Andrew Lincoln, lennie james, ethan embry, the walking deadLike a nightclub promoted by Stefan on "Saturday Night Live," last night's season six premiere of "The Walking Dead" had everything: A literal parade of thousands and thousands of zombies; Daryl back on his motorcycle; a (somewhat effective) black and white flashback device that made some people actually suspect that their TVs were malfunctioning; Ethan Embry -- just about every millennial's late-'90s crush -- literally getting his face bitten off.

It was, more or less, an embarrassment of riches, though like the 90-minute season five finale, I found this similarly-long installment both overstuffed and underdeveloped. Producers seemed determined to pack every second with action, though the merits of some of said action can be debated. But the aforementioned ridiculously huge horde of walkers was the main attraction, and it didn't disappoint; when the camera panned out from that quarry, and I realized just how vast their ranks were, I actually gasped. You officially have my attention, "The Walking Dead."

There were plenty of things to cheer about (Eugene actually having lines!) and jeer about (the continued existence of Father Gabriel and Nicholas); unfortunately, I fear that the return of Morgan (Lennie James) could wind up being a mixture of both. From what we've seen of our mysterious traveler so far, he's certainly being presented as a direct foil for Rick (Andrew Lincoln) – still an outsider to Alexandrians, still on Rick's side by default, but constantly questioning the constable's actions and motives, to a degree I'm not entirely certain is necessary.

The groundwork for this ideological battle of sorts was set up at the end of season five, when both men spouted wildly different worldviews in response to the zombie apocalypse. Rick maintained throughout last season, "We can't go back," while Morgan took a more optimistic approach, positing that "Everything gets a return" eventually. Both of them turned out right, in a way, during this week's premiere, "First Time Again." Even that oxymoronic title suggests a duality that I suspect we haven't seen the last of.

The episode opens with the moment Rick shot Pete (with, as Abraham so eloquently puts it later, "[Pete's] face just blowing up like Pompeii") and we hear the constable declare, "We have to come for them before they come for us." It says a lot about all the speechifying Rick's been doing lately that I initially had no idea whether this was something he said last season -- a mini-flashback, like Bob's word's echoing in Rick's head in the season finale -- or if it was something new. It turned out to be the latter, uttered during the run-up to Rick's plan to rid Alexandria of walkers for good; while trying to psych up his skeptical followers, he also happened to say, yet again, "We can't go back."

And what can't they go back from, you ask? Oh, nothing, really -- just wrangling thousands of zombies away from their community as if they were simply herding a particularly pesky flock of sheep. Easy as Carol's cookies, right?

As Rick explains it, the plan sounds sane enough (what, you've never led an endless shambling horde of the undead on a parade past your barricaded community before?), but I'll admit that I've been drinking the former deputy's Kool-Aid since season one, so I can see where some Alexandrians would be skeptical. (Rick himself conceded, "I know this sounds insane. But this is an insane world.") The non-believers are led by loudmouth Carter (Embry), whose very obvious disagreement with Rick, and willingness to vocalize it both in public and later in a smaller, mutinous group (more on this later), pointed to him not being long for this world. I just didn't expect the dude to actually get his face bitten off before the end credits rolled. I suspect, unlike The Weeknd, he almost certainly did not love it.

Rick can't hardly wait to put a dying Carter out of his misery, while Morgan and Michonne look on in disgust. It's an odd moment, since both of them surely know that that's how the world works now (especially Michonne, who's had to do this kind of thing before), and Carter is a lost cause; they even say as much to Rick. Perhaps it's just their general zombie apocalypse ennui creeping in? Earlier, Morgan very matter-of-factly tells Rick -- who refuses to let a killer like Pete be buried within Alexandria's walls -- that they're both murderers, too, and maybe he should have cut the guy a little slack. (Or at least not abandon his body in the woods without a proper burial.) But as Morgan is rapidly discovering, Rick is not the same man that he last met three seasons ago. In a flashback, Rick calmly explains that he didn't kill Carter when he had the chance because, "Somebody like that, they're gonna die no matter what." It's probably a bit jarring for Morgan to hear that the man he's been searching for all this time has suddenly lost a lot of his faith in humanity -- and Morgan may be losing his faith in him as a result.

Last week, in my preview of the new season, I mentioned that all the planned flashbacks for these new episodes reminded me of their use on "Lost." The device worked to a certain extent during this installment, though the switch between black and white and color to differentiate between the past and the present was a bit on the nose. Ultimately, the back and forth was a little confusing, and somewhat unnecessary (those multiple scenes explaining Glenn, Heath, and Nicholas's mission could have been scrapped, for instance). But what "The Walking Dead" may really wind up mimicking -- whether intentional or not -- is "Lost"'s central conflict between Jack, a man of science, and Locke, a man of faith. Here, Rick is stepping into Dr. Shephard's sensible shoes, while mysterious Morgan is adopting some of Locke's mystical ways (his refusal to talk about who taught him how to wield a bo so effectively is curious, to say the least). Morgan tells Rick that they've "got to get to know each other again. For the first time again"; I'm interested to see just how deeply divided these two former friends become as the season wears on.

But I may have to give up if a smoke monster suddenly invades Alexandria.

Other thoughts:

- What happened at the end of the episode is the most pressing bit of news: A smoke monster showed up! (Kidding.) But some sort of evil has indeed invaded Alexandria, just as Rick and his team try to steer the horde past the camp; suddenly, a loud, seemingly-endless horn is set off, coming straight from the community. Naturally, it catches the walkers' attention, and they turn for the town -- and all the people worst-equipped to handle an oncoming invasion just happen to be holed up there. Those $800,000 homes don't sound like such a bargain anymore, do they?

- So who or what is behind that horn? Whoever set it off had to know that they would be attracting all kinds of unwanted (read: undead) attention. Was it Gabriel, who also put in motion the terrible events of the season five finale? Could he be trying to sabotage Rick's plan as a way to win back the favor of Deanna, who seems to have turned on him? Or perhaps it's an infiltrating member of the Wolves, who've been looking for an in to attack Alexandria, and inadvertently found it while Rick and co. were off on their ill-fated quest? There's room for plenty of speculation here.

- Lots of talk about hair this episode. Tara comments to Eugene, after not seeing him for a while, "Thank god -- nothing happened to your hair." Thank god indeed. Speaking of Eugene's Tennessee top hat, he meets Heath (Corey Hawkins) and quickly compliments the character's similarly distinctive style: "I fully respect the hair game."

- Through his bincoulars, Morgan spies some zombies sliding down the hill at the quarry, looking every bit like thrill seekers heading down a waterslide. Walkers have all the post-apocalyptic fun.

- Jessie officially gives Rick the brush-off. What, Rick murders her abusive husband in front of everyone and this is all the thanks he gets?

- There were so many great moments during the meeting where Rick introduces his zombie-eradication plan: Gabriel volunteering to help and Rick immediately shooting him down with a definitive "No." Daryl snapping at Carter when the latter man asks Rick to go over his plan again (only an exasperated hair flip would have perfected his petulant teenager act). Carol once again putting on a dazzling display of false timidity as she says of Rick's plan, "This is terrifying. All of it. But it doesn't sound like there's any other way." Sly, Carol.

- But Morgan immediately sees through Carol's act, so maybe her skills have gotten a little rusty. But Morgan is a lot more street smart than the Alexandrians, so his BS-detecting skills are probably a bit more fine-tuned. "You always seem ready." "For what?" "To handle things." Truth.

- Maggie tells Tara, a character that I don't like, that Tara is one of her favorite people in the world. She also tells Tara that she believes Nicholas (who, to recap, got Noah killed and tried to kill her own husband) can change. I am starting to like Maggie less.

- As Glenn, Nicholas, and Heath attempt to take out a group of walkers, Heath remains unconvinced of their ability to succeed. "I'm supposed to be delivering pizzas, man," Glenn replies. We all have to rise above.

- "I'm just grabbin' the bull by the nutsack." -- The wisdom of Abraham Ford, coming soon to a cross-stitch near you.

- Eugene is the worst spy ever, first dropping and shattering a jar on the floor, then falling into a shelf as he eavesdrops on Carter's intentions to kill Rick before he can carry out his crazy walker parade plan. Carter pulls a gun on Eugene, only to have Rick walk in the moment he's about to fire. The constable is not amused; he sassily suggests Carter should have had a lookout, then quickly pins him to the ground before delivering one of his patented "Rick Grimes: Badass" speeches. "You really think you're going to take this community from us?" he asks Carter. "Do you have any idea who you're talking to?" Rick eventually relents and lets him go, and later, Carter eventually makes nice.

- "He got bit, right in the face." -- Unfortunately for Carter, Rick soon delivers this line about Carter's demise, a brilliantly succinct descriptor if there ever was one.

- Morgan holds Judith while chatting with Rick on the constable's front porch. Did anyone else think for a moment that Morgan might just race off with the child ("I'm a Wolf! Bye!"), or was the just my household?

- Of course, I know Morgan isn't a Wolf. But there's still potential for him to be swayed by all those other baby-hungry Alexandrians, right? Another recap, another thoroughly-unsupported suspicion of cannibalism from me. Welcome back to "The Walking Dead," everyone!

Photo credit: Gene Page/AMC

The Walking Dead
Based on 25 critics

Based on the comic book series written by Robert Kirkman, this gritty drama portrays life in the weeks and months following a zombie apocalypse. Led by police officer Ric... Read More