It’s October which means The Walking Dead is back, and it’s truly living up to the name of its first episode. People’s mileage varied with the seventh and eighth seasons as things took a darker turn and were on a very condensed timeline as the survivors dealt with Negan and his Saviors, including going to war which Rick and company won in the end. Many audience members fell off during this time, the ratings juggernaut seeing some dips despite still being very successful compared to other shows. All those behind the show, including new showrunner Angela Kang, promised a new beginning that would change up the show and they delivered. Those that left the show behind it makes sense why they did but this definitely is a time to check back in as the soft reset button has been pressed quite well.
Right off the bat, we know that time has passed from how the communities have grown and are now mostly prospering, a level of some peace has been achieved through of course since this is the apocalypse we know it will be threatened relatively soon. That fresh start mentioned is clear from this point as the gang passes through Washington D.C. on a mission and the brand new credits begin to roll. Gone are the camera pans through images and the decaying titles, in their place is a really beautiful animation of images that call back to things in the series but also to what is likely to come and it’s a very welcome change. Long ago, it feels that way for both the audience and now for the characters too, there was talk of trying to get to Washington D.C. for the group. This was back in seasons four and five when they still thought Eugene had a chance to cure things and they thought the government might have had some way to survive. At long last, the crew got there in the premiere but they had a very different purpose in mind, they were raiding a museum for some old things that the new world needs.
Watching the series further develop this new world and begin to leave behind all the cars (at last fully dealing with the fact that fuel would be very hard to find at this point since they can’t travel too far from their home areas) and really brings in the horses and wagons and now even old farming equipment. There are no huge battles or the like in the episode, but the episode manages to keep the attention gripped. Just that twenty-something minute section in the museum where the crew deals with super decayed zombies (it’s been a few years now so the zombies are looking pretty bad as one would expect) and trying to cross a glass floor over zombies had me laser focused. Kudos to the effects crew though for that one spider and bug filled eyeless zombie that Siddiq had to deal with, and I’m with Siddiq on spiders being something to feel more creeped out about over the typical dead.
Things might be a new beginning but the same old threats remain in the form of zombies (which really are only a threat en masse or when humans make poor choices) and the even greater threat that is human beings. Peace only goes so far and when communities are starving or having to give their stuff to another, the Sanctuary home of the Saviors being the one in question, it’s going to ruffle feathers. Leave it to the worm Gregory to rise up and use the tragedy of a young man’s death to turn his parents against Maggie at the Hilltop and convince the boy’s father to try and kill her. All last season Gregory and his sniveling ways annoyed the hell out of me (as he did in the comics too) and I was truly grateful that his betrayal was not drawn out all season. With only a few episodes left for Lauren Cohan’s Maggie to do anything before her departure from the show, the Hilltop’s new leader is not playing around. She is laying down the law both to those that betray her but also Rick as she refuses to just give the Saviors anything anymore but will give it to them if they work to earn it. Peace is going to be likely very short-lived in the coming episodes.
At the same time, it’s not just the Hilltop that is facing such issues. Someone or someones are leaving graffiti around the Sanctuary still calling themselves Negan and showing the dissatisfaction some are feeling now that they are at the mercy of the other communities and their crop growing efforts are failing. Darryl points out to Rick that the peace and the community growth is close to fracturing, and the splintering of the main group we’ve followed for years is also beginning to have detrimental effects. No longer is this group as tight-knit as they were, because they are all spread across the various communities and dealing with the stresses of leadership in many forms. While it seems quite clear that the issues between these friends will be potentially solved with whatever befalls Rick (the series has been heavily marketing his final episodes), the journey to that point should prove potentially interesting.
Overall what truly worked in this episode is that while the past still plays a part in the story (the Saviors issues, Negan mentioned imprisoned, etc) the past is not something weighing the show down even in its ninth season. The best writing in an established setting uses the history to inform the story while constantly moving forward, which this episode proves the series can do. Whether that will be the case moving forward is still to be seen, but this was a great first step. Things can’t and won’t and shouldn’t remain happily ever after at this point as that would make for TV that many would find boring so there are going to be many more deaths and very sad moments to come. Especially since the fates of Rick Grimes and Maggie Rhee are so up in the air as to their outcomes with Andrew Lincoln and Cohan ready to depart before the midseason break.
Score: 8 out of 10