The season six premiere of "The Walking Dead" is, without a doubt, the most ambitious episode of the show ever -- and that's saying something.
"TWD" is TV's biggest show, and as much as fans love the character interactions and interpersonal drama, it's every episode's stand-out action sequence or zombie scare that have raised it above the rest of TV. And all that's on display in "First Time Again," directed by series stalwart Greg Nicotero from a script by Scott M. Gimple and Matt Negrete -- plus it's the most ambitious thing they've done in six seasons... And they nail it.
We'll keep it spoiler free from now on, but just know that there's a reason the show is premiering for fans at Madison Square Garden: this episode is HUGE.
The Look... The Feel...
Without going into much detail (and I'll refrain from saying that again, because really, I'm gonna keep this to as zero spoilers as possible), Nicotero continues the bold visual reinvention of the show from last season. As a recap of what went on behind the scenes, showrunner Scott Gimple went from playing clean-up in season four, to pushing both the timeline and look of the show forward in season five; and it looks like that will continue in season six.
Which is awesome. There's two very distinct sections to this over-sized episode: one that fondly recalls the series' comic book origins; another that plays to the epic, over-sized scope of the action. Both stretch the boundaries of what you can expect from the show, while not forgoing character over spectacle.
The LOLing Dead
Speaking of character work... This might be the funniest episode of "The Walking Dead" ever. Look, it's not a laugh-a-minute by any means, and god-awful things happen to all the characters, almost constantly. But -- possibly due to the fact that we're now finally settled in the safe zone of Alexandria -- the characters have time to be more than soapboxes about how the world is a different place post-apocalypse.
Most surprisingly the bulk of the humor gets lumped on two characters: Carol (Melissa McBride) and Michonne (Danai Gurira). Carol, in particular, is a jaw-dropping, hilarious surprise in the hour. As much as she was reinvented into a deadly badass in season four and five, season six finds her taking a surprising turn that makes total sense for where she's been, and where she's going.
Suffice to say, Carol -- and McBride -- continues to be the stealth weapon of the Grimes Gang.
...But Also The Sads
I mean, don't worry, everyone is still damaged AF, this isn't turning into "Mike & Molly" or whatever. Several characters in particular (you can probably figure out who just based on where everyone was left at the end of last season) are pretty much destroyed, and spend most of the episode trying very hard not to let the immense task ahead of them end their lives; or in some cases, not trying that hard.
There's a lot of characters on this show now, too. Beyond the core Group, there's also the Alexandrians, plus stand-out Walkers, and more. But you never lose track of where the characters are physically or emotionally, and everyone gets at least one stand-out moment to shine. Even Eugene (Josh McDermitt)!
Rick V Morgan: Dawn Of Zombies
Morgan's (Lennie James) addition to the cast is excellent. Not only are we fleshing out our Ninja Turtles roster nicely with a staff-wielding master fighter, but Morgan brings a new perspective on Rick's (Andrew Lincoln) madness... Or lack thereof.
In fact, the most surprising aspect of the episode was the swerves the much teased Rick vs. Morgan civil war takes throughout the plot. More than a civil war, this is a truly fresh look at the essential conflict of "Walking Dead." The show long ago fell on the side of, "you stick to the way things were and you die;" but what happens when you're living in a place that shows the other way works?
Do you become like the Alexandrians, or do you force them to become like you? Morgan is a third option -- or at the very least, a challenge to this binary view of the world, and James' scenes with Lincoln are the dramatic heart of the episode.
Speaking of hearts of the episode, Glenn (Steven Yeun) gets his chance in the spotlight. It's a great change from season five, which saw the introduction of a number of new characters -- and Glenn getting mostly shoved in the role of "supportive hus-boyfriend."
Here, we see flashes of the old Glenn back, including his sense of humor: a joke about his old job, something I don't think has been mentioned since season one, is actually laugh out loud funny. Oh, and he kicks much, much butt, too.
Picking Up The Pace
Fans worried that the Group settling down in one location a la season two's Hershel's Farm meant we're in for a slow year full of lots of talking and hand wringing... Don't worry. Not only has Gimple led his company to showing instead of telling, and making the dialogue scenes actually count versus repeating the same themes over and over; but the action picks up from the very first scene, and doesn't let up.
And isn't going to let up any time soon. The episode is an incredible, complete package, as big as you'd want a "Walking Dead" movie to be; but it also shows how things start off bad -- and as usual, are only getting to get way, way worse.
The premiere isn't here for another two weeks, and then when it is... You're going to be screaming for episode two.