Since Scott Gimple assumed showrunner duties on the THE WALKING DEAD, the series has delivered pretty solid season openers. Tonight's extended 6th-season kick-off was the first exception to that rule and supports my own contention that the series is in a cycle even its fans will come to see as a serious decline (if only in retrospect).
was then-showrunner Glen Mazzara who, way back in season 2, hit upon
the idea of camouflaging TWD's infinity of problems by throwing zombies
(or, more generally, action) at them. Upping the pace as a means of
pacifying the bumpkins. TWD has employed this tactic at various times
ever since. Tonight was the most spectacular example of it yet, the
biggest collection of zombies the series has ever seen.
story of "First Time Again" is built around a series of contrivances
and incredible coincidences on the order of being hit by falling
meteorites over and over again. Rick randomly decides he isn't going to
allow Pete to be buried within the walls of the safe zone on the grounds
that they don't bury "murderers" there. He and Morgan take the body
into the outside world [*] and, by meteoric coincidence, happen to stop to drop it
off within close proximity of a granite quarry that, upon inspection, is
filled with zombies. The creatures have been entering it by stumbling
down a hill on one side, drawn by the sounds of the others, but are then
trapped in the quarry by trucks that have been positioned to seal it
off. They've been amassing there for some time--there are thousands of
them. Rick returns to the safe zone to report that one of the trucks
could, at any moment, fall from the upper end of the quarry, maybe after
the next good rain, and that would set the entire herd on the road right
for the safe zone. Another meteorite--good thing they found it just in time, right? The idea that rain would cause a ledge of solid
granite to erode until it collapsed under the weight of a truck is
amusing but would be a fairly minor gripe if the ep had anything going
Rather than merely reinforcing what seems to be
a pretty good zombie trap or just killing the zombies in it,
Rick, who in the course of the ep declares "I don't take chances anymore," decides to free the herd and carry out an incredibly elaborate scheme to try to steer it away from the safe zone.
What could possibly go wrong with that plan, right?
heroes assemble for what's supposed to be a dry run and in the very
moment Rick finishes explaining his plan, yet another of those on-cue
meteorites hits--the ledge on which the truck sits collapses, the truck
goes over and the creatures are free. The plan will have to be carried
out on the spot, no practice. We get lots and lots of shots of lots and
lots of zombies.
The effort to use spectacle in place
of storytelling doesn't do a thing for me. For the presence of all those
zombies, there's very little tension--herding them seems, throughout
the ep, a rather simple matter. That the series resorted to this go-massive-on-the-zombies thing only a week after FEAR THE WALKING DEAD did exactly the same thing is only one sign of the creative bankruptcy haunting TWD. The ep also spent a great deal of time hitting a standard
TWD note: Carter, a character from the safe zone, is a moron,
doesn't like Rick and though he's too cowardly to tackle a
skin-and-bones zombie on his own, is conspiring to kill our fearless
leader, thrust into center-stage in his own little sub, well, plot. Rick, learning of the plot, passes on the opportunity to shoot
the fellow but he later tells Morgan that Carter is an idiot who is too
stupid to be alive in this zombified world. Seasoned TWD viewers will
know exactly what all this means and that what happens to Carter is exactly what they expect proves how thin and tired the TWD formula has become. Carter is even wearing a red shirt when it happens.
If one is willing to ignore the hack-writer contrivances, this wasn't really a bad
ep by TWD standards (admittedly, setting the bar rather low). There's
just absolutely nothing interesting or special about it. The overwhelming impression it makes is that of a by-the-numbers re-covering already-much-covered ground. I was bored
well before it was over and even its cliffhanger ending--someone sets
off a big power-horn and diverts the herd toward the safe zone--didn't
really make me want to see any more. "The First Time Again" is pretty
much like the last time again.
[*] 12 Oct., 2015 - Reader Steve Johnson further notes that "if
Rick doesn't want to bury Pete the killer inside the walls, why not
drag the body 10 feet from the gate and leave it, instead of risking
driving into the woods when they know a hostile group of 'wolves' is
lurking out there somewhere?" I would add that the presence of the "wolves," who, it's been established, use zombies to do their dirty work, makes unleashing the herd even more insane.
 This portion of the story was handled badly in general. When Morgan and Rick
were examining the quarry, they never look at the allegedly problematic
truck and make any comment on it. The writers felt it was more important to throw in some bullshit melodrama with Pete's son, so the trouble was never established.
 Despite being rejected out of hand, this could, in fact, be done in any one of half a dozen ways absent any risk and employing a fraction of the resources used to carry out Rick's idiotic scheme.
 In one of those moments that sort of micorcosms the "what the fuck am I watching?" vibe this series so often emits, Rick and co., when planning the herding operation, come across a store near the road that has some zombies in it. The creatures claw at the inside of the building and make a lot of noise. Rick tells Glenn that when they carry out the operation, they're have to kill those zombies so they don't attract the herd off the road. Instead of simply opening up the place and killing them right there on the spot while they were all standing there. When the herd escapes, Glenn rushes to the store, opens it up and though the herd is already on the road, uses guns against the zombies!
 It's also the case that such a huge conglomeration of zombies would destroy any survivors in its path and they're being herded right up the road, which, of course, any travelers would be following. This doesn't quite evince the same blatant disregard for human life shown by the FTWD gang, who intentionally sicced their herd on a hospital, but it's still a fairly monstrous act.
UPDATE (12 Oct., 2015) - Reader "lone-foxx" makes a good point in noting, "They should have found a way to thin the heard over a few weeks time,
slow drip style. This would be a great training camp experience for all
the noobs as well. Teach them guns and spears, and the guns are only to
be used as back-up."
 And hack-level writing. Throughout the ep, there's a particularly bad bit of soap opera scripting wherein Morgan and Rick go on and on about how they "know" one another. Rather than just showing them get to know one another (again), the writers have them talk about knowing one another.
 There are two jokes, very rare things for
TWD, and one of them even works, which is even more rare (it's
about Eugene's hair).