The Walking Dead is back and this season is already heating up! There is a time jump, Rick has a new haircut, the communities are beginning to grow and fortify, our favorite characters have evolved and taken new positions in the group, and some unforgettable events occur that set the stage for one intense season. There are also changes behind the scenes of the show, such as new showrunner Angela Kang taking over, a new opening title sequence (which I loved), and the announcement of a couple of major cast members departing the show this season. Needless to say, fans have been excited and prepared for this episode for months!
The season nine premiere, titled “A New Beginning,” begins about a year and a half after the war with Negan ended in the season eight finale. Rick and his people have brought together the communities of Alexandria, The Hilltop, The Sanctuary, and Oceanside to create a larger world to grow in. Almost the entire cast takes place in the opening sequence which involves a trip to Washington, D.C. to raid a museum for supplies and tools. They find an old horse-drawn carriage, seeds to plant, and some helpful harvesting equipment. Although they’re able to escape with a fair amount of supplies, things do not go as planned and someone is lost.
When the body of the boy is brought back to the Hilltop where he lived with his family, Maggie is confronted by the angry parents of the boy. Since we last saw Maggie, she was elected leader of the Hilltop in an election that Gregory suggested. Tensions have been high between Gregory and Maggie, mainly because Gregory feels he is the rightful leader of the Hilltop. Over at the Sanctuary, Daryl is put in charge of maintaining and leading the Saviors with the help of Eugene. Their crops are dying and there are some Saviors that are missing their former leader Negan. Daryl expresses to Rick that he is unhappy being the leader of the Saviors and being in the Sanctuary after his awful time spent as a prisoner of Negan. Rick asks Daryl to return to Alexandria with him to help, but Daryl refuses and chooses to stay with Maggie at the Hilltop. This is the beginning of a hurdle in the Rick and Daryl brotherhood.
Maggie struggles after the death of the Hilltop resident, especially knowing how angry his parents are with her. Being the slime ball we all know him to be, Gregory persuades the grieving father to attack Maggie one night. He fails to kill her, but this action causes Maggie to publicly execute Gregory. The episode ends with Maggie explaining to Rick that his way of doing things is over and that she will make her own rules for Hilltop from now on.
As far as season premieres go, this was a pretty solid one. I appreciated the title, “A New Beginning,” because it’s also the title of the issue in the comic book series where this section of the story begins. This episode did have a few callbacks to that issue of the comic. The time jump was something that a lot of fans have been looking forward to. Not only is it a way to expand the story, it’s a way to reformat the show that some fans had begun to find stale and boring.
Although this episode is wall-to-wall insanity like some season premieres have been in the past, it serves as a review of what our characters have been through up to this point and as a preview of the challenges the future holds. The museum scene is a lot of fun to watch and it’s so great to see the whole cast working together and interacting. The end scene with Maggie asserting her dominance over Rick after executing Gregory is pretty badass, even though I’m not completely on her side of Rick being wrong for not killing Negan. The middle of the episode, like many episodes of The Walking Dead, is a bit slow and uneventful. There are some episodes I just want to be over because of this because they drag, but with the strong beginning and end it’s ok that there’s time for some character building in between.
The overall vibe of the episode is something I hope continues all throughout this season. At this summer’s San Diego Comic Con, the cast and creators talked about the show feeling more like the first season and the actors giving fantastic performances. They all cited Angela Kang as the reason for these improvements and I could definitely see that in this episode. I’m very interested to see how far the conflict between Rick and Maggie goes and what it’ll mean for their relationship with their friends going forward. Maybe this will lead to a civil war? (Which is lightly teased in something Michonne saw at the museum…) What will Negan have to say about his people missing his guidance? And when will we get to meet The Whisperers? Regardless of what the answers to these questions may be, let’s enjoy our final episodes with Rick Grimes and be hopeful for what the future brings with our other favorite characters stepping up to take the lead!