One episode was provided prior to broadcast.
Not much time appears to have passed in between the chaotic season five finale of AMC’s flagship zombie drama The Walking Dead, and the season six premiere aimed to bloody television sets this Sunday with its annual October launch. Actually, Rick and the gang appear to still be covered in viscera and grime from the events of that finale and where we pick up with them, but that doesn’t mean a lot hasn’t changed. Most of it is in Rick’s favor, of course, with his steady stewardship over Alexandria coming more and more into focus, but there’s always a threat; this time it’s in the form of Carter (Ethan Embry) and a whole quarry-full of walkers chomping at the bit to get into town.
The season six premiere, if nothing else, is rightfully ambitious. The show drops fans into the middle of a crisis-of-the-week with zero context and proceeds to unspool details about the events after Rick (Andrew Lincoln) executed a drunken Pete for accidentally slicing the throat of the husband of Alexandria leader Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh). Things in the town are boiling over, to say the least, and when Rick and Morgan (Lennie James, appearing to finally be a series regular of sorts) stumble on a large herd of walkers threatening to head straight to town, the group quickly assembles a plan to lead them all north, away from town and, hopefully, out of their hair for good.
I’m probably selling the premiere’s set piece short, but the sequences in which the episode’s director, Greg Nicotero, crams as many zombies as possible into one shot are easily some of the coolest in the series so far. There’s some urgency and uncertainty to the opening shot as well – Rick yelling orders, mostly at characters we’ve never met, only two eighteen-wheelers between him an a zombie army – that immediately sets the season off on a pulse-pounding note as well. In true The Walking Dead fashion, however, it just doesn’t stick with it.
The premiere’s black-and-white flashbacks are fun for a scene or two, where we see Rick in full dictator mode and crafting a plan for the eventual egress of the zombies from the quarry. There’s a certain inherent coolness to the look of those scenes and the callout to the comics, the fans of which should no doubt get a kick out of, but it’s also classically plodding storytelling that only The Walking Dead can accomplish. Full of characters talking around an event rather than discussing it directly and writing that constantly mistakes sparsity for cleverness, there’s a diminishing returns factor on the show’s entertainment value as it becomes more engulfed by its lackluster overarching plot of blunt-faced survival.