I’ve written so much about The Walking Dead that sometimes it gets hard to find something new to say or some new way to approach the show. This has become especially difficult during Scott M. Gimple‘s time as showrunner, as he’s instigated a leaner, more efficient narrative style and has done just about everything right as far as this reviewer is concerned. There are always going to be prejudices against this show just because of the subject matter, as though a zombie story may never reach the storytelling heights and emotional depths of something like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, or The Wire. But I disagree. Both Seasons 4 and 5 had some of the most heart-breaking, gut-wrenching moments I’ve ever seen on television — including some things I never thought I’d even see on television. And when Gimple writes (or co-writes, as he does this week with Matthew Negrete) for effects superstar Greg Nicotero to direct, we are guaranteed to reach high points undreamt of in the first few seasons. Last season’s “What Happened and What’s Going On” is the perfect example of this creative team really knowing how to push The Walking Dead into brilliant territory that doesn’t just rely on the emotional devastation that makes some of the other best episodes, like “The Grove” (written by Gimple, but directed with a brutal straightforwardness by Michael E. Satrazemis), but takes chances with the visual and narrative approach. Nicotero is pulling out all the stops to prove to any doubters that he is an actual director, and not just a gore-master. (I’m convinced that Nicotero and Gimple should just be given the money and leeway to do whatever they want and we shouldn’t worry about whether or not the show continues to correspond with the comics.) If The Walking Dead really wants to maintain the standard of quality they’ve built up over the past two seasons, they just need to allow the directors to experiment and Gimple needs to be even more hands-on with the scripting. Because when they cut loose, we get gold. As we do this week. “First Time Again” opens with a nicely subtle shift to black and white as we see again the final seconds of the Season 5 finale when Rick put a bullet into Pete’s head and Morgan (Lennie James) arrived. Then we are suddenly in color at an abandoned granite quarry — abandoned by living people, anyway — as Rick outlines what sounds like a crazily dangerous plan. It’s a dry run though. The real thing is tomorrow. Nothing could go wrong, right? Being thrust into the situation as we are, all we really know at this point is that’s a shit ton of walkers in the quarry, thousands (take that Fear the Walking Dead), and we watch in horror as a semi-truck blocking the exit on the other side of the quarry slowly tumbles down the hillside as the ground gives way beneath it. Then it’s on. Before thousands of zombies can start mulling their way toward Alexandria, the plan is put into action as Rick shouts orders and new character Carter (Ethan Embry) freaks out because they’re not ready. Silly Carter. Nobody’s ever ready for the zombie apocalypse. After a hideous walker scrapes most of his skin off while squeezing through the trailers blocking the entrance to the quarry, we cut back to the black and white that will designate the past for the remainder of the episode. It’s a nice stylistic choice that serves the practical need of differentiating the two parallel storylines, but also pays a nice tribute the black and white origins of the comic inspiration. And damn doesn’t Nicotero know how to use the black and white. Whoever is in charge of lighting the scenes and setting up the shots is making everybody on the show look good. The visual language used here is subtle and gorgeous, particularly during the first scene between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Morgan, where Morgan exercises with his staff, Rick looks on approvingly, and the two Brits throw their best Southern accents at each other. It almost looks like an art film. The dual narratives provide a refreshing and innovative way of both jumping into what turns out to be extremely tense action sequences that are remarkably low-key — somehow they made Daryl (Norman Reedus) riding his bike sloooowly in front of a shambling army of walkers nerve-wracking — and amping up emotionally-charged scenes as the characters react to the events of the finale. I must admit though, that Rick’s plan seems to be a bit reckless. The idea of guiding the herd away from Alexandria is front-loaded with dramatic tension, for sure, and he’s right that the quarry isn’t actually secure, but during the time spent planning, and then building fences and lining the roads with cars, surely they could have had a crew at the quarry dumping napalm on zombies to thin them out a bit? Hell, maybe put up a few of those fences at the quarry to lead the herd right back over the cliff into the quarry they’d just left? Anyway, Morgan is an invaluable addition to the cast and while his dynamic with Rick is similar to that of previous “moral compasses” like Dale, Hershel, and Tyreese, he adds a layer of knowing responsibility. Where Dale was just kind of weak, Hershel devoted to peace, and Tyreese was really unable to deal with the realities of this new life, Morgan has touched madness and come through Chapel Perilous with wisdom. And while he can almost immediately see Carol (Melissa McBride) for who she really is (in a fantastic scene that has me longing for more time spent with just the two of them), Rick is still a mystery to him, despite his claims. His mistaking compassion for cold-blooded pragmatism when Rick spares Carter’s life is a key moment in the episode that is then echoed in the glances between he and Michonne (Danai Gurira) when Carter is finally put out of his misery. There’s concern for Rick, but there’s also the steely realization that he not only does what has to be done, he does the things no one else wants to step up for. And now that he has Deanna’s (Tovah Feldshuh) approval to do as he sees fit, there’s an interesting opportunity to watch him deal with the prospect of becoming the Governor. Especially when his big plan to save Alexandria goes tits up in the final moments of the episode. An interesting thematic element that is raised this week could almost be seen as a counterpoint to the events in the finale of Fear the Walking Dead. In the prequel series we watched as paranoia and fear of authority literally led to the fall of Los Angeles as our “heroes” sacrifice the world to reunite with their families — despite the fact that their families were safer where they were. Here, on the other hand, Rick and company are the authorities, the ones doing things that may seem horrible or inhuman to those without the experience to realistically judge, and the people who doubt them are again and again sacrificed to a narrative that is determined to see how far they can bend Rick before he breaks (yet again). Meanwhile, as Rick is looked on with suspicion and fear, Glenn (Steven Yeun) actually takes steps this week to become the show’s ideal leader when he shows mercy and it turns out to not be a mistake, but a transformative blessing. By not killing Nicholas (Michael Traynor) in the woods, Glenn has given a character who was essentially a piece of shit last season, the opportunity to grow and develop. Rick may be able to keep them safe, but Glenn is goddamn inspiring. He’s like Captain America, the truly good man who can inspire change just by being a truly good man. And if you didn’t tear up when Maggie (Lauren Cohan) shared with Tara (Alanna Masterson) the truth about what Nicholas had done, then you’re missing out on the real heart of The Walking Dead. The realization that community and empathy is what it’s all about. That’s where meaning is found and value is determined. We may all be dead already, but at least together we can make a go of it. The Walking Dead 6.01 "First Time Again"Paul's Rating4.5Overall ScoreReader Rating: (0 Votes)Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... 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