This is a spoiler-free review of Episode 1 of Season 9. Already seen the episode? Read on below for full spoilers.
“The new world begins,” whispers Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) as The Walking Dead opens on its ninth season, 18 months after the war with the Saviours ended. The communities of Oceanside, Alexandria, the Kingdom, the Hilltop and the Sanctuary have united, developed primitive technology to help them grow crops and harvest energy and have established routes between them, their new world slowly emerging from the one stolen by the undead. The big changes aren’t just confined to the screen: this season welcomes aboard new showrunner Angela Kang, as well as a new title credits sequence. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Angela had taken over a show that was on the brink of being bitten by its own monster, but, from this opening episode at least, she seems to have done the unthinkable and given new life to a show so close to death.
The new world, in many ways, is much like the old one. Despite the considerable time shift since the end of the war, the communities have found it hard to forgive and forget. Survivors at the Sanctuary are still seen as the enemy, taking more of the communal supplies than they give in return. The resentment might not be totally unfounded, as graffiti inside the Sanctuary has started springing up as crops fail and morale slips, reading “We are still Negan”. The communities may have fought for peace but that fight saw many of their own people slaughtered; in a world without laws, it is up to the survivors to enact their own cause of justice.
That has been achieved by the small group of Atlanta survivors being split up to lead each of the communities, although Daryl (Norman Reedus) is sour on the situation, not enjoying his command and yearning for the early days when their small group could do anything. Since the gang settled in Alexandria, the cast of the show has exploded. This resulted in many episodes focusing on characters that, honestly, we didn’t really care about, causing a disconnect between viewer and the show. While the cast is still large, ‘A New Beginning’ is able to focus on those that are important to us and bring them all together as they embark on a mission into Washington D.C. to raid supplies from the Natural History Museum. This expedition reminds us that while this may be a new world for the survivors, it remains heavily the same, full of walkers and characters still making poor life choices that thrusts peril upon them. After nine seasons, you’d think these zombie-slaying experts would be better at spotting the obvious danger and avoiding it.
Despite this, the episode is a fairly strong opener that could welcome back viewers who may have left the series. The new world is missing something, something that Michonne (Danai Gurira) picks up on while at the museum and something that will likely be explored further as the season progresses. Now that they have a community and a network, they need laws and a constitution on which to live by, something former sheriff Rick should be able to oblige, having set a precedent at the end of last season, when he chose to keep Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) alive.
That decision is still resented by Maggie (Lauren Cohen), who hasn’t been willing to visit Alexandria, knowing the man who killed her husband is there. That, as well as some resentment that Rick both hasn’t followed through when he said he’d soon be following her, and is relying on Maggie and the Hilltop to provide resources to the Sanctuary, has forced Maggie into unleashing her own brand of justice, which will delight some viewers but may be a spark to future civil unrest within the communities.
It’s a new world for the survivors and one that is looking much brighter than the bleakness that came before, but it is still one that has been painted with the same brush. Through a promising start to the season, The Walking Dead might have found its second wind, but with all the off-screen dramas over the summer causing a stir, it might have a bigger fight ahead to win back those viewers.
The Walking Dead Season 9 premieres at 9pm on FOX UK on Mondays. Don’t have pay-TV? You can also stream it on NOW TV, for £7.99 a month, with no contract and a 14-day free trial. Seasons 1 to 8 are available on Sky Box Sets and NOW TV until 30th November 2018.
Innards and entrails (spoilers)
Inside the Sanctuary, some Saviours want saving again. Isn’t it obvious from the attitude of the guy Daryl asks to paint over the slurs that they might be one of those unhappy? It would benefit the Sanctuary to try and nip this in the bud: the last thing anyone wants to happen is for an unhappy Saviour to try and lead a rescue attempt on Negan.
Rick needs his lieutenants in positions of power at each of the communities and all working together for you never know if all is as it seems. One Saviour shows particular thanks to Rick for his efforts in the war against Negan, but his over-politeness might be trying to hide something. The lesson Rick should have learned from the zombie apocalypse: don’t trust anybody!
One of the more shocking moments of the episode (aside from seeing Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) speaking normally and now going by the name of Anne) came after Ezekiel (Khary Payton) fell through the glass floor at the museum and dangled above the undead like a piñata. But it wasn’t the threat of a bite, it was a surprise kiss from Carol (Melissa McBride) after Ezekiel had been yanked to safety. These two shared some common emotion over the last season and now appear to be official, much to the chagrin of the Caryl purists. Ezekiel, in his delight at being alive, went so far as to propose to Carol, who, ever the level-headed equilibrium the survivors need, told him to stop being ridiculous. The King can’t be without a tiger by his side.
Gregory (Xander Berkeley) finally gets his comeuppance! As if his treasonous ways during the war weren’t bad enough (we’re still surprised he managed to outlive Simon), somehow Gregory has been kept alive and allowed to roam free about the Hilltop. There was an election, called by Gregory himself, and since losing the vote, he appears to have lost his mind. When Ken (AJ Achinger), the Hilltop’s blacksmith’s son, dies on the return from Washington, Gregory uses this as bait.
Getting the 20-year-sober blacksmith drunk and coercing him into attacking Maggie. When this fails, Maggie confronts Gregory only to have a knife pulled on her. Surviving again, Maggie sees no other way but to set an example and in front of a crowd that included Rick and Michonne, Maggie hangs Gregory as he pleads for his life. The blacksmith is apparently spared the death penalty, as it was his first offence.
This act of violence is what Rick was trying to avoid when he defeated Negan. He wanted to show there was another way of living that trying to kill each other so Maggie’s actions will undoubtedly be the ignition to a conflict closer to home.