The 'Walking Dead' Season Premiere Wants To Be Spectacular


The Walking Dead’s season-six premiere is set up to make you think it is an ambitious piece of TV filmmaking. It jumps back and forth in time, putting the past in black-and-white, the present in vibrant color. The episode, titled “First Time Again,” is constructed as a daring, somewhat complex plan to corral and contain a large number of walkers, led, of course, by Rick Grimes. (Warning: Some spoilers ahead.)

It looked for a little while last season that The Walking Dead had finally come up with a woman who could match Rick for tough leadership. She came in the person of Tovah Feldshuh as Deanna Monroe, leader of the Alexandrians. Feldshuh is a singularly commanding actor, and Deanna an unusually forceful figure in the Walking Dead TV-universe. But though this is open to interpretation, I think Sunday’s episode proves — very pointedly at the start of a new season — that no one gets the upper hand with Rick around.

Related: ‘The Walking Dead’ EP Greg Nicotero Previews Season 6

Rick is the John Wayne of The Walking Dead, but he’s not the simple, heroic John Wayne of hundreds of Westerns — no, he’s a specific John Wayne: the John Wayne of The Searchers. The one who is tragically arrogant, blinded by his sense of his own personal loss to insist that his way is the only way, and anyone who disagrees with him should get out of the way or be crushed.

And so “First Time Again” — even the title acknowledges how repetitive the show has become — has Rick trampling over the pretty feelings of both the Alexandria community and his own slowly shrinking band of Grimes loyalists. Everything on this series depends upon the idea that it’s kill-or-be-killed, preferably with a lot of killing being done (zombie heads exploding like pumpkins thrown from a roof; knives and swords hurtling up through a chin to emerge from the top of a zombie skull).

The season premiere tries to make itself look more complicated than it actually is, shuffling the scenes of the preparation for the battle to sequester some walkers with the execution of the sequestration. It’s ultimately just a chopped-up, hyped up version of an ordinary Walking Dead episode with one significant change. The show seems to be moving toward showing Rick Grimes overreaching — coming ever-closer to being overtaken by hubris, an unwarranted pride in his leadership. Any time anyone says (as Rick does on Sunday night), “Do you have any idea who you’re talking to?”, chances are, you’re looking at a character who’s headed for a fall.

Rick Grimes, fallen hero? Even as just a tantalizing possibility, that’s something I’d stay tuned in to watch.

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.