A new beginning. A new showrunner. A new character. Don’t get too attached to that last one, though.
It has certainly been an interesting last few months as far as the world of The Walking Dead is concerned. Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan are departing, new showrunner Angela Kang promising a return to form for the zombie series, and a time skip that takes us forward after the events of All Out War. Obviously the exit of Rick is the big question on people’s minds, but we will cross that bridge when we get to it.
Let’s jump forward in time in the world of The Walking Dead with the Season 9 premiere, “A New Beginning.”
The season begins with life anew at Alexandria. As Rick spots Michonne helping an older Judith with her painting of the entire community, he asks who the grumpy face is. It’s you, Rick. The three head out into a clearing and watch the birds fly overhead. They are quite loud.
Then we jump over to the Sanctuary, where Regina shoos away birds that are pecking at the crops. Daryl is also here, but Laura needs him for something. Outside, Arat and another Savior have set up a walker to scare away the birds. Fair enough, but Daryl kills the walker anyway.
On the road, Tara receives a transmission from Eugene, who tells her that the crops are done at the Sanctuary. Daryl’s requesting a run into the city, so everyone will meet at the rally point. Aaron and Jesus receive the transmission while talking care of walkers on the road, though Aaron wants Jesus to teach him some of his moves.
Luckily, Jesus is teaching a children’s class at the Hilltop- Maggie will be there as well. Sometimes Carol shows up when she’s in town.
As Aaron receives a transmission, we join Daryl on the road as he passes by Jerry on a bridge. Turns out that he’s on his way to meet up with, Rick, Michonne, and the rest of the gang as they head into the desolate city that is Washington, D.C.- I mean, as they head into Washington, D.C.
They head into an art museum and start sweeping through for any sign of life. Since everyone has their lists, they’re to spread out, find what they need, and circle back when they’re done. And most importantly: be safe. I think people got that at this point, Rick.
Anyway, Michonne and Ezekiel split off in one pair, Carol and Maggie in another. They approach a glass floor and tread carefully, as walkers roam underneath. Oh, and because we have to have someone from Oceanside here, Cyndie is also present. A walker soon falls from overhead and lands on the glass, but it’s not enough to break it, luckily.
They head into a dark corner of the museum, where Siddiq is grabbed by a walker that has spiders and all manner of creepy-crawlies crawling out of it. He does manage to kill it, though. Siddiq doesn’t like spiders. Keep that in mind.
While Jadis and Gabriel are more enraptured by the museum’s exhibits, Daryl helps Cyndie move a canoe. She’s been thinking about her brother and how they used to fight during the canoe ride at the county fair. It’s funny how random things bring up memories like that.
She asks if that’s ever happened with Daryl, but most of his memories with Merle involved fighting. But he had friends that fought with him who wanted to be here, but didn’t make it.
Alright, enough of that. Based on Jadis’ knowledge, she leads Rick and Gabriel to a spot in the museum containing seeds, as she remembered it from a class she taught. They ransack the drawers for all that they can find.
Meanwhile, Maggie tells Michonne and Carol that Gregory called for an election at the Hilltop. Presumably, he lost, but hey, it’s a sign of the democratic process returning. It’s certainly different than Carol’s situation, given that she lives with a king. Michonne comes to a stop when she eyes a Civil War exhibit, but the three finally find something that the Hilltop’s blacksmith can use.
Everyone regroups to move the wagon down the stairs, but this involves moving it over that glass spot on the floor, so you can imagine that everyone now needs to be extra careful. Though they take their precious time, the glass does start to crack. Still, the wagon is successfully moved, so Rick goes back to help Daryl move the canoe.
The glass finally cracks and Ezekiel is the unlucky one to fall through, but he’s still attached to a rope, so everyone pulls him back up before the walkers can feast.
With that said, it’s time to pack up and leave D.C.
On the road, Alden makes it known to Ken, played by AJ Achinger, that Marco wants to learn the trade, so he needs to know if his father will take on another apprentice. He can’t tell if he likes him, though, but he could probably use the extra help.
Behind them, Ezekiel tells Carol how afraid he was back at the art museum. As was she, so she’s glad he’s fine, but this made Ezekiel remember something he’s been taking for granted. With that, he presents a ring- that I guess he just had- and asks Carol to marry him. But Carol has told him once before not to ask. More than that, they’re on horses right now, so this doesn’t really work.
I can’t say I disagree with Carol’s rationale. Anyway, that’s fine, but Ezekiel still loves Carol and he’ll hold onto the ring until she’s ready to say yes.
However, there’s a problem: the bridge is now gone due to a herd that crossed through. They can still get to Alexandria from this side and stay there until it passes, but Route A has taken days to clear and Maggie needs to get home to baby Hershel.
There’s always Route D, as it’s still early enough in the day. Gabriel’s group will head back to Alexandria, while Rick and the others will head to the Sanctuary or Hilltop and stay there overnight.
And now there’s a new problem: the horses can’t carry the wagon through the mud. Maggie proposes leaving the supplies, and it’s risky since herds have run through and destroy bigger things. They can always swap out the horses, split up, and let the horses rest. So who is going to pull the wagon?
Yup, the people are. And they aren’t very good at it. However, they manage to get it across the mud just as some walkers arrive. Daryl and Michonne take care of them while the others get free whatever they can. However, one member, Ken, goes back to try and free the horses. He’s bitten for his troubles. To add insult to injury, the horse kicks him. How rude.
So Enid, Siddiq, and Maggie inspect Ken’s injuries, but he soon dies. I would be saddened by this if I actually knew who Ken was, but it’s a big deal for Maggie, as she sadly delivers the blow to the brain that puts him down for good. Okay, so that was a death.
At the Hilltop, Maggie is forced to deliver the bad news to Ken’s parents: Tammy Rose, played by Brett Butler, and Earl, played by John Finn. A heartbroken Tammy finds this hard to accept. After all, Maggie took her son out and now he’s dead. And all there is to show is a broken plow.
Yes, that plow is important for the future, but Tammy is smart enough to know that it probably went to the Saviors. Maggie wants to help arrange a funeral, but Tammy makes it clear that even though she voted for Maggie, the two of them are not friends. She points out how Gregory has been saying that he put the Hilltop first, but Tammy knows that he’s a scoundrel. However, he’s no fool.
Tammy’s son is dead and Maggie’s son has no father. And now the Saviors eat the food that the Hilltop prepares. How is that right? Well, I hope that Tammy wasn’t the deciding vote in the election.
So indeed, the entire Hilltop minus Maggie and baby Hershel gather for Ken’s farewell.
Over at the Sanctuary, where Rick is seen as a downright god by some Saviors who hope that Negan is suffering, Eugene and Laura the new arrivals on things that require immediate attention. However, Rick and Daryl are still a bit sore about losing someone on the road.
Something else gets Michonne’s attention and she calls Daryl over to see the words “Saviors Save Us” and “We Are Still Negan” on a wall. This has been happening more and more since the crops have been dying. And neither Jerry nor Eugene has any idea who did this. So Daryl instructs one Savior, Justin, played by Zach McGowan, to clean it up, but he can’t because he’s already used the paint. Well, figure it out.
Back at the Hilltop, Gregory delivers a eulogy for Ken, saying that he wasn’t a fighter, but a good-hearted man. Men like him kept the Hilltop going and he will be remembered as a son, a friend, and a shining example of Hilltop’s strength and fundamental decency, even in the face of this terrible tragedy.
Jesus is even impressed by Gregory’s words, but this loss has taught Gregory to examine what we have and what we lack. He’s just grateful for where he is.
Back at the Sanctuary, some of the Saviors are a bit antsy about their crops, given how storms will be coming soon. They need a boost, so luckily Rick informs them that they have returned with farming tools. They’re all going to pitch in to get the Sanctuary back on its feet. It’s enough to convince the Saviors, who even give Rick a round of applause.
He then heads up talk with Daryl, who tells him that he doesn’t want to lead the Saviors anymore because he doesn’t feel right being behind these walls again. He’s better in the field. Still, Daryl kept people in line, so they can’t let the Sanctuary fail, but Daryl feels that the Sanctuary is doomed. Nothing grows there. It is a factory, after all. When Negan was around, people provided for him. In Daryl’s mind, that’s still happening now.
Rick disagrees. They give what they give, but do so willingly. Daryl asks how long this will last. After all, most of the bridges are out because of the storm and the highway is done. They’ve scavenged every drop of gas for miles and they can’t make enough corn fuel to run the vehicles. Soon enough, it will be more than a day’s ride just from one stop to the other.
Rick feels that it’s up to them to figure this out, but as far as Daryl is concerned, there is no us anymore. Everyone is everywhere now. Daryl thinks back to their small group in Atlanta. They could accomplish anything. That much Daryl knows. However, his plan isn’t to return to Alexandria. He wants to head to the Hilltop to check on Maggie and her baby. If he does, someone has to take his place.
Eugene and Rosita are already headed to Oceanside, Maggie is sending food, but not people, and the Kingdom has its own problems trying to rebuild after losing its fighters. If Alexandria sends another person out, he could use the help back home. They aren’t together because things have changed…because Rick changed them, as Daryl notes.
We return to the Hilltop, where Gregory presents a drink to Tammy and Earl, but they turn it down. Eventually, Tammy relents and has a drink. Earl later returns his wife to her bed, where she just wants to sleep. Gregory offers to sit with them if they would prefer that.
Back at the Sanctuary, Carol finally has a moment alone with Daryl and the first thing she does it put out his cigarette. Rude. She knows why Daryl isn’t asleep- he doesn’t sleep. Ezekiel, though, sleeps like a baby. Still, Daryl finds Ezekiel corny, but after what Carol went through with Ed, corny is perfectly fine. And Daryl is happy for her, as she’s the one who definitely deserves to be happy.
Though Daryl doesn’t like not seeing her. As for why Carol is here, she tells Daryl that she wants to take over at the Sanctuary. She’s yet to announce this to Ezekiel or Henry. Carol then tells Daryl about Ezekiel’s surprise proposal. Part of her wanted to say ‘Yes’ right there and then, but she wants to take her time and help out. Daryl offers to remain at the Sanctuary with Carol, but she’s fine.
Earl lets out his sorrows to a listening Gregory, saying that his son didn’t need to die. Where’s the justice in that? To Gregory, Maggie thinks herself above the law. He brings up the election and points out that her buddy, Jesus counted the ballots. I mean, Jesus was your buddy at one point, Gregory, but okay.
Gregory’s talked to a lot of people and there’s a lot of dissatisfaction about the way things are going, but they’re afraid to speak up. Even if it’s not good for the Hilltop, the people will do whatever Rick says. Earl doesn’t think there’s much that can be done about that since Maggie is the one who makes the decisions. But one of those decisions lead to Earl’s son dying.
Gregory is speaking plainly because, quite frankly, he’s mad as hell. He doesn’t like seeing the Hilltop’s lives being treated like the price of doing someone else’s business. Maggie might be the leader, but as far as Gregory is concerned, she doesn’t have to be…
Rick and Michonne get ready for bed, with Michonne poking fun at Rick’s newfound celebrity status in the eyes of the Saviors. She likes it, but knows that Rick won’t let it get to his head. Neither of them wants to be Maggie right now. However, after seeing Negan’s name on the wall, Michonne wonders whether they did the right thing leaving him alive instead of killing him.
Rick thinks about it as well, but he knows that killing Negan wouldn’t have changed anything that they saw today. To Rick, the Saviors just want food. Michonne figures that maybe they need an agreement between the communities on how they treat one another and what happens when rules are broken. After all, it feels like the right time. They couldn’t before because they were running and fighting.
Something like this could pull people closer together. After all, Daryl is worried about things breaking down. And he wouldn’t say anything unless it was important. That much is true. But Rick figures that Daryl might care too much, even if there’s a reason. Right now, the priority is fixing that bridge, so Rick will do that tomorrow and Michonne will work on drafting a Charter. Not Constitution, but a Charter.
As they blow out the lights, Rick wonders how he ever got so lucky finding a woman like Michonne. Good question. But to Michonne, they lost enough. Alright, let’s cut away so these two can have their privacy.
In fact, let’s go back to the Hilltop, where Maggie picks night as the perfect time to take baby Hershel for a walk. Gregory joins her and explains that he knows what it’s like to be in a tough position like the one she’s in right now. And he’s not bitter about losing the election to a worthy adversary like Maggie. Good to know, I guess. It forced him to do some soul-searching.
Then he tells Maggie that apparently someone might have defaced Glenn’s grave by accident. Maybe some kids that didn’t know any better? But hey, probably no big deal, so he’ll check it out tomorrow.
However, as Maggie goes to check it out right now, she’s attacked by a mysterious assailant who manages to fight off Enid when she arrives. Soon enough, the figure is subdued by Enid, Maggie, and Alden and it turns out to be Earl.
A now bloody and pissed-off Maggie heads to Gregory, telling him off for being too much of a coward for not trying to kill her himself. He responds by pointing out that hey, he built the Hilltop and Maggie is just Rick’s lackey, but Rick also ended the war, so he’s got that. More than that, Gregory knows that Maggie won’t go back to Alexandria because she knows who is still there.
And Gregory doesn’t care about all the chances he’s been given for all the shit he’s pulled because, at the end of the day, he’s still standing. He goes on the offensive and tries to stab Maggie, but she overtakes him. She does not, however, kill him.
It’s finally daytime as we return to the Sanctuary as Carol bids farewell to Ezekiel and tells him that this isn’t because of him. Her friends just need her help and she wants to be there for them. She then watches as Ezekiel and Jerry head off for the Kingdom.
Daryl, Rick, and Michonne arrive at the Hilltop, where they meet a bruised Maggie. When Rick and Maggie are alone- with baby Hershel, anyway- Rick notes that with Hershel getting older and she’s going on runs again, he’d love for her to visit Alexandria sometime when she’s ready. After all, Judith talks about Maggie all the time. But Maggie still can’t. Plus, she knows that this isn’t why Rick came here.
He needs her help fixing the bridge. The Hilltop is thriving thanks to her it’s doing better than any other community and Maggie has been generous. The Hilltop has given her so much already, but Rick is asking for more. The Sanctuary is short on food and a project like this could take a lot of people and supplies. He’s asking if Maggie will be generous again.
If people want to work on the bridge, then Maggie can’t stop them, but she won’t give up any more food or supplies without getting something in return. If the Sanctuary needs food, then fine, but they have to provide most of the labor on the bridge. Oh, and they can send over all the fuel from their corn. Rick isn’t in favor of this since the Sanctuary is barely staying above water. The other communities are obliged to help.
But Maggie disagrees. After all, the Saviors are the ones who surrendered. And they weren’t killed. She can’t solve all of their problems when she’s got a myriad of her own issues at the Hilltop. She’s survived worse than what she just went through, but this has to stop. She reminds Rick that during the fight with the Saviors, Rick once said that one day, he’d be the one following Maggie. But he didn’t.
Because Maggie wasn’t someone to follow. That changes right now. With it getting dark soon, Maggie figures that it’s time to put the children to bed.
That went well.
Later that evening, all of the Hilltop has assembled for Gregory’s execution. She tells them that she doesn’t want to do this, but at the Hilltop, the punishment fits the crime. She asks the punished if he has any final words. He tells Maggie that she’s ashamed, but she disagrees.
Daryl slaps away the horse under Gregory just as some children arrive. It’s too late for Michonne to yell that Maggie call it off as the children are rushed back inside. Maggie tells the Hilltop that she had to do this, but it isn’t the start of something. She doesn’t want to go through it again. She then orders Daryl to cut the body down. Gregory’s lifeless body drops as the episode comes to a close.
This episode is aptly titled not just for its ties to the New Beginning arc in the comic, but also this season premiere feeling like a breath of fresh air for The Walking Dead. It is indeed a new beginning, but where’s the fun and conflict if we just see society functioning without any problems?
This episode does a good job at reintroducing us to the familiar faces, introducing us to some new ones, and presenting a storyline where all seems well, but there’s something bubbling under the surface that has no doubt been festering since the end of the war with the Saviors and Negan’s downfall.
Just like that glass at the museum, cracks are already starting to appear and they will no doubt grow larger as conflicts escalate, but I do like that the episode takes its time introducing the various conflicts. The mission to D.C. gives us time to get reacquainted with the majority of the main players, gives them small moments of dialogue that flesh out their character, and felt reminiscent of the earlier seasons.
In fact, there were quite a few callbacks to Season One in this episode. Whether it’s Carol mentioning Ed, Daryl remembering his time with Merle, or talking to Rick about what they used to be able to do back in Atlanta, it felt like a reminder of simpler, yet still violent times. Yes, the group was much closer knit back then since there was less of them, but now their numbers have expanded.
And with that brings a variety of opinions on how the world should be run. Rick is seen as a god to some, but he’s just a man trying to do the right thing. To others, he’s an obstacle or a person who doesn’t go far enough. The decision to keep Negan alive is still fresh on people’s minds, with some Saviors wishing that he suffers, while others apparently waiting for the Saviors to be the ones to save yet again.
It’s an interesting divide between the Saviors, but makes sense because, as was established in previous seasons, not everyone at the Sanctuary was on board with Negan’s ironclad rule. Some were just workers or ordinary people. But some remained steadfast and loyal to him. Some may still, if the writing on the wall is any indication.
Yes, he’s still the black-leather jacket wearing elephant in the room, but even though we don’t see him, Negan is still very present in this episode by virtue of the impact he had on the Saviors, but also the fact that Maggie refuses to visit Alexandria because Negan is there.
Given Maggie’s words to Daryl and Jesus in the finale about showing him, you have to wonder what she’s been doing as she bides her time. Has she just been giving him the cold shoulder? Obviously not because they’ve been working together, as this episode established, but she’s not going to roll over and let Rick call all of the shots without some pushback.
And to be fair, she has a point. The Saviors were the ones who wanted war and those who surrendered were allowed to live. That’s a mercy as far as Maggie is concerned. She won’t budge more than she has to because she’s got her own battles to fight at home, as this episode showed. That she goes ahead and kills Gregory shows that she’s calling the shots, but also wants to put out any fires before they spread.
Side-note, and I only say this as a comic reader, but I did not expect Gregory’s execution and assassination attempt to come this soon. The scenes work as far as setting up the conflict at the Hilltop and what will no doubt be opposition to Maggie’s rule, but it was a surprise that I welcome. Though it is unfortunate that he’s gone if just because Xander Berkeley was so great in the role.
It’s surprising that Maggie hasn’t just popped Gregory until now, given that she mentions he’s been given plenty of chances for his behavior. Perhaps she hoped he would reform, but he’s just been biding his time and, as we see, sowing the seeds of division among those who may not be on board with Maggie. And with Ken dead, Earl and Tammy are definitely not going to be voting for Maggie in a future election.
Speaking of, this is the one moment of the episode that I didn’t like, not because it was a bad moment, but because it wasn’t earned. We just met Ken and before we get a chance to know him, he’s dead. Par for the course in this world, but the death doesn’t feel as impacting to me as it does to Maggie because we barely know him. Why should I feel bad about the death of a character I haven’t grown attached to yet?
Still, it works for setting up Maggie’s conflict and how she can ask the Hilltop residents to help out when she could be sending them to their deaths. Maggie’s definitely understanding the burdens of leadership and Lauren Cohan is great in showing Maggie’s growing anger, but also frustration at what she’s being asked to do when she’s already lost so much.
I also like the idea of Daryl not wanting to be at the Sanctuary. He’s spent so much time there as a prisoner that to be there again almost feels like being held captive again. More than that, his no-nonsense demeanor won’t make him any friends among the Saviors. He accepts that Rick has changed things, but he won’t fight a losing battle when, in his mind, the Sanctuary is already doomed.
Keeping with Daryl, I continue to enjoy the chemistry between Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride as Carol is continuing to carve out her own path, while still not forgetting those close to her. She’s grown closer to Ezekiel as time has passed, but she’s not ready to the the knot just yet, especially not on a horse.
And I like that her friendship with Daryl has continued to the point where Carol is one of the few people, I think, where Daryl can completely let down his guard. That’s important when this guy isn’t capable of uttering more than a few words when the story calls for it.
And then there’s the fearless leader himself, Rick Grimes. He’s focused on moving forward and being the leader that everyone needs, but at some point he has to realize that order is needed. Not in the way that Negan ran things, but some formal structure. That’s hard to do when some people are divided, but he’s willing to make it work, even in the face of opposition.
That said, I doubt he expected the pushback he received from Maggie, though he does tell Michonne that he still thinks about whether it was right to let Negan live. He wants order, but he just watched Maggie execute someone who, admittedly, did sort of ask for it. Can he count on others around him to keep things from breaking down, or are we about to see more cracks form in the new world?
“A New Beginning” takes its time reintroducing us to the world of The Walking Dead and reminded me of the slower-paced, character driven episodes of the earlier seasons. It establishes the new world, sets the stakes for bringing about formalized order, and shows us the various conflicts the characters will have to deal with as the season progresses.
It’s a solid premiere that allows for scenes to breathe instead of rushing from one area to the next and is a good start for the new season. Looking forward to the rest of Season Nine.