Season six of The Walking Dead returned with absolute ferocity in “First Time Again,” reuniting Morgan and Rick, bringing in a host of new characters (Ethan Embry!) killing off characters (Ethan Embry!) and featuring the biggest mass of zombies in the entire run of the series.
You could hardly have asked for a better premiere episode, which managed in a quick 90 minutes to set the stage for what’s to come in the first half of the season, namely potentially more conflict between Rick Grimes and company with the existing citizens of Alexandria. What’s interesting, however, is that Morgan hasn’t been set up as a foe for Rick. He’s been reintroduced to the series as a voice of reason for Grimes, whose hold on sanity has been tenuous, at best, as he attempts to balance the need to acclimate into a more civilized community and prepare that community for the uncivilized world outside.
In fact, Morgan has quickly come in and filled a role held by many (Daryl, Carol, and Michonne), as advisor and calming influence on Rick, whose patience with the weaker elements of Alexandria is wearing thin. Morgan, however, continues to see the humanity underneath — the Rick that he new from the pilot episode, and the Rick that he knew from the third season episode, “Clear,” who attempted to break Morgan out of his spell of insanity. Here, it’s Morgan attempting to keep Rick from falling over the edge, as he orchestrates a plan to direct thousands of zombies that have been accumulating in a ravine outside of Alexandria away from their community.
There are a lot of moving parts to that plan, which asks the citizens of Alexandria to take orders from Rick and his crew. Nicholas, who left Noah for dead last season and lured Glenn out into the woods and attempted to kill him, is now eating his humble pie, courtesy of Glenn, who has decided to give Nicholas a second chance (which may or may not come back to bite him in the ass). Maggie is befuddled, but supportive. She and a recuperating Tara have newly bonded in the sixth season, as Maggie makes a play for more power and influence within Alexandria (she’s also making a play to be in Deanna’s ear as the new widow continues to run Alexandria through the grief of losing her husband).
Meanwhile, Rick’s lost the ear of potential love interest Jessie, at least for now. Jessie seems hesitant to get involved with a man given to fits of rage, not to mention the fact that her children will likely never warm up to the man that killed their father. Elsewhere, Eugene seems to have a new hair buddy in Heath, who has a mean hair game, while Sasha and Abraham bond in the execution of the plan (and we learn that Sasha isn’t, in fact, suicidal — her mood last season may have had something to do with Sonequa Martin-Green’s pregnancy).
Carter (Embry) represents the element of Alexandria that remains distrustful of Rick, but as the episode progresses, we realize that his element is a fringe one. The rest of Alexandria, having finally witnessed the reality of what lies outside their walls, seems more amenable now to the influence and help of Rick and his crew. Deanna finally allows firearms within the walls and the citizens want to learn how to use them. They’re also quick to volunteer to help out with the zombie caper, though they are not so appreciative of Rick when he uses tough love to force them to fend for themselves against zombies.
The meat of the episode, however, centers on the blossoming relationship between Rick and Morgan, who slowly come to realize that — as different as they have become — they’re still the same people underneath. Viewers hoping, or a least expecting, a showdown between Rick and Morgan may have been disappointed, at least for now, because Morgan seems more interested in fitting into Rick’s world and attempting to fix him from the inside.
It was an intense, exciting 90 minutes, which used more CGI than the show is accustomed to. It worked. The zombie colony effectively raised the stakes enough to bring Alexandria together to divert the zombies away. Next week, they’ll be tasked with an ever bigger challenge: To unify in an effort to protect their home.
That’s because the plan to shepherd the zombies 20 miles west hit a snag when horns from inside Alexandria commanded the attention of the walkers, who are making a bee-line toward the community. Who is responsible for the horn?
We’re not yet certain, but it could be a callback to the cold open in last year’s season finale, when Morgan left two of the Wolves unconscious inside a car and blew the horn (in his case, he wasn’t doing it to draw the attention of walkers, but to ensure that there were no walkers around). If Morgan deciding against killing those two wolves is what endangers Alexandria and leads to more deaths, it wouldn’t be the first time that Morgan’s refusal to kill came back and bit him in the ass. Recall that Morgan’s inability to put down his zombie wife also led to her attacking and killing his son.
If history repeats itself again, Morgan may not be able to live with himself this time around. He may ultimately end up in Father’s Gabriel’s club of self-hatred.