They say you never get the chance to make another first impression but you do. It’s difficult, painful, and a lot more work but it can be done. Whether it’s your new boss, your girlfriend’s father, or anyone you failed in front of you, can change their impression of you if you do something bloody spectacular enough (possibly involving a tank and a boombox playing Take That). If you can pull off that impossible accomplishment of greatness, something they never believed you could achieve you can redefine how they see you. A new start, means a new first impression. After the dramatic events at Alexandria last season, Rick Grimes is looking to make a new start for their community but will that come with some new first impressions too? Will everyone change for the better?
First Time Again – In the aftermath of Reg and Pete’s death, Rick unites the community of Alexandria around a new threat: a mass horde of walkers nearby and looking set to break out in their general direction. This results in a large scale plan to lead the walkers safely away from their home, but will they take the bait?
Previously on Epicstream’s repeated use of this same joke every time The Walking Dead comes back.... right now that’s out of the system; let’s get down to business. The Walking Dead returns with a time jump similar to the season 3 to 4 transition. Yet rather than seeing Alexandria get a makeover, we get the impression that most of that time has been spent in preparation for the gargantuan set piece this season premiere delivers as the group takes on an entire cast of Ben Hur in walkers. We’ve seen the vast destructive power of overwhelming dead ranks in the past, but this the first time we’ve seen anyone pick a fight with one. It’s like seeing the group sailing into a hurricane with fixed eyes and gritted teeth like mother nature is about to get thorough spanking. The level of mass planning is fantastic to watch as even though timing forces some degree of “doing it live”, we feel the organisation and the depth of their multi-stage preparation. Carter’s character becomes a good voice of opposition to voice our audience questions and concerns. The swarming visuals are awesome to watch as Daryl leads the endless, shuffling foes down the road on his bike like the most badass pied piper who ever lived. Or the walkers smashing and splattering into the barriers as they force hard right turn, like a rancid meat grinder. Even in the smaller events, director Greg Nicotero (his 12th TWD episode to date including last year’s opener) finds ways to thrill us. What could have been a routine walker encounter with Glen, Nicholas and new character Heath (Corey Hawkins – Straight Outta Compton’s Dr Dre) is electric thanks to some terrific close action camera work.
This present day reunion is excellently combined with a series of Pleasantville flashbacks from right where we left off last season to catching up where the present day story begins. The black and white footage could have been frustrating gimmick but actually works very well to create a clear two tone effect for the episode (and Rick’s plastered face makes him look hilariously like Sin City’s Marv). The writing is highly effective in the way it deals with aftermath and consequences of Rick’s explosive rise to community leadership while setting up many plot threads for the season. Immediately, Deanna feels like she’s trusting Rick blindly in light of losing her husband. In many ways, it’s symbolic of a politician surrendering to a police state and could be the beginning of a darker side to her character. Next, there’s the forgiveness of Glen and Nicholas (who got Noah horribly killed and nearly lured Glen to his death). It reinforces Glen’s capacity as a gluing character to keep people together and symbolizes the fresh start of both Rick’s group and the original residents within the community. Michael Traynorg does well to make Nicholas’s desire for redemption worth caring about, and the script rightly compares his situation to Tara’s before she joined the group. Things between Rick and Jessie are clearly on the rocks as she forces him to give her distance for the sake of her kids, who will take some time to accept him as anything but their father’s killer. Finally, there’s a great running theme to many scenes of experiencing them through Morgan’s eyes as he gets to know the rest of the cast. As well as good heart to hearts with Rick that set Morgan up to be the Shepherd Book to Rick’s Mal Reynolds, there’s a genius moment as he sees straight through Carol’s helpless housewife facade by noticing her alertness and readiness that she can’t switch off. Carol’s continued role as a sleeper agent now feels like it will be a grenade going off in Rick’s hand eventually, damaging the community’s trust of him when they find out.
Some smaller characters get great little moments throughout the episode. Eugene’s on comic relief duty and delivers well with his patented awkwardness. Although his smile towards Tara is genuinely unnerving, his face finishes somewhere between a kitten and a serial killer. Father Gabriel is enjoyable as he fails spectacularly trying to get back on people’s good side (especially Rick’s snap shooting him down to join the plan). Abraham and Sasha form a nice little double act. She seems more in control than the end of last season while he shows signs of slipping. His longing looks and boozing in the face of dead Reg’s wedding ring imply he might be getting a back story episode this season, concerning his family. In terms of absences, save a brief unspoken glimpse, Carl is the aptly named “Young Sir who's not appearing in this episode”. So he’s likely being saved for a bigger role in upcoming weeks.
Last season’s opener was widely acclaimed as an explosive and triumphant return for the show (we definitely loved it here). Yet in many ways, First Time Again has bettered it. It delivers just the same large scale action but with a much more interesting narrative. After some good competition from its new spin off, The Walking Dead returns to remind its California cousin who wears the wings leather waist coat and the katana. In the same week, as we're getting speculation as to how and when the show will end, it's magnificent to see it produce such an original episode to show how much life it still has in it, that after 5 seasons, it can still give us first times... and still will again.