“Bless you, Rick Grimes”
For once in a very long time, The Walking Dead doesn’t feel like it’s been away. Usually at the beginning of a new season I remark how it feels like the show’s been off the air for what feels like an age but with the start of season 9, that’s really not the case. And I think the reason for this is because, with the end of season 8, The Walking Dead up to that point basically ended. Negan’s defeat at the hands of team Rick was closure for the entire show up until that point. What we’re into now is TWD 2.0. The show is reinvented, skipping forward 18 months and killing off/removing key characters. A big, behind the scenes shake up has taken place as well with new showrunner Angela Kang taking the reins from here on out. The question is; can a show that’s been on the air for almost a decade reinvent itself while not alienating fans and sticking true to TWD we all know and love?
Well from the looks of it in season opener, A New Beginning, the revamp seems to have been successful. The big character cull hasn’t started yet (both Andrew Lincoln’s Rick and Lauren Cohen’s Maggie are scheduled to leave the show a some point this season) but their is enough in this first episode to make the show feel fresh again. The gang are all together firstly, something we’ve not seen in quite a while, and the museum setpiece that kicks off the episode is fun and inventive way to get things going. We knew Ezekial probably wasn’t going to die when he fell through the fragile glass floor but with the way the show’s going (and for anyone clued up on the comics) we couldn’t be certain of his safety. Instead it’s a red-shirt called Kent who kicks the bucket this time. But unlike previous deaths of inconsequential characters, this death has meaning. It kicks into gear a greater plan involving Gregory and his fight to unseat Maggie as the Hilltop head honcho. It mirrors the comics in many ways, much to the delight of this fan, and the eventual resolution is wonderfully grim. After the calculated attack on her life by Gregory, using the grief stricken parents of Kent as weapon, Maggie takes matters into her own hands and publicly executes Gregory for all of The Hilltop to see. This is going to cause chaos down the line as over in Alexandria, new-world Rick isn’t much of a fan of the death penalty. Hell, he didn’t even go as far to kill Negan, and he was an actual successful murderer unlike the cowardly Gregory. The divide between Maggie’s Hilltop community and Rick’s Alexandria group is growing and I wonder now if this is the beginning of the end for both of them.
In other news. it’s nice to see the walkers themselves appearing as a threat still. Despite the length of time since the beginning of the apocalypse is was cool to see the streets of Washington was still littered with the corpse of the undead. It felt very ‘season 1′. Their were a few nice callbacks also, with Daryl mentioning the old group and Carol talking about her dead ex-husband Ed. But for the most part, the characters are thankfully moving forward. Rick, Michonne, and Judith look like a proper family for the first time and their was even talk of a marriage after King Ezekial proposed to Carol. She turned him down, but I doubt she’ll stay that way for long. The cast themselves could have easily turned in robotic performances this late in the game but it seems the change of showrunner has imbued the show with a new found energy. The always outstanding Andrew Lincoln was once again, outstanding but the real star was Norman Reedus’ Daryl, who might actually turn out to be the star of the season. Hell, he’s had more lines this episode than practically all of seasons 7 and 8.
Where the show will go next is anyone’s guess. We know we’re going to meet the Whisperers at some point and Rick’s on his way out some time soon. There’s also a lot more death and a massive time skip reported – all in this half of the season. And the biggest question of all; what’s Negan up to? What ever happens now, I’m certain it’s not to be missed.