Will it play out the way we expect? Maybe not.
The following is a spoiler-free review of The Walking Dead’s Season 9 premiere, which debuted at New York Comic Con. For more from the panel, check out what Andrew Lincoln had to say about his final scene, and which three characters are returning.
The Walking Dead’s Season 9 premiere, “A New Beginning,” aired at NYCC tonight, so I’m here to offer up my (spoiler-free as possible) take on what went down.
Honestly, I’ve never attempted to do a Walking Dead review, in all the years I’ve been writing them for IGN, where I don’t dig into the soil and sift around in the details, so we’ll see how this goes. To start things off, let’s take a look at what’s already on the table. Previous to this weekend, AMC released both the new opening credits sequence, which new showrunner Angela Kang chose because of its graphic novel (infused with series Easter eggs) quality…
…and the first five minutes of the episode (which you can watch in the player above).
So now that you’ve watched the credits and the initial beats (Carol’s haaaaaat!), it’s clear that Rick’s “new world” is, more or less, functioning well. But despite the tranquility of Rick’s homestead, the solar-paneled goings-on in Alexandria, the farming in Hilltop, and the workshop clanging of the Sanctuary, “A New Beginning” had the unenviable task of setting up Rick’s exit. Not that star Andrew Lincoln is leaving right away, but this first half season will definitely spell the end for him. And because it’s Walking Dead, Rick has to die. He can’t just leave and then the show makes the bizarre creative choice to never show him again. Rick must perish.
So where’s the hole in Rick’s plan? Where are the dark skies in his utopia? Not that we won’t eventually get into new villains and some as-yet-unseen terrors, but for right now Maggie is being slowly built up as someone who might cause Rick… err, problems. One of the clumsiest elements of Season 8 finale came in the final few moments when it seemed like Maggie, Jesus, and Daryl (who didn’t seem like the type at all to start an open rebellion against a friend), were plotting to (violently?) overthrow Rick because he’d spared Negan’s life. (Even though no one had given Rick the authority to make the final decision about anything and Maggie could have just killed Negan herself out in that field had she wanted.)
The small cabal decided, for whatever reason (well, for time jump reasons), to wait. To let Rick think he was safe for a long while before they rolled out their plan. It was a character shift that felt jarringly forced. Hell of a thing to do to the guy who, for better or worse, kept y’all safe for years and had also just lost his son in the war against the Saviors. Now the series, and Kang, have the burden of making good on this arc. On the upside, “A New Beginning” seems to have reeled back a bit and pumped the brakes on what felt like an established plot to forcefully take down Rick, turning it back into sort of a subtle undercurrent of resentment. As in, if you wanted, you could pretend those three never had that conversation.
Basically, not everyone’s happy. It’s nothing huge, at the moment, but the Sanctuary sucks. It sucks living there and it sucks to be a Savior in the wake of a war where they were on the losing side, and there are plenty of people, most notably Maggie and Daryl, who still harbor resentment about the whole ordeal. It feels like a far cry from that scene where she and the others plotted to hide in plain sight until the time was right to strike, and that’s good, but there are still issues to sort out. While Rick wants to start unifying the three communities more than ever, Hilltop and the Sanctuary are ripping at the seams.
Maggie, now with a baby boy following the 18 month time jump, has to still deal with the conniving schemes of Gregory. For all her talk about wanting to kill Negan – and I get it considering what Negan did to Glenn – the fact that she never pulled the trigger on Gregory feels like an odd outlying choice. Especially when you consider how she outright shot and killed that one Savior prisoner once. Anyhow, it perhaps makes sense that Maggie would be even more chafed than everyone else because she’s made the active choice to live with Gregory for two years.
“A New Beginning” is a good start to the season when you consider all the things it has to facilitate and enable. People die – er, I don’t think that’s a spoiler – and some matter and some don’t. This show is still committing the silly sin of ret-conning characters into the mix who we’ve never met before. Remember Ethan Embry in the Season 6 premiere? As the Alexandria resident we’d never seen before, who was a vocal opponent of Rick? And then he died in the same episode? And that was the episode’s big death?
Well, that sort of happens here. You’ll meet some folks for the first time, and there’s an idea that some of them are new to the fold where others have supposedly been there the entire time. We just don’t know who is who, which is which. For example, you saw Black Sails/The 100’s Zach McGowan there in the opening minutes clip. He’s at Daryl’s Sanctuary workshop and it’s implied that he’s been among the Savior ranks the entire time. But it’s also possible that he joined the group at some point in the past year. (Although why would anyone choose to hook up with the Saviors now when there are two better groups?)
Yes, you’ll see someone die who you don’t know at all. And it’ll be treated like a big moment and you’ll roll your eyes a little. Thankfully, it pays dividends. It actually kicks off a series of events that hold solid consequences for a few characters and feeds into what must be the bubbling bitterness within Maggie. The Walking Dead is still offering up its old (tired) tricks, yes, but in this instance, the gimmick tumbles down a hill and builds momentum so that other things can happen later.
Speaking of old tricks, you’ve all assumedly seen the U.S. Capitol building used in the Season 9 art. That’s because the premiere contains a huge trek into D.C. – a joint community effort to scavenge the town’s museums and historical buildings for supplies and tools. It’s a fun jaunt that definitely makes use of the premiere’s ramped-up budget, using some cool sets and the entire cast for one mission. Naturally, things take a dangerous turn as something that looks obviously precarious winds up being extremely precarious and some core characters find themselves in danger of getting chomped – and that bait and switch has become old hat after eight seasons. In fact, the more close calls and near deaths the show delivers, the more the actual deaths feel muted.
That being said, this isn’t the first Walking Dead time jump. It’s definitely the longest, but the show used to always skip over several months (always, always the winters) and then pick things up with a “calm before the storm” type scenario. This episode is everyone stretching their legs and enjoying peace before strife; cooperation before discord. And it takes a cool, scenic route in doing so.