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Most series don’t get discussed much in their sixth season, but The Walking Dead, as one of television’s most popular shows, isn’t like most others. It’s not a sitcom on autopilot. It’s not a procedural solving a crime of the week. In many ways, despite its lack of Emmy prestige and the dismissiveness in some corners over the fact that it’s a genre series, The Walking Dead is an elite, top-tier series.
It has managed through the seasons to keep part of itself grounded in the core principles that make it more than a simple show about zombies — focusing on what keeps people human in a world that’s inhuman and being a show about the living, not the dead (or the undead).
AIR DATE Oct 11, 2015
That said, The Walking Dead isn’t without its challenges as it has aged from season to season. Of primary concern is a propensity to repeat the issues that plague the main group — falling into the same trap again and again, a misguided attempt to ratchet up the drama.
We may not know whether executive producer and show-runner Scott Gimple can keep the gang from repetitive mistakes as it begins season six — the 90-minute premiere was all that was shown to critics — but at least in one area the show has shifted gears: it has gone extremely large in its scope, with an epic plot to move the most walkers viewers have ever seen out of the path of the Alexandria suburbs where the original group has, with some unease, “settled.”
Of course, all grand plans seemed doomed in The Walking Dead universe, so viewers will no doubt watch it unfold with some jadedness.
The answer to whether this massive plan from Rick (Andrew Lincoln) will work or not is the fulcrum of season six, and there’s a good laugh to be had when Rick presents it this way: “I know this sounds insane…”
The 90-minute premiere, called “First Time Again,” is told in flashbacks and begins back where it left off in season five — a borderline psychotic Rick having dispatched a member of the Alexandria safe and happy crowd, who in turn had killed the husband of the community’s leader, Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh). All the season five bickering over whether to trust unstable Rick has pretty much passed (thankfully), as Gimple and company feel the need to move the story forward while also implying that staying in Alexandria is what everybody wants.
The current season also reintroduces Morgan (Lennie James), a fan-favorite character who has been a nice guidepost for the series since appearing in seasons one, three and five. He’s still a bit of mystery in places but The Walking Dead is effectively using Morgan as a man who clings to what’s left of humanity — or the notion of it. Getting to know each other for the first time, really, is where we find Morgan and Rick. Clinging to what’s good and what’s right is still part of Morgan, but perhaps a lesser part of Rick (at least that’s what Rick tries to explain to Morgan, who chooses to see a man that’s not completely given over to death). “I’m a killer, Rick. I am and you are too” Morgan says. But even in the new world order, understanding the gradations of what’s acceptable human behavior is still important, Morgan tries to explain periodically.
All of this will be put to the test in season six, no doubt, and the realization of what everyone is up against is an eyebrow-raising moment when Morgan and Rick come upon a very disturbing scene just outside of Alexandria.
Say this about The Walking Dead — there’s an excitement to the notion of survival, even when it’s played out in repetitive ways. That is especially true in this episode, which aims to go very big before some of the players go home. And while everyone from the original group is ostensibly here to filter out a season’s worth of life-and-death storylines (surviving or dying being the crux of most of what happens on The Walking Dead), there are two intriguing mysteries in the expanded premiere: Carl (Chandler Riggs) is missing and never even mentioned, and the story alludes to a major loss, though the identity of the lost person is a mystery.
The Walking Dead hasn’t tripped up much to lose viewers — they are insanely loyal — so the idea of doing the same thing over and over again isn’t going to be the death knell for ratings. But there’s always the hope that the series keeps being relevant by sticking to what makes it work (the humanity) and avoids the repetitive dramatic tricks (we trusted people we shouldn’t have — again) that curtail its potential.
Here’s hoping the epic opening to season six points to a new, unfamiliar direction.
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