Overall, a fantastically tense opener to my favourite series. I'm already waiting for next week's installment.
Opening with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) firing the same deadly gunshot that closed the last season of AMC’s monster hit, season 6 of The Walking Dead returns with an extended hour long episode, with the nihilistic zombie drama (and indeed the characters themselves) entering into a new phase. Season 6 has our rag-tag group of protagonists finding the transition into a relatively ‘civilised’ way of living, within in the safety of Alexandria, difficult to say the least. Being stuck on the inside of safe walls with relatively no interactions with walkers, the members of this community have not had to suffer the horror and turmoil that Rick and co. have throughout the series. However, neither have they gained the skills or stomach to do what is necessary in order to survive, in the vicious world they now live in.
With this tense opposition in mind, the show-runners intriguingly separate the premiere’s two different time periods, by staging the past in black and white (the show’s first use of this) and the terrifying present in bold colour. The past segment shows us the time period immediately following the killing of Pete at the hands of Rick, as well as the latter’s reunion with fan favourite, the newly “zen” Morgan (Lennie James). Together they discover a quarry near the settlement, packed to the brim with hundreds of walkers, answering the question of how the Alexandrians survived this long. The present meanwhile shows Rick, his group, and the Alexandrians attempting to lure the walkers out of the quarry like rats in a maze, on a long walk to lead them away from home.
Once again, show-runners Scott Gimple and Greg Nicotero manage to balance both incredibly tense set pieces and thought provoking character development throughout. In the past we see Rick explaining to Morgan that “He doesn’t take chances anymore”, which is highlighted perfectly by a scene in which he struggles with some Alexandria residents who are resistant to his bloody way of doing things. Additionally, resident badass Carol (Melissa McBride) continues in her exquisite role of ‘frightened den mother’ and we see the repercussions of Glen’s (Steven Yuen) encounter in the woods with Nicholas (Michael Traynor) and his attempts to keep Nicholas from causing anymore death with his cowardice and ignorance.
The present scenes showcase some of the show’s continuing excellent use of cinematography, a notable shot being the ever-fucking-cool Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) slowly appearing over a hill, straddling his motorcycle. He is framed perfectly in the centre, as hundreds of walkers swarm behind him. The use of music and tense editing in this sequence keeps your heart pounding, as we wait inevitably for the plan to go awry and for the carnage to begin, the director utilizing the classic horror trope of the mislead. You will spend most of the episode trying to remove your heart from your throat. Some TV binge watchers may compare the massive scale zombie story to a similar episode of the behemoth Game of Thrones, which aired earlier this year, however The Walking Dead’s world is not a fantasy one (arguably… I mean there are zombies but that’s it) and the stakes have never felt this high before.
The episode ends with a dizzyingly ominous cliffhanger, one which I shan’t ruin here. Let’s just say you’ll spend the final five minutes of this glorious season opener, weighing up the probable death toll in fevered preparation.
The Walking Dead has gone from strength to strength in the past few seasons and this opener truly feels like a new echelon of the show is beginning. Whilst our motley crew has indeed arrived at two separate ‘sanctuaries’ in the past (both ending in death, despair and even cannibalism) Alexandria feels like the setting for the foreseeable future. The question is, have the group lost too much of their humanity to peacefully coexist with their slightly less battle-hardened companions? Will they be able to teach them how to survive? Or will Rick make good on his statement from the latter half of the last season; “We’ll make it work. And if they can’t make it… then we’ll just take this place”.
The Walking Dead airs on FX on Monday at 9pm.