Rick and Morgan learn to trust each other again as Alexandria prepares for a massive walker threat.

By Jonathon Dornbush
October 12, 2015 at 02:52 AM EDT
Gene Page/AMC

The Walking Dead has never been stingy about walker-filled setpieces, particularly as the show has progressed. But “First Time Again” is drowning in the undead, as a quarry full of them becomes the next major would-be threat to survival that Rick decides to take on before it actually becomes a problem.

After five seasons worth of stories, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the Rick who led his group into Alexandria is a Rick not willing to undertake such an obstacle without a plan. (ASIDE: For those following along, I am your newly instated TWD recapper for the season, and as I mentioned in my first Fear the Walking Dead recap, I have purposely not read the comics to focus on the show as its own entity. END ASIDE). “First Time Again” tests the limits of that plan, as the Alexandria group (plus a few newcomers) are forced into action earlier than expected, while also taking a look back at how the plan came to be. Unsurprisingly, it was not a simple process.

“First Time Again” opens up on that quarry, a disturbing pit of caged-in walkers as Rick directs the group around the area. Morgan is there, as are a few unfamiliar faces, but everyone’s listening to Rick…until a truck blocking off one of the quarry’s exit routes falls down a rock wall. Sure, it kills quite a few walkers, but it also gives the rest of them a prime route straight to Alexandria.

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So everyone shifts into high gear — a plan they expected to carry out the next day has to go into effect now, no matter the doubts some of the Alexandrians may have in Rick’s directives. There’s no choice but to follow through as the walkers begin to spill out from their open-air cage. Greg Nicotero lets the camera sit in place before the credits kick in, a ceaseless mass of walkers approaching with no end in sight. But Rick has an end in mind, and it will require everyone to work in perfect harmony to make that dream ending a reality.

It looks like there might actually be hope for that, but “First Time Again,” doles out Rick’s zombie parade mission in short bursts while jumping back to the interim between the season 5 finale and now, and differentiating between the two by showing the past sequences in black and white, while the present remains in full color.

The Calm Before the March

The deaths of Reg, his throat slit, and Pete, his face blown off, leave the people of Alexandria in a fractured state. Abraham drinks his way through body-removal duty, Jessie’s son Ron is coping with Pete’s death, Carl and Enid share a quiet moment, and Glenn returns injured with the also-injured Nicholas.

It’s not all terrible news within the confined walls of Alexandria. Tara has woken up, much to the restrained delight of Eugene (though she also unfortunately learns of Noah’s death), while Maggie has Glenn back and Rick is able to reconnect with Morgan. They are, as the title and dialogue within the episode suggests, meeting for the first time again. Rick tells Morgan he’s the type of guy who doesn’t take chances anymore, and that includes taking a chance on Morgan. So initially, he has Morgan isolated in a house while they can decide just how trustworthy this man is, but Rick’s sentiments about Alexandria certainly suggest he’s not in the most trusting mode. He tells Daryl he wants more security for the town and no more warm bodies brought in, especially with more of those carved Ws appearing on walker faces. Daryl disagrees, but for now Rick is sticking to what he knows will work.

NEXT: Rick and Morgan catch up. There’s a lot of that to do.

At the very least, he’s softening up to Morgan, who he finds channeling his inner Donatello while practicing with his bowstaff. He’s locked up, but he doesn’t mind. He understands they’ve “got to get to know each other for the first time. Again.”

So they do, walking around town, Rick filling Morgan in on how Alexandria came to be and what it will have to become if it intends to survive. Seeing the two together again and knowing it isn’t for a fleeting moment is a joy to watch. Rick and Morgan may have undergone some drastic changes and life-altering events since the pilot, but their initial relationship was a defining reason for why I first fell for the show. It’s a joy to have it back, even if the two have to start fresh.

Morgan quickly learns about the man Rick has grown into and how much of the man he knew both in the pilot and in season 3 still remains. He’s with Rick as they discover Father Gabriel and Alexandria’s Tobin digging graves for Reg and Pete. Rick refuses to have a killer buried in their walls, and Deanna, who is still reeling from the loss of Reg, agrees. Even though Morgan points out they are both killers as well, they bring Pete’s body out of the town’s borders.

They’re not alone, though. Pete’s son Ron followed them to know where his father was being buried, but he almost becomes lunch for a few walkers. Rick and Morgan save him and discover the quarry in the process. Rick also shifts into commander-dad mode, lecturing Ron about being safe in this world, protecting himself from the constant threat of danger, even promising to teach him and his family how to literally keep their heads. But it’s tough to imagine a teenager is going to want shooting tips from the man who killed his father (and a later trip to the armory in which Jessie tells Rick she won’t have him acting like that to her son, or helping their family, confirms this won’t be the case).

The quarry revelation is of much greater concern to Rick (ASIDE: While the massive hum of the walkers might be difficult to ignore, Deanna’s incidental dialogue about how burying Pete out west would be best since they don’t go that way at least explains away why no one else has come across it. END ASIDE), and he immediately calls a town meeting, which now includes among its numbers Heath, Scott, and Annie. Heath is given the most time to shine in the episode from his introduction to Eugene, who holds them up at the gate when they’re returning from a scavenge. They just so happened to be gone during a tectonic shift within Alexandria, and though Eugene is initially hesitant, he lets them in, even trying to bond with Heath over their hair. (Sorry Eugene, Heath’s do is just a bit more impressive.)

At the meeting, Heath also reveals he knew of the quarry, back when it was just a small encampment of survivors who must have eaten their own as they turned. But the continued source of sound attracted more walkers, who fell into the pit, increased the sound, and caused a repeating cycle of nightmarish proportions. Rick warns that the quarry is a ticking time bomb. The trucks set up as barricades could fall after another major rain, and Rick wants them to act before the walkers are knocking at their gate.

He meets the most opposition from Carter, who doesn’t like the town following into the control of this new group. He calls Rick’s plan into doubts, but Deanna is on the side of her sheriff, so Rick begins calling for volunteers. (He shuts down Gabriel’s offer while begrudgingly accepting Nicholas’.) And though Carter is not pleased with losing this battle, he’s corralled into helping the mission go off without a hitch. They plan on building a road at a cross street to direct the walkers in one direction, and since Carter helped Reg plot the walls that have kept Alexandria safe, he’s roped into planning this new wall.

NEXT: Build that wall and build it strong, ’cause we’ll be there before too long.

Building that wall becomes a communal event, the closest thing to a bonding experience the new and old groups of Alexandria have had outside of murderous town halls. Daryl takes another opportunity to tell Rick that bringing more people into the town is for survival, but Rick would likely want to only take them at this point if they’re handy with a gun — and aren’t going to challenge his authority.

The wall project becomes a focal point for laying the groundwork of future tensions outside of Daryl and Rick’s frames of mind. While on the project, Rick tells Carol to keep an eye on the town during the mission, as there’s certainly still mistrust around every corner. Morgan also bluntly tells Carol she seems ever vigilant, always prepared to tackle whatever threat may be lying in wait. (I desperately want more from these two in the episodes to come after this one scene. Will this be a contentious relationship or one of earned respect?)

And Rick speaks with Deanna about arming and training the people of Alexandria. He wants them to survive, but he can’t be the one always firing the protective rounds. The question is put into practice when a small herd of walkers approaches the build site. The people of Alexandria, armed with shovels, guns, and knives, are paralyzed by the threat. Morgan rushes in to save the day despite Rick’s wishes not to, and the rest of the more-experienced fighters finish off the rest within moments.

Rick doesn’t take chances anymore, Morgan thought, yet here he was chancing the lives of a few Alexandrians to prove a point. And it only causes Carter to grow more weary of Rick’s presence. He holds a secret meeting with some of the townsfolk in an effort to incite them to kill Rick. Unfortunately, Eugene overhears the talk while sneaking some snacks out, only to drop a jar and attract the group’s attention. Carter holds him at gunpoint, knowing he’s overheard everything, when Rick just so happens to appear at the front door. He wrestles the gun out of Carter’s hand and threatens him with it, but with Daryl, Morgan, and the rest watching, he decides to let Carter live.

It wasn’t an easy choice, he tells Morgan later when the man appears on Rick’s porch. Morgan, who he offers a spot in their home and even lets hold Judith, tells him he knows what kind of man he is. Rick is still the same man he met in King County who said it wasn’t over for them. Even if he wanted to kill Carter, Rick realized he didn’t have to, because Carter is the type of person in a world like this who is going to die no matter what. It is over for people like Carter.

NEXT: A man, a plan, a wall, Alexandria

March of the Walkers (sadly sans Morgan Freeman voiceover)

And die Carter does, though that comes at a late moment in the plan. The set-up is quite smart, though it leaves plenty up to chance once the walkers are brought onto the open road. Daryl on his bike leads the walkers down a car-lined path, shepherding the herd to an open road where he meets up with Sasha and Abraham in a car. Abraham initially volunteers to go with Sasha because he’s worried she may be taking on the dangerous task to incite her own death. But as she tells him, “Doing something as big as this, that’s living.”

And so they lead the walkers on, Abraham stepping out to lead a few straying walkers back onto the main path, but everything runs smoothly at first. Rick, Michonne, and Morgan are stationed on the opposite side of their wall that directs the walkers down a certain road. There, they set off flares to keep the walkers’ dead eyes on the prize as the undead bodies turn the corner and hurl themselves into the makeshift border.

Glenn runs into a spot of trouble with his leg of the mission. He, along with Nicholas and Heath, are clearing out a tractor stop full of walkers that may lure the main herd away from the road. Glenn is still angry with Nicholas and weary of having him along for the ride. He didn’t hide the truth of Nicholas’ attempted murder of Glenn from Maggie, which she also fills Tara in on during a moment of trust.

And Glenn wants to eventually trust Nicholas again. He tells him as much when they first scope out the tractor stop. Glenn didn’t want Nicholas with him because he doesn’t believe he’s ready for combat, but the impromptu start time for the task means he’s along for the ride. They attempt to control the flow of walkers through the front doors, but when that’s shut tight with an iron grate, Glenn shoots out a window as he and Heath gun walkers down.

A few inch too close, however, and Nicholas has to step in to help. Glenn may not fully accept him, but he wants to, and this was a good first step to learning to trust Nicholas again. (Glenn stepping into more of a leadership role, and a benevolent one at that, is also a joy to see and hopefully a sign of Glenn’s further rise in the season.)

Things hit a hitch when the groups reunite on the side of the road, though. Rick and Glenn’s party watch as a nearly unfathomable number of walkers strolls by, the plan actually working. Even Carter admits to its success, shaking Rick’s and offering to take point as they fan out. Unfortunately, his show of reconciliation is an obvious marker for death, which comes to pass moments later as a stray walker grabs and bites Carter.

He won’t stop screaming to the point that more walkers begin to careen off the road, and Rick has to kill him before he’s turned to stop his shouting. Morgan and Michonne watch on as it happens and Rick radios to Tobin about Carter’s death. They understand this is the way of the world, yet the unspoken “but…” of that statement hangs thick in the air. They know what reality is; they just wish there was an alternative.

Yet Carter’s screaming isn’t the only thing causing the plan to go awry. A horn starts blaring in the distance, coming from the direction of Alexandria. And suddenly, all of those well-behaved walkers find themselves splitting off into the forest in search of the noise leading them away from Rick’s otherwise successful plan and straight to the heart of his new home.

Man plans, and God laughs. But I never thought his laugh would sound like a foghorn.

For more on the sixth season premiere, check out EW’s full slate of The Walking Dead coverage, including an interview with Robert Kirkman, Greg Nictoero revealing the version of the premiere you didn’t see, actor Ethan Embry discussing Carter’s big moment, and Andrew Lincoln breaking down the season premiere.