Danai Gurira and Lennie Jones in AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”
Question – and we really want an answer here, because hell if we can figure it out: Was this just a really, really good season premiere of The Walking Dead or are we so annoyed with what a flaccid disappointment Fear the Walking Dead turned out to be that the mothershow looks like Shakespeare by comparison? No, really. We’re asking.
And we’re asking because we’re not sure we entirely trust our reactions here. The thing is, this is the 6th season premiere of The Walking Dead, which means it’s the 6th season premiere of The Walking Dead to be reviewed by us. Our point here is that us and The Walking Dead, we’ve got history. When you review every episode of a maddeningly frustrating show like TWD, you start wondering by the 6th year if perhaps you’re too set in your understanding of what the show once was and what the show never turned out to be that you can’t quite assess what the show actually is anymore. In other words, we spent a lot of time over the years documenting our disappointments with the way this show was being run and to be perfectly honest, we were all set to do the same thing here. It’s like we sat down last night with the built-in attitude of “Okay, let’s see what they got wrong this time.” And no, that doesn’t seem fair, considering how much the show improved during season 5, but in our defense, we just got finished documenting everything that was wrong with Fear the Walking Dead (and there was MUCH to document), which means we were not in a position to be impressed.
But y’know? You’re just going to have to color us impressed. Damn impressed, even. Lest you worry that we’ve gone soft in our old age, know that if you scroll down a little further, you will run smack into our complaints, because it wasn’t a flawless 90 minutes by any means. But it was amazingly exciting with visuals we’d love to call anything but “eye-popping,” because it’s such a trite and over-used descriptor, but damn if those visuals – especially the truck falling into the quarry – weren’t eye-popping. There were, we’re pretty sure, expressions of unabashed glee and wonder on our faces for the first twenty minutes or so. We simply weren’t expecting to be that entertained. And it says something about how re-energized the show has become in the last year or so, because it can’t be easy to make zombie hordes seem like a fresh new take on entertainment. It’s not like we haven’t all seen our share of them over the past half decade. But watching Rick and the Alexandrians (which sounds like a New Wave band from the early ’80s) execute what looked like a massive and well-thought-out plan to herd the largest zombie horde the world had ever seen (and by “the world” we mean us) was strangely exhilarating. “They finally figured it out,” we said in wonder, possibly even in creepy unison. “They finally figured out how to start living in this world.” Cue Sasha and Abraham, ready to do their duty to make the subtext into text, as they discuss exactly that: their plan to go on living despite everything telling them that there’s no point to it. That’s how hope is defined in this world; by mounting a zombie parade and driving the lead car. It’s weird and it’s almost sick, but there’s something joyously defiant about the whole thing. And after many seasons of people almost literally wallowing in dirt and depression, it’s amazing to us how uplifting a complex plan for survival can be, especially when it looks like it’s going to work.
It didn’t, of course, but for well over an hour, they had us believing. And that belief, that by banding together and overcoming their differences, the people of Alexandria have a shot at not just surviving but possibly even thriving, was enough to get us eagerly back on board. Of course huge swaths of the existing population are not going to survive. Of course there will be collapse and death on a grand scale. Of course it will all turn to shit at some point. We can’t have a series about people quietly living in safety, after all. And while we’re almost certain to return to the “There’s no point in even trying” way of thinking before the season is done, we appreciated starting things off with a little bit of hope.
Okay, now the complaints. First, it was a terrible plan. We were impressed throughout most of it, but when it became obvious that the end goal was merely to move the walkers away from Alexandria, we can’t figure out what the point was. You had them all corralled. What was stopping you from lobbing a couple hundred Molotov cocktails into the pit and thinning the herd out? Why dismantle a near-perfect zombie trap, the existence of which has ensured the survival of the only thriving community we’ve ever seen in this story? Why not just send a team out once a week or so to check the locks and thin out the herd enough so there’s room for new walkers to fall into the pit? Why exert all that effort? We know why, of course, because it was of a piece with the major themes of this episode. You set them free just to prove that your protagonists don’t care about what happens to other communities. They only care about themselves, because to care about others, as we were told over and over again, is to court disaster and death. You set them free because that’s Rick’s plan and if you don’t like Rick’s plan, you just might wind up dead. In fact, you WILL wind up dead, because even if you wind up shaking Rick’s hand and admitting how wrong you were to oppose him, the universe is going to kill you for being weak and useless to the Ricktatorship. That’s just the way of things now.
Yes, we did find that part a bit heavy-handed, thank you for asking. Also, the black-and-white flashbacks. Bit of a cliche with that move.
Sure, it’s a form of hope to want to live and to execute grand plans in order to ensure survival, but as Rick informed Morgan, he doesn’t take chances anymore, and that means pondering the execution of people who disagree with him and closing the gates of Alexandria to any more newcomers. It’s clearly an unsustainable way of leading a group (especially since he’s not technically their leader while Deanna is still alive) as evidenced by the sabotaging of his master plan by whomever was wielding that air horn, but this has always been the main theme at the heart of the show. We don’t particularly love hearing Rick espouse it, because he’s such an annoying character and because it would be nice to get a more well-rounded perspective on things (which may just be coming from the increasingly vocal Daryl), but we can’t, at this late stage, still be annoyed that the show is sticking with the major questions and themes it’s been wrestling with since season one. For now, we’re happy to see them wrestle with it in new and entertaining ways.
It was, as we said, a fun and entertaining 90 minutes, full of tension, excitement, and a surprisingly high number of good character moments for a cast that’s getting a bit too bloated. We’re at a point where we genuinely like a large number of the cast (including one or two of the brand-newbies), but the sheer size of it indicates a blood bath coming soon. The show simply can’t sustain that many perspectives at the same time. Death and disaster are, as they always have been, right on the horizon, but for now, we were insanely entertained by watching all these pieces come together for a brief moment of hope and cooperation.
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