This is a spoiler-free review of Season 6, Episode 1 – read on at the bottom for spoilers.
New York City’s Madison Square Garden held a flagship premier event. Walker Stalker Con began in the United States (and is heading to the UK in February 2016). Zombie-themed Halloween costumes are lining the shelves. After what seems like an eternity, The Walking Dead returns to our screens. Such is the show’s popularity that to quell our thirst, AMC launched a prequel, Fear The Walking Dead, and even that spin off has a spin off in an online web series. Even without being infected, zombie fever is at an all-time high.
Season 5’s opener was explosive and carried with it a real sense of horror and fear that the rest of the season never really lived up to. Season 6 evolves the show even further, as Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the Atlanta survivors begin to clutch at the throat of the Alexandria community. Whether they want to or not, they are being forced to concede to Rick’s leadership and authority on the undead. It’s irksome, ruffling some feathers, but ultimately Alexandria knows that if they’re going to survive, they’re going to need Grimes.
The place is in a spot of bother: there are a horde of walkers congregated in a quarry, unable to get out. Their numbers are now so vast they are about to burst their confines and head straight towards the safe zone. Intersecting that threat with flashbacks, the episode shows the evolution of the plan to save their homes.
The flashbacks are shown in black and white – while earlier episodes of The Walking Dead have been re-broadcast entirely in black and white to give the show the feel of the graphic novel source material, here it emphasises the past and the present. It also throws convention into the zombie grinder; although Rick may want it to be, things at Alexandria aren’t all black and white. Since Diana (Tovah Feldshuh) lost her husband, there has been no clearly defined order. Still stricken with grief, she accepts Rick as the man with the knowledge on how to survive and defers to him, encouraging the group to support his decisions. While conforming to the Ricktatorship is the right way for this group to survive, there are many shades of grey still forcing a shadow upon the group.
Carter (Ethan Embry) plots against Rick while the trust between Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Nicholas (Michael Traynor), frayed from the events of Season 5’s finale, still looks like it may snap at any moment. The brotherly bond between Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Rick is tested and even Morgan (Lennie James), having walked in to see the man he thought he knew shoot someone in the face, has to question the choices being made.
Despite there being a whole horde of walkers, this hour isn’t as visceral as others. While there are some beautiful moments involving zombie brains and faces being ripped apart against metal boarding, the opening episode focuses more on the development of Rick as a leader and his cunning ability to protect. Scenes at the quarry almost have shades of the Battle of Helms Deep in terms of depth and danger.
Moments of genuine laughter, mostly from Eugene (Josh McDermitt) help to break up the darkness but it is that which really shines. The excellence of Andrew Lincoln lifts the episode to a different plateau: the pain and torment will forever be etched on his face but his new personality, his determination to survive at any cost, keeps the episode engaging. We put our faith in Rick to lead the show as he does the group and the results are tremendous. Thankfully, we only have to wait another week for more.
The Walking Dead Season 6 is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription. You can also buy and download it on pay-per-view VOD.
Spoilers and further consideration
– Was this really the best plan they could come up with? Why didn’t they bomb the walkers or try to contain them in the quarry rather than lead them miles in the other direction. Any number of things could have gone wrong!
– Does Daryl go back to the scene of a crime and collect his bolts? It seems he always picks one or two zombies off with the crossbow as he’s retreating a group, he can’t always go back and yank it out.
– Nicholas is lucky Glenn still has compassion. Even after taking a bullet, Glenn still protects Nicholas and works alongside him.
– Looks like Carl is going to be getting a little closer to Enid this season and it might not be the only teenage angst we experience as Pete’s son may be looking for revenge for his father.
– We know that Alexandria doesn’t have the same capacity at dealing with Walkers that Rick et al have, but Carter’s demise he really should have been able to avoid.
– Will we see more of Rick and Morgan’s differing opinions as the season progresses? Rick doesn’t take chances anymore: he kills if he has to, while Morgan has that lucky rabbit’s foot and a more carefree approach to life. Will this cause a split in our group?
– Is Abraham OK? We’ve seen him have some troubles in the past, saved without a moment to spare by Eugene, but when he questions if Sasha wants to live, he looks slightly disappointed that she does.
– Who sounded that horn? Is it Diana, at the height of depression wanting to end it all? Is it the Wolves, who found Aaron’s backpack with the photos inside? Or is it a new threat?
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Photo: Gene Page / AMC