[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from the Season 6 premiere of The Walking Dead. Read at your own risk.]
If you entered Season 6 of The Walking Dead looking for a war between old pals Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Morgan (Lennie James), you quickly realized that both men (and their fellow survivors) had more pressing business: a gargantuan horde of zombies milling about just a few miles away from Alexandria's walls.
But while the majority of the episode was dedicated to dealing with that massive herd of walkers, Rick and Morgan did get to have a few heart-to-hearts. First, when Rick locks Morgan in the most prison-like house in Alexandria, he justifies his less-than-trusting welcome of his old friend thusly: "I don't take chances anymore." Then, when burying Pete, the man Rick executed to Morgan's horror in the Season 5 finale, Morgan continued to insist that Rick wasn't the hardened monster he presents himself to be. "I know you, Rick," he says. "You don't," is Rick's simple reply.
So, why, after the way Rick treated him, would Morgan keep giving Rick the benefit of the doubt? "The memories of Rick have kept Morgan moving forward in his journey," executive producer Gale Anne Hurd tells TVGuide.com. "He wanted to reconnect with Rick, who had never given up on him, and I think that's one of the things that keeps him going. We'll have to see whether their relationship can be salvaged given how different they both are now, but because they're so meaningful in each other's lives, I don't think it's something they'll give up on quickly."
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Indeed, Rick eventually frees Morgan from his prison as the duo has their most meaningful conversation of the episode. While discussing Carter (Ethan Embry), an Alexandrian who doesn't take well to being under Rick's rule and who plots to kill him, Morgan again suggests that Rick spared Carter's life because Rick is a good man. However, Rick insists that the only thing that stopped him from pulling the trigger was knowing that Carter, like most Alexandrians, aren't equipped to survive the new world and is, therefore, a dead man walking.
Even though Rick seems unwilling to let Morgan draw out his humanity, Lincoln suggests that Rick even having that conversation marks a turning point in their relationship. "There are moments where Morgan does unlock and unpack," Lincoln says. "I don't think he would've gone anywhere near that emotional ownership unless it were him. He would never say it to Carol. He would never say it Daryl. He would never say it to anybody else, but this is the truth."
Unfortunately for Rick, unburdening himself in that way to Morgan later comes back to haunt him. While enacting Rick's very elaborate plan to lure the thousands of undead away from Alexandria, Carter is bitten in the face by a zombie. And even though Rick ultimately had no choice but to kill Carter to stop his screaming (the noise of which was pulling some of the walkers off the road), Morgan seemed to finally see Rick for who he is now when he took Carter's life.
But Morgan and Carter weren't the only ones questioning Rick in the episode. After Rick basically assumes all control from the grieving Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh), he suggests that the scouting teams no longer go out in search of other humans to recruit. Daryl (Norman Reedus), who became a scout at the end of last season, feels differently, and refuses to let Rick make that call without speaking his mind. Lincoln says that will only continue this season as Rick perhaps attempts to take too much control.
"They're brothers, but that one scene is laying the seeds for an argument that will continue throughout this season," Lincoln says. "Rick is not willing to risk anybody's lives again for incompetence. So, you see a man going, 'No, this is the way it's got to be. For the time being, he's on lockdown. This is the only way. It's my way or the highway. I think that that's one of his strengths and flaws as a character. I think he can look too much in one way, and that can weaken a leader."
Elsewhere in the episode, Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) attempted to make it clear that she has moved on from the death of her brother and boyfriend last season. As she explained to Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) who decided to ride along with her in the car that was helping lead the walkers away, she's not interested in dying. To the contrary, she sees facing the danger head-on as "living." Additionally, Glenn's (Steven Yeun) choice to mentor Nicholas (Michael Traynor) — instead of outing the deadly effects of his cowardice last season — pays rewards when Nicholas stepped up and saved the day.
All these vignettes played out in a splintered story line that alternated between black-and-white scenes of the group planning their zombie parade and the vivid color of the day they enacted their plan. "It's always important to keep in mind that we have an arsenal of tools available to let us explore each and every character in the deepest possible level," Hurd says of the episode's narrative device. "We wanted to set up various season arcs with particular characters, and in this episode, it's the start of a journey for all of them. Whether it's flashbacks, flash-forwards, or even following characters who aren't necessarily in the same place, we have all those tools, and we use each one of them in the season."
And of course, Rick's master plan to evacuate the zombie herd doesn't go off without a hitch. Just as everyone begins to breathe a sigh of relief that the plan is working, a horn begins to sound in the distance, which starts to pull the back of the walker pack off the road. Worse, they are headed straight for the sound, which seems to be coming from... Alexandria. So, is there a traitor back home? (Morgan did just head back to camp after witnessing Rick kill Carter). Or could it be the Wolves, the deadly gang we know has been keeping tabs on Rick & Co.? Lincoln assures you won't have to wait to find out.
"One of the most exciting and thrilling things about this season is the cliff-hanger aspect of every single episode," he says. "Questions are answered very rapidly, just to reassure everybody. These episodes are like big body blows coming in very, very quickly. There isn't much breathing space. It's a real roller-coaster ride, and you should hang on tight. But yes, rest assured that that answer will come very quickly."
Who do you think is sounding the horn? What did you think of the premiere?