Spoilers for The Walking Dead premiere are below, in case you thought there weren’t.
In the past five seasons, The Walking Dead has delivered a lot of big moments, big deaths and big gross-outs, but there are far fewer notable episodes that incorporate all three, while also sprinkling other fun factors in. The Season 6 premiere, “First Time Again,” feels like just that: a series premiere for a series that figured out everything The Walking Dead does best and put it into the pilot. And maybe I’m infected with something, but I think this was the best episode we’ve gotten yet. That giant walker herd, though.
Perhaps it’s unfair to assume a new series could pull this off, considering a lot of the episode’s downtime was invested in many characters we’re familiar with. To be fair, though, there were some new faces and new angles to consider, and the more prominent ones were enjoyable and did their jobs within the story. I was particularly fond of Corey Hawkins’ dryness as Heath, and how easily he fit into the cast. And since we can just skip ahead to the end of the episode whenever we want here, Ethan Embry made his mark as Carter, or “Character Who Is There To Question Rick And Serves As The Comic Character Who Plotted To Kill Rick, But Now He’s Dead, So There.” I truly didn’t see that coming, and absolutely thought Embry would be around kicking up dust for a while, reminding people that he can draw up plans!
His death wasn’t just a surprise, but also a warbling beckoning call to all the walkers shambling by, which suggested that the end of the episode would be the team of Pied Piper Survivors figuring out how to run away and fight against this endless array of skin-dripping monstrosities. But no, that would have been a Season 4 ending or something. This is Season 6, which ups the ante and brings in a blaring horn that draws not just the walkers nearby but the rest as well. Where’s the sound coming from? Inside of Alexandria, where most of the defenseless non-herd-ushering people are. Will Rick & Co. make it back in time? How much guts and bullets will they have to go through to get there? Are the Wolves the one making the noise? People gon’ die!
The giant herd is another reason I think this premiere taps the uppermost point of the echelon. The cast and crew have been touting the enormous amount of walker extras used – over 600 – and how crazy it was, which made it seem like the biggest that the herd could get in this episode would only hit something a little over 600. But no, I’m a dope for not thinking that CGI would be involved, and the combination of the two led to one of the most intimidating moments in zombie fiction, when Rick and Morgan discover the giant pit of wandering undead, which looks similar to a bird’s-eye-view of Bonnaroo. There are lots of walkers that have caused major damage on The Walking Dead, but the show hasn’t ever used these kinds of World War Z numbers as the main reason for freaking the fuck out. Plus, that one shot before the opening credits of the walkers just coming and coming was superb.
While the time-jumping way “First Time Again” delivered this story wasn’t entirely original, it was definitely one of the better examples and the approach worked wonders as far as the emotional impact went, and the expectations that formed. We didn’t need the black-and-white to clue everyone in that things were happening in the past, but it was a nice touch and definitely helped to avoid confusion. It’s another reason this felt different from most The Walking Dead episodes of the past, and made it feel distinct and on par with the comic. This plus the Governor's backstory make me think that not only will Morgan's flashback episode be great, but that this show is pretty great when it decides to play with time.
All of the casting groupings worked, too. The Rick and Morgan angle was interesting and didn't make things antagonistic as quickly as I thought, but rather saw them giving each other the benefit of the doubt while letting the seeds settle. We got to see that now Glenn has made Nicholas his apprentice of sorts, and has got a collar of guilt around the man who let so many people die last season. Abraham and Sasha made for good psychologically-warped car buddies. Daryl was, of course, by himself, but his big story is coming. Obviously, I wish there would have been more with Carol and a few others, but the episode put focus on a lot of characters and was a constant reminder of how large the cast is at this point.
And even with all this dark and scary junk happening all around them, they still found time to inject the scenes where Eugene meets Heath for the first time and compliments his hair, and where Eugene makes a big loud mess when eavesdropping. Classic Eugene. Classic.
All in all, while there are easy criticisms to make about "First Time Again" that are less than complimentary, I was engaged by the entire episode from beginning to end, and I can't remember the last time The Walking Dead did that for me, if it ever truly did. Sure, there are episodes in every season that serve as attention-grabbing high points, but I can't think of any that hit on all levels like this one did. Part of that definitely has to do with how well we know Rick and some of the other characters, which gives the episode a slight advantage over earlier seasons, but that doesn't matter here. This is the best episode of The Walking Dead yet, and I can't wait to see what's next.
Possibly find out what's going on with Morgan's peanut butter love when The Walking Dead airs next Sunday night on AMC. Tell us what you thought of the episode below.
Was The Walking Dead Premiere The Best Episode Yet?