9.5

The Walking Dead Review: "First Time Again"

TV Features The Walking Dead
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Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review The Walking Dead each week in a series of letters. This week, Josh was unavailable, so Shane will just be writing to himself. Josh will return next week.

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Shane—

First, let me say it’s an honor to be corresponding with you. You’ve always been one of my heroes.

So: Wow! After six weeks of Fear the Walking Dead, which went from bad to just okay, I feel like I’ve just gone from eating cold canned beans to a full palace feast, complete with doves and pheasants and other exotic birds. The real TWD is back, baby!

I loved pretty much everything about this episode, from the confusion of the opening scene to the black-and-white flashbacks catching us up on everything that’s happened since the season five finale, to the crazy zombie relocation plan, to ALL MORGAN ALL THE TIME.

But I want to start at the end—what no-good sabotagin’ son of a walker is blowing that horn? Couldn’t we just have one ambitious 15-part master plan work out on this show, one time? I have a few guesses, but primarily I think it’s the Wolves, who seem hellbent on chaos and death of all varieties. My second guess is Ron and his ultra-hip slouchy beanie hat, who doesn’t seem pleased that Rick killed his father…and imagine how he’s going to feel when Rick inevitably gets down with his mom. My third and final guess is that Aaron and Carl, neither of whom we saw in this episode (right?) have teamed up to form a crazy video prank duo and are just laughing themselves silly over their first caper.

The amount of investment I feel in these characters, six seasons in, can best be measured by the panicky sensation I felt at the idea that Alexandria might be compromised. I know things aren’t perfect there, Shane, but it’s nice to see them all have a community. I hope this doesn’t result in all of them having to abandon ship and hit the road again, because I’ve come to love the security. I was hoping The Walking Dead would evolve into something like The Andy Griffith Show inside Alexandria, and my hopes were only stoked by the black-and-white footage in “First Time Again.”

There’s so much to talk about here that I almost don’t know where to go next, but how about the short, sad trajectory of Carter? Every beat was so fascinating, starting with his argument with Rick and ending with his death. My favorite moment of all, of course, came with Rick and Morgan on the porch, when Rick admitted that the only reason he didn’t kill him was because Carter was inevitably going to die anyway. That’s some cold calculation.

And the redemption of Nicholas? I mean, Glenn has to be the most magnanimous person in the entire zombie apocalypse, right? I actually liked Nicholas in this episode, but when I remember my feelings from the end of season five, I still want him to die on principle. On the other hand, the trio of Glenn, Nicholas, and Heath is pretty hilarious—they’re goofy and badass at the same time, and I hope we get to see more of them.

Last but not least, MORGAN! I don’t have a ton to say about him, except that I’m thrilled he’s back, I’m glad he brings a new quirky weapon to the entourage, and I’m impressed that he identified Carol as a secret badass immediately. I really do wish he’d killed the Wolves when he had the chance, though.

Kicking it your way, amigo—we’re back in the big leagues!

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Shane—

Let me return your compliment—it’s incredible to be sharing this space with you. A dream come true.

Here’s a question for you: Why does it seems like The Walking Dead is so much more meaningful than FTWD, and has been since the very first episode? It’s not like this show is exactly straining for deeper meaning beyond the struggle for survival in a terrifying world, and it exists somewhere between a highbrow and lowbrow state. So why does it matter more? Is it simply down to better acting, writing, and plot? Is it because Rick and the gang got there first, and we only have room in our hearts for one refugee band?

I don’t know the answer, but seeing them all on screen again felt so elemental in a way that I’ve come to realize is never going to happen for FTWD. It’s almost like the latter show, by yearning for a different kind of artistry, forgot to make things real enough to lure us in, and instead spread the characters so thin that we had nothing solid to grasp. Which is where I think Rick deserves a ton of credit—Andrew Lincoln has taken some shit (though less and less all the time), but from the start, he’s been our reliable vehicle for observing the world. We started with his confusion, we followed him through the south, and he’s served as our moral compass the entire time.

It’s not quite a novel written in the first person, but it’s still true that we experience the world through Rick. We need that, I think—he might change a bit slower than the rest of us, but generally he reflects our shifting view of the world and the people inside it, and therefore serves as a kind of proxy for our own experience. It sounds strange to say, but I can see myself in Rick’s group because I know what he’s about, whereas there’s no part of me that can picture where I’d fit in with the Los Angeles crew. They don’t seem real to me.

So there’s my big praise for the chief. I can’t imagine the show without him, and he is, by far, the most indispensable character. As much as I love Daryl and Michonne and Nicholas (just kidding on the last one), Rick’s the guy we absolutely cannot lose. Andrew Lincoln carries us on his shoulders, and as the Romans would say, he’s the sine qua non—a condition without which it could not be.

—Shane

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Shane,

REALLY SMART STUFF, BRO.

Getting back to the plot, in the very first black-and-white scenes, we see what I originally thought was the aftermath of the zombies (apparently) storming Alexandria. Deanna and the priest are okay, though covered with blood, and Abraham has two body bags with him. One of the bodies has a ring on its hand, and he seems emotional about it. However, it’s not Eugene. What does that mean? Ron is still alive, along with his mom and the baby. Tara, Glenn, and Nicholas made it. Maggie’s fine. Daryl, Rick, and Morgan made it through, as did Sasha.

But then again, Tara refers to Noah as though she still thinks he’s alive, and Rick tells Morgan they need to talk tomorrow, which seems like the start of their renewed relationship. So what the hell happened? Was there a totally different skirmish that happened after the big summit meeting? If not, that would mean the black-and-white scenes started out as a flash-forward and then turned into a flashback, right? Am I making sense? What the hell happened?

—Shane

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Shane,

You’ll be shocked to know I had the same question, and arrived at the same conclusion—there must have been a separate fight, otherwise the timeline is too scattered.

We’ll find out next week, and I think that’s a good place to leave it. One way or another, we’re getting a massive walker battle, and I have no idea if Alexandria will survive. Before we go, I’ll throw out one small moment that made me laugh and that I think deserves some acknowledgment:

Father Gabriel: I’d like to help as well.

Rick: No. Who else?

I think at this point, the writers have no idea what to do with Father Gabriel, so they’ve decided to just mock him for the time being. And I’m all for that.

Last thing: I’ve got some bad news, Shane. You’re fired. Next week, you’ll be replaced by Josh Jackson. Good luck out there.

—Shane

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