‘The Walking Dead’ Season Premiere Review: The Ricktatorship Lives On In ‘First Time Again’
Recap and review of The Walking Dead – Season 6 Premiere – First Time Again:
The Walking Dead is back for a new season, and with it come new iterations of the classic interpersonal rivalries that have defined the series every bit as much as the oozing, skin-peeling walkers who lurk around every corner. “First Time Again” is fascinating television due in large part to how the struggles of the previous five seasons have shaped and changed Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), for better and for worse.
“First Time Again” makes the case that the Ricktatorship is in full effect, as Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh) has basically gone catatonic after losing her husband and son back-to-back last season. While she’s still technically the leader of Alexandria, she defers to Rick’s judgment, which sways between dangerous pragmatism (leading a horde of walkers out of a quarry and away from Alexandria) to downright spitefulness (having Pete’s body disposed of outside Alexandria’s walls, rather than giving the man who murdered Deanna’s husband a proper burial). As Deanna defers to Rick, his confidence in his absolute power grows. And that wouldn’t really be so strange a story except for one small part: he faces very little in the way of opposition. Sure, you get Alexandria native Carter (Ethan Embry), who raises concerns about Rick’s big zombie hording plan. Hell, Eugene (Josh McDermott) even overhears Carter planning to have Rick killed. But the universe aligns to keep anything too bad from actually happening to Rick. For instance, he walks in on Carter’s plans for a coup, and manages to not only disarm the man, but change the renegade’s opinion of him simply by choosing to spare his life. Later, Rick tells Morgan (Lennie James) that the only reason he didn’t shoot Carter right then and there was because he knew the universe would do the job for him. And you know what? Rick ends up being right. Carter is finally 100% on-board with Rick one minute, and then he finds his face getting eaten by a walker on the very next mission, prompting Rick to put a knife in his skull to end his suffering (and keep him quiet). It’s a chilling scene, but it’s not necessarily meant to reflect on Rick, who, despite his flirtations with embracing his dark side, is still doing the things he does out of a desire to protect his people. In a lot of ways, Rick’s conflicted character reads as a comment on the nature of power. Not necessarily on how power corrupts, but rather on how the responsibility and weight of that power can crush a person, until he’s no longer recognizable.
Case in point, Morgan exists here as a subtle voice of opposition. Carter was never really going to be a match for Rick. However, Morgan is made of sterner stuff. He doesn’t immediately buy into Rick’s arguments like everyone else in Alexandria, nor does he feel like cutting Rick slack over how he’s handling his business. Morgan appeals to Rick’s sense of morality, recalling that he was the man who gave Morgan hope that there were still good men in the world. But Rick insists that Morgan has got it all wrong, and that Morgan never really knew him to begin with. And while that might be true, it’s clear Morgan understands that this isn’t the real Rick Grimes. In his desperation to achieve a permanent, lasting peace for his people, he’s gone overboard and compromised his sense of justice. Deanna did give Rick the okay to kill Pete, but the impulse to do so was already within Rick, in much the same way he already had the inherent desire to want to see Carter dead. The old Rick might have found a way to try and turn Carter to his cause, to neutralize the threat by making Carter one of his people, rather than simply making a peace between his people and Carter’s.
But Rick isn’t about diplomacy anymore, because diplomacy won’t keep his loved ones safe. So he’s taking it upon himself to make the choices about how this community will be protected. For instance, he’s torn between duty and his feelings for Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge) when he finds himself scolding her teenage son, Ron, for following them out to the walker-filled quarry. Ron obviously has a lot of resentment towards Rick for killing his father, spitefully watching from a distance as Rick declares that Pete’s body will not be buried inside Alexandria because he’s a “killer” (ignoring the irony that Morgan goes on to point out. Namely, that Rick is a killer himself). But Rick willfully ignores the animosity Ron clearly has towards him, and puts his hands on the boy to try and scare him straight. Jessie, naturally, doesn’t appreciate this, telling Rick that he can’t try to be Ron’s father. As she explains, any piece of useful advice he tries to give the boy will fall on deaf ears because it’s coming from Rick, the man who killed his father. So while she understands why he kept Ron away from the quarry, and why he wants to teach Ron how to shoot, it simply can’t be Rick who acts as their protector. It’s the rare confrontation that doesn’t go Rick’s way, as it appears as though, through the act of killing Pete, Rick has eternally closed the door on the family life he appeared to be hoping for with Jessie. Granted, it doesn’t mean they might not still hook up in the future, but it seems like he’ll have a long way to go before that’s even plausible, considering how she stares at him like he’s some sort of mad man. And she’s not exactly wrong, either.
That said, Rick is still proven to be tremendously capable at survival. I mean, his plan to lead the walkers away by noise (and by a convoy led by Darryl, Sasha and Abraham) nearly works too, if not for the sound of a boisterously loud emergency horn coming from Alexandria. Suddenly, walkers have turned their attention away from the path they’re meant to be following, and are instead heading back towards Alexandria — and in record numbers. It’s a cliffhanger that leaves the episode feeling far more incomplete than many cliffhangers of the past have. Even with the 90-minute runtime, this episode felt strangely truncated, like there was supposed to be more, but they just decided to end it early. Still, I’m intrigued at where this could be going, since we have no idea who sounded the horn or why. As for now, Rick’s plan is a bust. Of course, what’s funny is that it’s not really even Rick’s fault. The reason I point out all these instances of faultlessness in Rick is because, in many ways, I think this is the beginning of the Fall of Rick Grimes. Not his death, mind you (since I can’t see them ever killing Rick, unless it’s the series finale), but rather his fall from power, and the recognition of his own hubris. That could be a fascinating journey, particularly because it speaks to the evolution of Rick’s character. It’s important that Rick continues to grow as a person and as a leader, since this zombie apocalypse has proven, above all else, that a leader’s work is never finished.
Ultimately, I liked the episode for the little things as much as the major plot points. Maggie (Lauren Cohan) telling Tara (Alanna Masterson) how important she is to her was surprisingly touching, as was Glenn (Steven Yeun) bonding with Nicholas. Hell, I even got a kick out of Eugene meeting returning Alexandria native Heath (Corey Hawkins), complimenting him on his “hair game”. In addition, we got some surprisingly light moments amid the carnage, such as Michonne (Danai Gurira) cracking wise with Rick about the strength of their fortifications, or Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) unloading on a horde of walkers, to the shock of Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green). His declaration that he was just “grabbing the bull by the nutsack” was an underrated highlight of the premiere. All in all, I think “First Time Again” was a really strong premiere, outside of the abruptness of its ending. Hell, the novelty of having the present in color and the flashbacks in black-and-white was pleasantly effective in both separating our perception of the separate time periods, and jarring us as we moved between them. In short, The Walking Dead is back, and it’s shaping up to be a season that could be its strongest yet.
But what did you think of The Walking Dead season premiere, “First Time Again”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on The Walking Dead universe, read our recap and review of the season finale for Fear the Walking Dead!