Oh boy, did I enjoy that. With side show/spin off FEAR THE WALKING DEAD finishing its six episode first season just last week, a season that I enjoyed, having its big brother back in our lives was an exciting prospect indeed. ‘First Time Again’ was a pretty masterful episode; it gave us a lot but not quite everything. It was a big episode, both thematically and length wise. It was an episode that lived up to the openers that have come before it, and surpassed many of them by showing some restraint, restraint in just the right places.
Right from the get go one could tell we were in capable hands with ‘First Time Again’. The opening found our band of survivors balls deep in some catastrophic situation — the worst they have ever faced — surrounded by untold amounts of walkers, a heard more plentiful than any that has come before it. This however was only the starting off point, as we soon transported back in time to where we left off last season — shown to us in black and white — after Rick had just come face to face with his old buddy Morgan. Now, starting off one place, going back in time and working back up again to that point isn’t a new idea, it has been done before, but ‘First Time Again’ used this structure fantastically, it didn’t feel like lazy storytelling as it often can do, it just worked, and made what would have been a normally brilliant episode great.
The play with time worked so darn well in many ways. Knowing what was coming for our heroes, the flash backs which were often quiet, happy scenes of reunion, were laced with a bittersweet dread that permeated every shot and every half smile. A gripe many have had with this show — not me personally I must say — was that the more mellow moments lacked energy and utility, well those people can put that complaint to bed right now. There was an urgency throughout these moments this week, an urgency fuelled by cuts between present and past, colour and saturated, all helping to provide a momentum that captivated even during moments of relative peace and calm. There was a sadness too, brought on by a soft piano melody that played through many of these b&w moments, helping to give us a sense that these were times to look back on fondly, that things are going to change very soon.
There was quite a lot going on in ‘First Time Again’, but this was unequivocally Rick’s episode. He was the man here, shit was going down and he was going to get everyone out of it. His relationship with Morgan took centre stage, along with a recurring theme, one that found its way into FEAR THE WALKING DEAD with its protagonist Travis, the theme being; who deserves to be alive in this world and what are you willing to do to stay that way.
The core of the episode revolved around Rick and Morgan finding the super massive heard trapped in a quarry, pretty much by accident, and Rick soon finds himself coordinating everyone, characters we know and characters we don’t, in order to deal with them. We only see half of the plan however, which starts with them luring the walkers out of the quarry and away from the town. The black and white sequences detail how we got to this moment, mainly the trials and tribulations Rick had to scythe through to get the community to exact his plan. He manages to win most of them over by putting forward the argument that it was only a matter of time before the heard escaped the quarry and infested the town. Rick was right of course, there were one or two that pushed back, but we know as well as they that in this world; action and being pro active is what saves lives. Putting a bandage on things and hoping it goes away won’t get anything done.
Things go according to plan for a while, Rick wins over the doubters, the plan is set in motion, and as they are herding the walkers along, funnelling them through their designated paths, things look pretty good, that is until they don’t. Things of course soon fall apart, as they always do for Rick and friends. Carter, one of the converted naysayers, soon gets grabbed in the woods by a walker, subsequently bitten, his screams then alerting the main pack, causing them to divert off the road. This is where out theme comes in, and where having FEAR THE WALKING DEAD so fresh in our minds pays off so well. The world has changed dramatically, the qualities and skills that once got you by are no longer applicable. This world isn’t like ours. What it takes to survive in our world isn’t the same as what it takes to survive in theirs. Rick tells Morgan how he wanted to kill Carter earlier in the episode “because he didn’t get it” not too much unlike Travis in FEAR. Rick however surmises that the world would kill Carter soon enough. That people like him won’t last. It’s a morbid and frightening way to think but thinking like that is the only way to get by. Rick is of course vindicated by Carter’s incident in the woods, luckily for him though Rick is on hand to put him out of his misery. His blow may have been the final one but like he mentioned in the flash back, it is the world that killed Carter, and is the thing that will continue to kill the men and women who are unable to change.
There is an interesting comparison to be made between Rick and Morgan — the friends reunited. They have both been through the worst the apocalypse has to offer. They have both lost the ones they love. They have both killed to live. But while Morgan ‘gets it’ like Rick does, gets what needs to be done, he does so with more of a restraint and sorrow. He understands but doesn’t like it. Rick on the other hand, he’s too far gone. He gets it. But there is almost no hesitance to him anymore. He has become Shane in a way, and he’s only a few heartbreaks away from becoming The Governor. This trajectory for Rick has been on the cards for a while now and seems like destiny at this point. Let’s just hope it happens sooner rather than later, and when it does, that there are some heavy consequences as a result.
By the episodes end, the plan had pretty much failed, the walkers got diverted from the path and starting heading straight for the town. They were all screwed. Whereas the first episode last season didn’t hold anything back for future episodes, this opening saved the culmination of this week’s events for another time. I appreciated this greatly. On one hand this could leave the viewer frustrated, but on the other it provides the audience with the incentive to come back next time, knowing that things are going to go down next week, that there is surely something huge in store for episode two. This is smart television making and it worked excellently, just like the entire episode. ‘First Time Again’ had everyone that works on this show performing at the top of their game, and we can’t really ask much more than that. I don’t believe we really could have asked much more from a season six premiere. Has THE WALKING DEAD returned as the best show on TV? No. No it hasn’t. But that’s okay, because it returned exactly how we wanted it, delivering all the thrills one might hope, while showing it has learned from some small mistakes from openers past. Sixteen episodes per season is always going to be a problem, but after one episode… so far so good.