The Walking Dead has returned to its mighty best with the mid-season premiere of season six offering nothing short of heart-stopping action, heartbreak and devastation. Rick Grimes and his posse of survivors were faced with the ultimate flight-or-fight scenario as they attempted to leave Alexandria, with their escape plan resulting in life-changing consequences for some members of the group.
After a brief intro to the group of upcoming nemesis Negan (more on this later), episode nine, titled No Way Out, picks up with Rick leading his group out of the ruins of Alexandria disguised as the zombies and walking right through the sea of the dead. Only, he realises there are just too many walkers to get through so devises a plan to get to the nearby quarry where they can use cars to lure the zombies away, much like their previous plan that went awry.
Surprisingly, Father Gabriel offers to take baby Judith to the church where she will be safe and although Rick has his hesitations about placing the life of his daughter in the hands of the untrustworthy holy man, he goes against his instinct and agrees. Everything seems to be going fairly smoothly – if not painfully slow – as Rick and co continue to trudge through the walkers. That is until disaster strikes...
Elsewhere in Alexandria, Daryl, Sasha and Abraham have a near-brush with death when they are accosted by some hard-men from Negan's group. For a very real moment, it seems as though Sasha and Abraham were goners until Daryl, who was hiding in their truck, saves the day by blasting their would-be-killers to kingdom come. The trio then return to Alexandria just in the nick of time to save Glenn from almost dying once again.
Along with his new sidekick Enid, Glenn embarks on a rescue mission to save his pregnant wife Maggie, who is trapped at the top of a tower with an ever-growing hoard of walkers threatening to topple down her safety platform. Fortunately, as the walkers begin closing in, Sasha, Abraham and Daryl arrive to save the day.
Also having a bad day are Carol, Morgan, Rosita, Tara and Eugene, who are trapped in one of the houses and worry about their friend Denise, who was kidnapped by one of the Wolves whom Morgan was secretly keeping hostage. Even in the midst of the chaos, there is interesting character development between Denise and her captor as she works to break down his evil exterior where Morgan failed.
There's a glimmer of hope that she is making a breakthrough when Carol spots them in a crowd of walkers and guns the Wolves member down with no apologies. Fortunately Tara is safe but her captor will not get the chance of becoming a better person in the new world.
And back to Rick's group. Remember earlier in the series when Carol was at her manipulative best, whispering not-so-sweet words in the ear of Sam, Jessie's terrified youngest son? Well, those words come back to haunt him at a very inconvenient time – just as the group are literally brushing shoulders with the walkers.
Sam suddenly freezes and stops dead in his tracks despite encouragement from his mother and brother Ron to carry on. As expected, their increasingly loud voices attract attention from the walkers who realise they are, in fact, not one of them and get to work taking a large chunk out of Sam's shoulder.
A mortified Jessie screams in anguish while holding on to Sam's hand, which then prompts the walkers to feast on her. The only problem is Jessie is still grabbing on to Carl's arm and won't let go, forcing Rick to chop off her arm. It's an incredibly heartbreaking moment for Rick, whose romance with the mother-of-two flashes before his eyes as he realises his chance at love in the cruel new world has been taking away in seconds.
The drama is far from over though as Ron, still clearly holding his long-standing grudge, blames Rick for the sudden death of his family and points a gun at the group leader's head. Quick-thinking Michonne stabs Ron right through the torso with her katana from behind but it prompts the youngster to inadvertently fire off his gun.
For a moment, it looks as though the rest of the group are safe until Carl turns around to reveal his right eye has been blown out by the shot. The survivors then fight their way through the group to safety and manage to find doctor Denise to treat the injured youngster. However, with pure hatred stirring for what he has just lost, Rick storms out of the house and takes on the hundreds of walkers single-handedly.
Simultaneously, the other members of Alexandria wind up in the same area shooting and slicing their way through the walkers. When the night of terror ends, Carl appears to be doing okay with Rick sitting at his bedside and promising to make their world a better place with the help of the Alexandrians.
Bravo to Greg Nicotero for directing what is truly one of the best episodes of The Walking Dead yet. The survivors have had to endure an immense amount of devastation in a short space of time and even when put through their paces as they were in No Way Out, the majority can clearly hold their own. It will be testing for Carl as he gets to grips with his new life but unfortunately, another obstacle lies ahead with Negan threatening to wreak havoc on the group.