The Walking Dead season 9 episode 1 review: A New Beginning

The Walking Dead season 9 premiere finds the gang struggling to rebuild the world after all-out war. Spoilers ahead in our review...

This review contains spoilers. Our spoiler-free review is here.

9.1 A New Beginning

Throughout the nine seasons of The Walking Dead, the main conflicts have been about resources. Specifically, resources looted from the ruins of the old world. Canned food, gasoline, bullets, medicine… all of these things created the world in which we live, and all of these things would be necessary to keep the world functioning. It makes sense that a bunch of people used to electric lights and not having dysentery would seek out the things to keep up that standard of living. (There’s a reason Alexandria was such a coveted target, with its solar panels and water heaters.)  Aside from planting gardens, no one seemed to be preparing for life after resources.

All good things come to an end. Horses and wagons replace cars. Big spiked trees replace gates. A few motorcycles are converted to running off bio-diesel made from dead corn. Guns are still around—bullets can be made and brass shell casings reused—but the day seems to be dominated by spears, crossbow bolts, and bladed weapons once more.

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Director Greg Nicotero doesn’t tell us directly about the time jump, he implies it. Judith is talking, drawing, hanging out with Michonne from the very beginning of the episode. We see wagons and horses being ridden through Alexandria.  Windmills dot the scene alongside solar panels. The Sanctuary crew are mashing up corn to make fuel.  People raise a walker as a scarecrow to protect the crops, to Daryl’s consternation.  And, in the background, the face characters are getting together to plan some sort of big, unified operation that has importance for all their assembled communities.

That’s a subtle touch for Nicotero, but a necessary one. This gives people an opportunity to grieve losses, and it allows the story to advance narratively without seeming as bogged down in the day-to-day stuff.  Negan’s in jail, still, and that’s a bone of contention between Rick and Maggie, who hasn’t been back to Alexandria since. Hilltop is the most prosperous community, and it supplies food to the others, including the former Saviors, whose attempts to grow crops in what Daryl describes as a “freakin’ factory” have been disastrous failures (even if those failures allow them to make cornoline). The decimated Kingdom is barely able to keep their heads above water, even if they don’t need active help from Maggie.  Still, there’s a lot of tension, and Rick, acting as the go-between from Hilltop to the former Saviors, has to ask Maggie for help. Again. Maggie provides it, but with conditions.

Different communities have different needs, and that’s apparent immediately upon watching the group try to work together to steal the Declaration of Independence. Err, I mean, historical artifacts from what is supposed to be the Smithsonian museum (a canoe, a plough, and a Conestoga covered wagon).  Of course, it wouldn’t be The Walking Dead without catastrophe, so a nameless kid from Hilltop gets killed and Ezekiel nearly gets turned into a meat pinata after the Plexiglas floor gives way and he has to be pulled up by the guide wire attached to the wagon they were hauling. That near-death experience gives way to a couple of big reveals, namely that Carol and Ezekiel are an item and that Ezekiel wants to make Carol his queen. (Sorry to the remaining Caryl/Darol stans out there, but I think it’s adorable.)

In many ways, the episode seems to be setting up for the changing of the guard. I don’t think it’s a spoiler at this point to mention Andrew Lincoln leaving the show; it’s been part of the news cycle since last season, essentially, and there are also rumours that Lauren Cohan, she of the new network series, is going to leave as well, despite showrunner Angela Kang’s open courting to keep her around for season ten. It’s beginning to feel like the budding conflict between Rick and Maggie is a way to set up both of them possibly leaving during or after this season. Are they headed for a war, or will the divisions between them grow to the point that the next big outside threat is able to isolate and eliminate them?

I will say that Angela Kang’s script makes following the political intrigues actually interesting. It’s fun to watch Gregory work, and Xander Berkeley is a great heel of a man who openly manipulates others to do his dirty work. He’s just appealing enough that when he says he’s reformed, you want to believe him. It’s not true, of course, but you want to believe him just the same. And Maggie, given that she has a baby of her own to protect, takes Gregory’s actions with the utmost seriousness, in a way that will have repercussions for the rest of the season while furthering the divide between Hilltop and the rest of the allied survivor communities.

After two seasons of “all out war,” I can’t say I’m terribly excited to see a new threat coming soon, and I’m definitely not excited by the prospect of lots of terse meetings between city leaders where there are lots of arguments about food and territory, but at the same time, what little we’ve seen of that thus far has been good.  Maggie resists Rick for solid reasons; she’s got her own people to worry about.  Rick comes to Maggie for the right reasons; they’re all short on manpower and they need to maintain the crumbling infrastructure they have.  Daryl doesn’t want to be responsible for a failing community, and Ezekiel doesn’t have enough people to make any serious contributions to the efforts to rebuild, aside from a good spear-making internship.

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“E pluribus unum” is the slogan for the United States, and it is a fitting slogan for the United City-States of Grimes. Each has challenges. Each has tools needed for survival. They just have to figure out how to meet in the middle, bury old dead, and figure out how to struggle to survive in this dangerous new world. Rivers of blood have been shed; it’s up to the survivors to start building bridges.

The Walking Dead airs on Mondays at 9pm on FOX UK.  Read Ron’s review of the season eight finale, Wrath, here.