Rick and Negan fought each other for two straight years, and it felt like five. Carl got bit, but before he died he told Rick that “destroy all your enemies” probably wasn’t the best plan for humanity’s long-term prospects. Eugene single-handedly won the war by sabotaging the Saviors’ weapons, and Rick spared Negan’s life (while still slashing his throat). Time to rebuild society, baby!
Season 9 has a brand-new showrunner in longtime producer Angela Kang, and with the Negan war in the rearview mirror, Kang wastes no time in establishing the new status quo. The premiere isn’t called “A New Beginning” for nothing. There’s a significant time jump of a year or more (the show has always been a bit dodgy with the passage of time) and the core conflict is not between Rick’s team and a pack of savage murderers, but between the established communities that rely on each other to survive.
And while significant cast shake-ups are on the horizon, this episode seeks to establish the new interpersonal dynamics that have taken shape since Season 8.
The episode opens with a nifty looting of Washington, D.C.’s Natural History Museum, as Rick’s team looks to assemble supplies they need to kickstart their agriculture program, nabbing a number of seeds, a plow, and an entire covered wagon.
It’s a nifty sequence for a few reasons: It’s a fresh setting with a strong purpose for the show’s usual zombie action, and there are even some attempts at genuine jump-scares.
Besides that, we get some info on our favorite regulars, like how Carol and the King are now a couple, surely frustrating all the Carol/Daryl shippers out there. After a zombie scare, the King adorably asks Carol to marry her, which she gently rebukes in a very Carol fashion, pointing out that the ring would snag on everything, and besides, she’s not getting engaged on horseback.
Jadis is now part of the regular crew, now going by Anne, her real name. It was her idea to find seeds in the museum, since she went there back when she was a teacher. Gabriel’s blindness has resolved into having one bad eye. Eugene seems to have been fully welcomed back into the fold, which is interesting, and hopefully explored more in later episodes. Maggie has become Hilltop’s officially elected leader, while Daryl has begrudgingly been placed in charge of Sanctuary.
Returning from the museum, Rick’s team runs afoul of a zombie herd and a young man named Ken is killed. He’s the son of Hilltop’s blacksmith, Earl (John Finn), and when Maggie informs him and his wife Tammy (Brett Butler?!) of their son’s death, they take it out on Maggie. This leaves them open to manipulation by Gregory, who is unsurprisingly pissed that Hilltop elected Maggie leader. Gregory plies Earl (a recovering alcoholic) with booze, then actually manages to talk him into making an attempt on Maggie’s life. While no one thinks Maggie’s going to check out this early in the season, the sight of baby Hershel wailing next to his overturned stroller while Maggie struggles with her attacker makes the scene a harrowing one.
After escaping, Maggie confronts Gregory and easily overpowers him (he’s still Gregory, after all). Maggie decides to spare Earl but has figured Gregory has had enough chances and hangs him in front of everyone at Hilltop. If you were wondering if Maggie would run things differently than Rick, well there’s your answer. Kudos for concisely resolving Gregory’s inevitable betrayal.
Sanctuary is hurting from a lack of food since as Daryl points out, it’s a “damn factory.” Hilltop is the main food supply but its citizens resent having to help their former oppressors. The pro-Negan graffiti that keeps popping up around Sanctuary doesn’t help. There’s not enough fuel for vehicles, so the communities will be further separated by having to travel to locations on horseback.
With tensions running high, Michonne tells Rick that a charter for all the communities is probably a good idea. One can hardly blame her for wanting to get some rules on the books, especially with Rick seeming to be the only man every community listens to.
But even that probably won’t last, as Maggie asserts herself in food negotiations — she’ll supply Sanctuary with food only if they provide most of the labor to rebuild an important bridge. Rick agrees, but further conflict with Maggie seems inevitable. As she explains to him, “When we were fighting the Saviors, you said you’d be the one following me. But you didn’t. Because I wasn’t someone to follow. That changes now.”