“I know this sounds insane, but this is an insane world.” With those two lines and a gunshot, we open Walking Dead’s sixth season, with a dirty, deranged looking Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) barking orders to his disciples like a Mad Max warlord while legions of zombies shuffle below. When we last left Rick and friends, they had begun integrating themselves into the safe but poorly prepared town of Alexandria, Virginia. Rick’s arrival would herald chaos and violence that the town had somehow avoided in the years since the world fell, as his “us against them” quickly sowed distrust among the people even as the town’s leader, former congresswoman Deanna Monroe (Tovah Feldshuh) put her faith in him.
Some time has passed, and Rick has assumed more of a leadership role, in spite of some hesitation by his own group. Daryl (Norman Reedus) calls Rick out on his decision to stop searching for people outside of the city in need of help; Rick says he “doesn’t take chances anymore,” though his actions in his episode say otherwise. Glenn (Steven Yeun) continues to serve as a passive alternative to Rick; strong, determined, and willing to fight, but also immensely kind and willing to forgive and protect even someone who tried to kill him in the last season. This season sees the return of Lennie James’ Morgan Jones, who we first met in the show’s pilot episode as a kindly dad and later met again in a one-off season 3 episode, Clear, in which he’d gone mad from the death of his son.
Lennie James is one of the strongest actors on the show and I’m happy to see him becoming a regular cast member. Morgan has come to terms with death and loss in a way Rick never could, choosing to remain strong but to be merciful and thoughtful, contrasting Rick’s paranoid hostility. Upon their reunion at Alexandria, Rick tosses Morgan into what’s basically the town’s jail, in spite of him just recently saving Daryl and Aaron (Ross Marquand) from certain death. Morgan, now a sort of wandering monk, takes it all in stride and is eventually released and assimilated into the group.
This episode skips back and forth between the present, in the midst of a giant action scene, and the time between seasons 5 and 6, shown in black and white. It’s kind of cheesy at first, but the black and white scenes are decently shot and several make a good use of contrast and careful lighting that you don’t see when someone just films a color video and slaps a black and white filter on it. It gives the whole show a more classic horror movie feel than the flashier, sleaker modern scenes, and I dug it. The whole Night of the Living Dead vibe works, especially with this show’s hugely enthusiastic acting. It might have been kind of cool if the whole show had been shot this way to begin with.
The flashbacks show a town divided; with recent deaths startling the community, distrust of Rick and his outsiders is at an all time high, and the discovery of a huge quarry filled with trapped zombies sets Rick off. The zombies are safely contained for now, blocked from exiting by a few conveniently placed trucks, but that won’t do. The walls holding in the Zombie Community will inevitably fall, possibly foreshadowing Alexandria losing its own safe walls. We certainly know that both life in Alexandria and life in the Zombie Pit is thrown into disarray by Sheriff Rick.
In the modern scenes, Rick’s plan is to build a path using cars and hastily assembled walls, release the zombies from the quarry, and guide them out to… somewhere. It’s never made clear what the end game is here. His purpose is to lead them away from Alexandria, but it’s not the most rational plan. The plan is accelerated and thrown into play hastily when one of the quarry walls collapses and zombies get out earlier than expected, but the crew clearly took their time setting up all the blockades and paths without ever spending any time reinforcing walls to keep the zombies in the quarry for now.
There are any number of better options available here; the zombies could be exterminated from a safe distance with handheld weapons, walls could be added to reinforce its exits (the zombies are now so fragile that walking into steel walls kills some of them; they aren’t much of a threat if contained), additional trenches could be dug to keep them at bay (in season 3, The Governor does this to protect the town of Woodbury/catch zombies for fun and it actually works,) etc. Instead, Rick appoints Daryl to drive real slow and keep the attention of the dead, guiding them miles away and setting them free, hoping that nothing along the way catches their attention and turns them around. But, of course, it does, and Rick’s brilliant plan falls apart because of a distant horn being honked.
This was a decent premiere and follows the typical Walking Dead formula of opening the season with a big action piece. Rick’s plan isn’t a good one, but he’s called out on it (by someone who then dies, God’s way of telling Alexandria to stop sassing Rick) and it does crumble in a completely predictable way. For me, Rick’s the least likable member of the main crew, and it’s frustrating seeing him time and time again make reckless decisions that usually get people killed, but always somehow work out for him. Aside from the death of his wife in season 3, Rick’s an extraordinarily lucky guy, and I don’t expect that luck to run out. The drama comes from other crew members opposing him, but it doesn’t happen often enough; Morgan’s playing the role of Rick’s conscience that Tyrese, Herschel, and Dale all played at various points in previous seasons, but it never worked out for them. Morgan should do better, at least; he has some sick Ninja Turtles martial arts moves with his staff.
I’m happy that this show can still show large scale events with tons of people on screen, both the living and the dead. I ended the spin-off series Fear the Walking Dead with frustration over just how empty its city of Los Angeles was of anyone, human or undead. That said, things are starting to feel pretty repetitive. A stable Alexandria dealing with internal leadership strife, with both sides presented reasonably, would be nice; maybe Glenn can run for mayor. Maybe the Deadly Horn Honking Incident will be a catalyst for everyone to stop saying “That sounds crazy, Rick!” and then doing what he says anyway. Maybe people should have said, “Woah man, maybe you’re coming at this the wrong way” when he compared guiding monsters he loves to kill as “like being cops at a parade.”
As usual, Eugene’s the best character. His high point in this one comes when he’s left guarding the town gate and meets new cast member Heath (Corey Hawkins), who’s been away on a supply run. After a brief “I don’t know you” squabble, Eugene extends his friendship to Heath with a goony statement of, “I fully respect the hair game.” Follicles of friendship.