‘The Walking Dead’ Begins Again — And It Feels Like the Show You Remember (RECAP)

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Jackson Lee Davis/AMC
Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Danai Gurira as Michonne, Chloe Garcia as Judith - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

It may be “A New Beginning” for Rick Grimes and his family, but this episode made it clear it’s also a new (and very welcome) beginning for The Walking Dead.

New showrunner Angela Kang addressed several of the loudest fan complaints in the episode’s first half. Daryl speaks in complete sentences and never once utters the odd grunt that once became synonymous with his character. Carol, Maggie and Michonne — three of TWD’s strongest women — finally have a lengthy conversation. The practicalities of living in a post-apocalyptic society, like the lack of available gasoline, are addressed.

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Trailers offer a glimpse at the upcoming season, but the source material does, too.

Simply put, “A New Beginning” brought a jolt of realism and suspense to a show often left sluggish under the weight of its characters and its ever-expanding universe. With several shocking moments and just enough focus on the major players in a large cast, it’s a breath of fresh air for a series that risked going stale.

Mr. Grimes Goes To Washington

The episode opens on a thriving Alexandria, and a happy Grimes family. Michonne talks to Judith as she paints her “Aunt Maggie” and all her friends, including Rick with a “big tummy.” They go out into a field and watch the birds flying, all smiles.

Unfortunately, things aren’t going so well at the Sanctuary. Crops aren’t growing, and Daryl, who oversees the ramshackle new society, finds several of the members tying up a walker to use as a scarecrow. Needless to say, he doesn’t approve.

From there, at Daryl’s request, a group composed of Rick, Maggie, Daryl, Carol, Ezekiel, Father Gabriel, Anne (formerly known as Jadis) and several others make their way into the city — specifically, Washington D.C. It’s a nice callback to the time the group spent on the road in earlier seasons.

The Floor is Lava! (Okay, it’s really Glass)

The group heads into a museum, where they scavenge for supplies. Rick takes a group down to the basement, and they find seeds to plant. Daryl, Maggie, Carol and the rest of the group split up and search the rest of the place, finding a canoe, farming equipment and the biggest find of all: a wagon.

Fortunately, they’re able to get the wagon into the lobby. Unfortunately, the lobby floor is glass, and underneath the glass stumbles a horde of walkers. The group is able to maneuver the wagon across, though the ground begins to shatter. Carrying the rest of the supplies doesn’t go smoothly: Ezekiel falls through the floor. Much to everyone’s relief — but especially Carol’s, who is now in a serious relationship with Ezekiel — they’re able to pull the king up before any of the walkers snag him.

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Trouble on the Road

For a little while, things are peaceful. The group rides back toward their homes. Several of the Hilltop boys, one of them a newcomer named Ken and the other Alden, talk about Ken’s blacksmith father. Ezekiel holds out a ring and spontaneously proposes to Carol, who is reluctant to accept (“Put that thing away!”). When they get a little farther, Rosita gives them some sobering news; a sizeable herd has taken out one of their bridges.

Things start to go a little — or a lot — haywire. There’s too much mud on the road for the horses to pull the wagon, so Rick and his team unload it and give the horses a rest. They push it through the mud, but a large herd stumbles toward them.

The group quickly becomes overwhelmed, and while the whole team makes it out safe, Ken goes back to save his horse and is bitten, then kicked by the horse. He dies soon afterward, leaving Maggie, as newly-elected leader of Hilltop, in the awful position of breaking the news to his parents. His father seems to accept his son’s passing better than the boy’s mother, who blames Maggie for Ken’s death. She tells her she isn’t welcome at his funeral, implies that Gregory might have been a better leader and says it “ain’t right” that the Sanctuary gets Hilltop’s food and supplies.

Gregory Strikes Back

Alden’s followed in Beth Greene’s footsteps and become the designated post-apocalyptic singer; he sings a sorrowful tune at Ken’s funeral, while Maggie watches from her home with baby Hershel in her arms. Gregory delivers a eulogy, and later gives the grieving parents comfort in the form of alcohol. He notes that Ken’s father is a recovering alcoholic, but his mother drinks. After Ken’s father puts her to bed, Gregory appears, bottle in hand.

Apparently, Gregory no longer cares that Ken’s father was sober. He pours the man what can be assumed is the next in a long line of drinks they’ve had, and they discuss Maggie’s leadership. Gregory plants the idea in his head that many at the Hilltop don’t support Maggie’s leadership, but they won’t speak up. When the man reaffirms that Maggie’s the leader, Gregory tells him “she doesn’t have to be.”

Later, Gregory corners Maggie while she’s walking with baby Hershel in his stroller. He tells her someone defaced Glenn’s grave, but when Maggie goes to see the damage, she’s attacked and nearly killed by a hooded figure. Alden saves the day (and her life), and they pull back the hood to reveal the assailant: Ken’s father. Maggie knows her political rival is behind the attack, and confronts him in his home. They argue, and Gregory pulls out a knife and tries to kill her; she wrenches the knife from his grip and presses it to his throat.

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The Famous Rick Grimes

While the Hilltop plot is happening, a separate storyline involving Rick and the Sanctuary occurs. Rick and the rest of his group arrive at Negan’s former stomping grounds, and Michonne finds some unsettling graffiti on the factory walls. Someone has written “Saviors save us!” and “We are still Negan,” which isn’t incredibly encouraging. Daryl tells Michonne these messages have been appearing since the Sanctuary’s crops have been dying,

Some of the former Saviors appreciate Rick, and they cheer when he announces what they brought back from the run. Daryl isn’t feeling that optimism, and tells Rick in a tense, private conversation that he wants to leave his job as head of the Sanctuary. Rick tries to convince him to come back to Alexandria, but Daryl says he’ll go back to Hilltop with Maggie. It seems Maggie’s not the only one still upset with Rick over the events of last season.

Carol overheard Daryl and Rick’s conversation, and goes to see “Pookie” as he sits alone outside the Sanctuary. They have a heartfelt talk about their lives — how neither of them sleep at night, how Daryl misses seeing her — and he gives Ezekiel his seal of approval. Carol offers to take over his post for him, and tells him not to argue. He offers to stay with her, but she turns him down.

Rick and Michonne share a sweet scene as they lie in bed together, teasing and joking. Things turn suddenly serious as they talk about Negan, and whether or not they did the right thing by keeping him alive. Michonne suggests they need an agreement among the communities of how they should treat each other, and consequences for what’ll happen if they don’t: a charter.

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Someone Worth Following

The next day, the rest of the group prepares to leave the Sanctuary. Carol says goodbye to Ezekiel, who seems to wish they’d move a little faster in their relationship but ultimately says he is “content to move at [her] speed.”

Daryl, Rick and Michonne go to the Hilltop, and Rick meets with Maggie. He asks her to visit Alexandria — after all, Judith still talks about her Aunt Maggie — but she refuses to do so while Negan’s still there. When Maggie pushes him to talk about something else, he tells her he needs her help fixing the bridge; she says she won’t stop her people from helping with the bridge, but she won’t give food and supplies freely. She proposes that the Sanctuary should provide most of the labor, and that they’ll need to send over the fuel they’ve made from corn.

Rick bristles at the suggestion, saying they’re obliged to help the Sanctuary. Maggie disagrees, telling Rick that they surrendered, and that she can’t solve other problems when she has her own. She tells him that while she wasn’t worth following before, “that changes now.”

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Bad Moon Rising

Later that night, Maggie has set up an execution for Gregory by hanging. She says she doesn’t want to do it, but people need to understand that the punishment fits the crime. As Gregory pleads for his life, two small children appear. Michonne sees them and tries to get Maggie to stop so she can usher them away from the scene, but she’s too late; Gregory is hanged, and the children see it happen.

“I made this decision,” Maggie says, “but this is not the beginning of something. I don’t want to go through it again.”

They cut Gregory down as the Hilltop watches.

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Other Observations

  • This episode had some of the creepiest walkers I’ve seen on either show for a long time. The spider-walker Siddiq encountered in the museum might give me nightmares.
  • Rick and Michonne are incredibly sweet, which makes Rick’s impending departure all the more heartbreaking. I find myself hoping the show leaves his exit open-ended, if only to spare Michonne the pain of losing another man she loves.
  • Speaking of love, I didn’t necessarily see ‘Carzekiel’ coming? I’m a bit saddened that we didn’t see the development of their relationship, though I suppose that’s the risk with time jumps. I’ll be intrigued to see whether or not Carol accepts his proposal, or if she accepts “too late.” Ezekiel’s overt declaration of love made me worry about his longevity on the show.
  • Whether romantic or platonic — and it seems likely they’ll be platonic now — Carol and Daryl’s scenes have an incredible magnetism and emotional weight. I’m happy we got to see them have a meaningful moment this episode.
  • Maggie, Carol and Michonne having a conversation about the Hilltop’s election was something I’d been yearning for from this show for years. Three strong women talking to each other. At last. Thank you, Angela Kang.

The Walking Dead, Sundays, 9/8c, AMC