The Walking Dead is untouchable. Qualitatively, it's been all over the place. But the ratings, which have done nothing but increase over six seasons, have insured the show's survival, a spinoff series, and a spinoff webseries of the spinoff series. The only thing missing is a GIF spinoff.
Coming into The Walking Dead’s sixth season we’ve been told to expect the most ambitious cycle of the most popular series on cable yet. And while those expectations have been matched in a literal sense during this Sunday’s 90-minute premiere—thanks mostly to a quick follow-through on Andrew Lincoln’s promise of “more walkers than we’ve ever faced before”—it doesn’t translate to enough excitement. The premiere hits the ground running, but not nearly at the same pace as last season’s opener that finally broke the series’ bad habit of drawing out conflicts for far too long (hi, seasons three and four!).
The episode opens up right where we left off, literally, replaying Rick’s post-summary execution reunion with Morgan. From there it it jumps right into the aftermath, albeit non-linearly. We hop back and forth between the more immediate backlash from Rick executing Pete (set in black-and-white) and—without giving too much away—a daunting, elaborate plan to protect Alexandria.
As high as the stakes are, watching The Plan unfold step-by-step isn’t exactly riveting. At first I was mad at the heavy-handed flashbacks for events separated by, at most, a matter of weeks, but then I realized how boring watching The Plan would be sans interruptions. Despite lacking the theatrics of The Plan, these are the moments with weight. The show is always at its best when prioritizing major, nuanced conflicts between the survivors (and resolving them in less than, like, two seasons).
Pete murdering Reg pegged him as the crazier of he and Rick, but that hasn’t vindicated the latter in the eyes of the entire town. Pete deserved to get got, no doubt. But it’s still jarring to watch the sheriff shoot a man in the back of the head, no hesitation, no matter how deserving he is of lead. And, of course, the residents can’t forget about Rick waving his gun and ranting at them while covered in blood in the middle of the street. These people have had the cushy version of the zombie apocalypse; they haven’t squared off with a psychopathic, one-eyed governor or a cannibalistic cult. They’ve been chillin’ relatively unbothered within the walls of a luxury community.
It’s this bubbling tension, as well as others, that offers promise for season six at large. Rick has become Alexandria’s de facto leader, with Deanna acting as more of a mouthpiece to affirm his wishes while she’s broken by the early stages of grieving. Given their experience on the outside, the core group is more inclined to follow Rick’s lead. But will the O.G. Alexandria residents fall in line? And is that even a good idea? Has Rick become uncouth in his leadership, or is he too far gone to deserve it?
The answer to that last question will likely come from Morgan, who’s turning into the show’s moral compass. His read on Rick has yet to be cemented, as he alternates between wariness and understanding. As he himself puts it, they have to “get to know each other again… for the first time… again.”
Corey Hawkins, fresh off of summer smash Straight Outta Compton, joins the cast as one of the Alexandria residents who spent the events of last season out on a supply run. Unlike most of the other residents, dude is on top of his shit, which could have him falling into #TeamRick. But if Morgan dissents and other members of the core group join him, who knows exactly where Alexandria’s barrier will fall.
The season six premiere’s great challenge may not have done much for me, but I’m very much here for the looming conflicts. The Walking Dead is by no means a Great Show, but it is coming off its best, most focused season yet. And 90 minutes in there’s no reason to believe it can’t continue the momentum.