Spoiler alert! The following contains spoilers from the season six premiere of The Walking Dead.
The post-apocalyptic world that The Walking Dead takes place in is a decidedly gray area. From the beginning the show has dealt with themes of ethics and morality, struggled with questions of how far is too far when your reality is as bleak as this. It's asked how much of yourself do you get to hold on to when the choices are this hard and the violence is this close.
For a long time the show found conflict simply by giving our main characters these tough issues to work out. At the prison, at Woodbury, at Terminus, it was about how far our heroes were willing to go, and if we could really even call them heroes after they went there. But starting last season, The Walking Dead has taken us in a different direction, putting our survivors and their world of gray in the middle of Alexandria's still very black-and-white world, drawing conflict from these two moralities clashing.
The season six premiere, which uses flashbacks extensively, almost gets this too on-the-nose, setting the past in black and white and the present in color. But the world of The Walking Dead isn't even as simple as that, as all our survivors, from Rick and Morgan to Maggie and Glenn to the Alexandrians have to decide what is the right thing to do, and, perhaps more importantly, why they're doing it at all.
'Sometimes you're safer when there's no way out'
The episode picks up exactly where we left in March, with Rick having just killed Pete in front of the entire community at the exact moment of Morgan, Daryl and Aaron's arrival. The reintroduction of Morgan finally gives Rick a foil that will take him somewhere as a character. Rick respects Morgan as a man and as a fighter, but it's clear that their ideals are very, very different from what they were the first and even the second time they met. Morgan is very much taken aback by Rick's execution of Pete for a start. The two are at such opposite ends of the spectrum on this issue that they clash over where his body should be buried (of course burying him offsite is what leads to the discovery of the big old zombie quarry party, which is almost like the show justifying Rick and Deanna's behavior but is a little more like deus ex burial ground).
By the end of both timelines in the episode Rick and Morgan have come to what feels like an armistice. Rick feels comfortable enough around Morgan again that he's willing to let him into his house, and really, the group itself, and Morgan accepts that things like killing a dying man to keep him quiet around a veritable army of zombies is just something you have to do in this world, even if he doesn't like it. But the likelihood of this peace lasting seems slim. The men are just too different from who they were.
Enemies into friends
The flashbacks also give us ample time to check in on all the characters that were left in limbo at the end of last season (and also totally skips out on Carl, huzzah!). First and foremost, Tara is awake again Welcome back Tara! "Thank god, nothing happened to your hair," she says to Eugene, reminding us how sad we were when she was in a coma. Her period of absence is also a good opportunity to remind us all how horrible Nicholas is, as she gets to hear about Noah's death and the attempted murder of Glenn from last season for the first time. Maggie (whose hair grows four times slower than Rick's beard) says she doesn't do anything about it because she remembers when Tara was fighting on the side of the Governor, which is sort of the glass half full version of the new morality. Just like everyone could be a threat, everyone could also be an important ally.
Glenn and Nicholas have seemingly reached their own détente, with Nicholas now looking up to Glenn as some sort of mentor figure (he spends most of the episode looking like a lost puppy). When the pair takes on a group of zombies with new guy Heath (hi Heath! Nice to meet you. Oh and hey, Walking Dead, I am begging you not blindly kill off this new addition without REALLY thinking about it first), Nicholas follows orders and even ends up being useful, effectively proving Maggie's point. Here's to hoping he stays that way.
Meanwhile, Morgan becomes the only person not fooled by Carol's cashmere facade. When the pair talks, even as briefly as they do, it's a meeting of two of the best minds on the show, and it's fascinating to watch them play off each other. Morgan may or may not know how impactful his words were to her, but Carol certainly had trouble keeping her cool throughout the exchange (the amount of work Melissa McBride does in this scene with her facial expressions is incredible).
Sunday in the quarry with zombies
Returning to the present the show focused on its strengths: Zombies, zombies and more zombies. Perhaps they're trying to out do the sheer number of (frozen) zombies Game of Thrones whipped out in its past season, or they had some extra extras lying around but goodness if that wasn't almost a glutinous display of walking dead at the quarry.
A plan to wrangle what appears to be more than 1,000 zombies was bound to go wrong, and from the failed test-run to the zombies Glenn and Nicholas dealt with to the final, deafening horn, there was plenty wrong here. But the Army of Zombies (as we will officially call it) gave our guys a single task to accomplish and a single foe to defeat, which hopefully will stave off infighting for awhile. It also gave Abraham and Sasha a little time to continue with their respective morbidities and gave the world (read: us) many shots of Daryl brooding like a champ on a motorcycle followed by and endless stream of the dead. But here's the real question about the whole thing: Where did they get the helium for the balloons? Also, why the heck did they need balloons? Was it also someone's birthday?
There's no way of knowing yet if that horn that is drawing the back half of the army back to Alexandria is accidental or purposeful, but we can't help but remember that there have been no official wolf sightings this episode. Those creeps are bound to be up to something. Maybe this is their version of a howl. But it certainly doesn't look good for Maggie and Deanna and Carol and the rest of the people left behind.
Oh and RIP Carter, terrible planner of secret meetings. You served your purpose as an object lesson for our heroes.