambles) just a bit, which keeps this season premiere from truly being great.

Credit: AMC

Episode 601's most glaring mistake is to basically half the episode into flashbacks and what is happening in the present. The script, written by series showrunner Scott M. Gimple and Matt Negrete, frames the cast’s current predicament — the largest zombie herd in the show’s history — against the direct aftermath of last season’s finale. This results in a tonally confused season debut, and one that drastically undercuts the tension of Rick’s plan to neutralize the herd. The scenes in the present with Rick and crew scrambling to follow through with their plan are truly nail-biting, but every time we reach a fever pitch with the action, Gimple and Negrete quickly downshift, leaving the episode feeling like a soapy drama instead of a horror thrill ride. While it is fun to see the vets of the world gone wrong and the soft citizens of Alexandria finally working in tandem, it never lasts long enough for it to really make an impact. I am all for gimmicky flashbacks and flash-forwards, but not when it is taking away from a propulsive plot and fantastic make-up effects from the sick minds at KNB Effects.

Speaking of KNB Effects, back behind the lens is Greg Nicotero, whose control of framing and camera movement has just gotten stronger with every episode he handles. While the script saddles him with some pathos-heavy stuff in the flashbacks, he takes the gimmick a step further rendering all of the flashbacks in dour black and white while the herd herding happening in the present is presented in vibrant colors. This schlocky, art-film touch is something that I actually started to enjoy toward the end of the episode as both timelines started to sync up as the episode reached its climax, but it still doesn’t distract from how tonally all over the place “First Time Again” feels. Still, with Nicotero at the helm, you can always expect at least a few choice scenes of bloodletting, and Episode 601 does not disappoint in that regard. Even though “First Time Again” might feel a bit jumbled, gore hounds still get their bloody fill by the time the credits roll.

Credit: AMC

Even though Nicotero made it mark with make-up effects, he still gets the most out of his actors as well in this season premiere. Most of the regular cast members acquit themselves admirably in their return back to screens. Normal Reedus’ Daryl is still the gruff, yet noble wanderer that we all swooned over. Micheal Cudlitz’s Abraham and Sonequa Martin-Green’s Sasha are starting to shake off their one-note character directions of the last season and find a companion in death-defying in each other. Melissa McBride’s Carol is still the cunning sleeper agent that the Internet blew up about last year. And our big three of Andrew Lincoln, Steven Yeun and Danai Gurira are still unflappable badasses capable of violence and deep wells of emotion as they still attempt to adjust to their new home in Alexandria.

Though the regular cast are still in fine form, it is the newcomers that really shine through in “First Time Again.” Straight Out of Compton’s Corey Hawkins makes his debut this episode as Heath, one of Alexandria’s supply runners who comes back to his home to find it changed. Hawkins’ performance is understated but still effective as he stands tall right beside Glenn throughout this episode and even injects some much needed humor with dry line deliveries and a hint of fire right behind his eyes. Lennie James also makes his return, now as a series regular, as Morgan and, it could not have come a moment sooner. After being relegated to end credit teaser through much of last year’s season, Morgan confidently slots himself into Rick’s cluster with quiet resolve and a mean swing with his walking stick weapon of choice. The scenes between Rick and Morgan are when “First Time Again” really shines dramatically as Morgan offers an interesting foil for this new incarnation of Rick. I wouldn’t be surprised if further down the line James and Hawkins started handedly walking away with episodes as “First Time Again” only hints at what they are capable of as performers.

Credit: AMC

All in all, “First Time Again” isn’t a great season premiere, but it is a decently entertaining one, and one that starts season six off on at least half of a good foot. Though tonally all over the map, it still delivers on one of The Walking Dead’s most reliable of weapons; tension. Tension not only out in the wilds of Georgia but back at home in the supposedly safe walls of Alexandria. Time will tell if that tension is too much for our heroes to handle, but something tells me that Rick, his group, and the new additions will be a fairly safe bet as season six kicks off proper later this month.

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