Big plans to build a wall, tough talk, pro-gun, a constituency that either loves him or thinks he’s the worst thing for America’s future — meet the Donald Trump of the zombie apocalypse, Rick Grimes. With the Ricktatorship back in full effect, the season-six premiere picked up right where the explosive season-five finale left off. Viewers may still be feeling a little whiplash from all the flashing forward and back, but the time-shifting technique generated maximum drama from what was really not a whole lot of action. Rick has a big plan, and it works surprisingly well — until, of course, the whole thing falls apart.
Rather than pick up right where we left off — Pete slicing Reg’s throat, Deanna giving Rick the all-clear to execute Pete, Morgan arriving to see the whole bloody mess — we begin with an utter shitload of zombies at the quarry. There’s no doubt who’s in control, as the Grimesinator barks orders. But what the hell is going on here? Talk of meeting at “red,” running the gauntlet, Glenn and the guy who recently tried to kill him headed to the “tractor place,” Daryl wasting a perfectly good bolt on one walker among hundreds?
As we eventually learn, this quarry is the reason Alexandria hasn’t been overrun by zombies. Some unlucky campers turned the pit into the hottest walker hangout in all of Virginia, and now, drawn by the sound, most flesh-eaters in the area find themselves tumbling down into this canyon. Rick’s plan is simple, at least on paper — open a path for the walkers to escape, lead them out, and direct them west, away from the safe zone. Complicating matters is a tractor shop nearby, where a bunch of noisy zombies might distract the passing herd and lead them to scatter off the road. Challenging, but doable, right?
Yet we know — as does Rick — that Carter is a problem. He’s one of Alexandria’s wussiest, whiniest residents and not a member of Team Grimes. He’s so anti-Rick that he proposes killing the cop, which is absurd, considering Carter handles a gun about as well as Judith. Rick shows up at the armory in time to break up Carter’s plot and disarms him in an eyeblink. “Do you have any idea who you’re talking to?” Rick asks, in his best Dirty Harry voice. Here’s where the old Rick Grimes — the law-and-order guy with some shred of humanity still inside him — surfaces. Instead of putting a bullet in Carter’s head, he spares him. Later, Morgan commends Rick for the decision. “He’s going to die no matter what,” Rick says.
True — but as it turns out, Carter nearly wrecks the whole plan when he can’t take out a couple walkers and gets half his face eaten off. His shrieks of agony leave Rick with no choice but to put a bullet in his head. Morgan and Michonne look disturbed by Rick playing executioner, but his quick action keeps the herd on the road and the plan moving forward. (Really, why even think of keeping Carter alive when he was already zombiefood?)
As Rick’s master plan unfolds, a number of subplots develop. Sasha and Abraham try to keep their suicidal tendencies in check as they execute the Cannonball Run portion of the playbook. (As the Sarge so eloquently puts it, Sasha seemed ready to “go buckwild with the breath-impaired.” Less delicately, he laughs about still having some pieces of Pete’s brain in his ear. Sasha looks appropriately disturbed.) Father Gabriel is on the outs, now that Deanna understands his shit-talking about Rick’s group was misplaced. We meet even more new Alexandrians, who return from a long run and get props from Eugene (to Heath, who’s rocking specs and long braids: “I fully respect the hair game”). And our old pal Morgan vaguely explains he picked up his badass staff-spinning skills from a “friend,” which means he’s either lying or a really fast learner. He thinks Carol was a cop in the old world, because she’s always watching people and is “ready to handle things.” (So he’s wrong, but right.) He also grills Michonne on the whereabouts of his missing peanut-butter protein bars — sure to be a major issue moving forward. (Speaking of missing, where is Aaron? Figured he’d be a key player in the zombie-herd roundup.)
The most intriguing story lines belong to Glenn, who has a great comeback when Heath complains that they were supposed to do a dry-run of Rick’s plan first: “I’m supposed to be delivering pizzas, man.” When Glenn and Nicholas came back from the woods, Glenn brushed off his gunshot wound as a ricochet. He’ll later tell Maggie what really happened, and she tells Tara, but Nicholas gets a chance to redeem himself. Now, Glenn is totally the boss of Nicholas, who seems both thankful for Glenn’s mercy and a little afraid of him. Nick redeems himself a bit at the tractor joint with some timely kills, but Glenn doesn’t seem ready to trust him yet (and rightly so).
Then there’s a subtle moment at Deanna’s house between Glenn and Maggie that could have major implications. Glenn says he wants Maggie to stay behind and keep an eye on Deanna and the others, which prompts this exchange:
Maggie: That’s not the only reason.
Glenn: Yeah, it isn’t.
This could simply mean Glenn wants to keep her safe. But that look they exchanged hinted at something more than just the G-man protecting his woman. Could Maggie be pregnant?
What seems like another minor plot point may actually hold major significance: Jessie and her kids in the wake of Rick’s execution of Pete, the drunken, abusive husband and dad. Jessie doesn’t seem to be holding a grudge, but she’s keeping her distance from Rick and advising him to do the same with her kids. (Probably better for Rosita to give her firearms lessons than the guy who shot and killed her husband.) Her eldest, Ron, was understandably not happy with Rick for killing his father and dumping his body far outside the gates. Good news: The trip to turn Pete into “tree food” is how Rick and Morgan stumbled across the quarry. The bad: Rick grabs Ron and gives him a stern talking to — something the boy doesn’t take too well.
Now flash forward, after Carter’s silenced and the plan seems to be working — until a horn goes off, drawing the undead parade away from the road. Rick says the sound is coming from Alexandria. Who would have such hatred for Rick that he or she would sabotage his plan, even at the expense of the town’s safety? Maybe someone who already thinks life at Alexandria is fucked. Someone who watched Carl and his girlfriend on a rooftop, holding hands. Someone living in a police state run by the guy who murdered his father, and who now wants to lecture him on how to behave (and has the hots for his mom). Sure looks like Ron blew that horn.
Or could it be the handiwork of the Wolves — those nutjobs with the W-carvings on their foreheads still lurking nearby? If they have access to a big-ass air horn, you know they’d use it to create mass mayhem. But the source of the zombie call is secondary, for the moment. More urgent, there’s a massive horde of walkers headed toward Alexandria, where there are weak spots along the walls and a bunch of soft survivors unprepared to defend themselves. Seems like the town is doomed to fall, and once Rick and company are back to life on the road, the psycho killers will be this season’s biggest living threat.