Season 9 of “The Walking Dead” drops its first two casualties as we jump ahead in time and the survivors start to try and rebuild civilization.
New showrunner Angela Kang promised us a new beginning for the Season 9 premiere of "The Walking Dead," and in many ways she delivered. At the same time, she apparently had some housecleaning to do, despite the time jump.
The super-sized premiere did a pretty good job of giving almost everyone in this massive cast some screen-time, but it also showed just how out of control this group has gotten. Daryl (Norman Reedus) was the voice of the viewers when he told Rick (Andrew Lincoln), "That small group we had back in the beginning, we could do anything. That was right. That’s what I know."
That’s what viewers fell in love with, but that is not this show anymore. That show does still exist, somewhat, but it’s called "Fear the Walking Dead" now. This one is all about complex, rudimentary politics between five disparate communities trying to survive.
There is resentment from the allied forces, so to speak, toward the Sanctuary, even if Negan’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) former forces surrendered to them. Primarily because the Sanctuary is proving to be every bit as dependent on the "kindness" of others as it was under Negan’s rule. They live in a factory and the grounds outside aren’t proving very fertile for crops.
Overall, though, the show is showing signs of new life and new unrest. For one, the color palette was beautifully bright and vivid in the opening moments. Paired with a new opening credit sequence that emphasizes growth over decay, and you get a sense of what kind of show this is going to try and be now. The big question is if that’s the kind of show people want to watch.
The good news is it’s still perfectly capable of providing shocking moments and setting up riveting storylines that have us intrigued and hopeful that Season 9 can bring a new level of excitement to the franchise after the interminably long "All Out War" storyline that killed all of its momentum and good will.
Below are the seven most shocking moments from the premiere we’re still digesting.
Many of the cast-members sported longer hair to emphasize the time jump, but we noticed even more the increased gore and decay of the walkers. And let us tell you, it is both starting, disgusting and awesome at the same time. Almost every one of them looks much worse than any before, with the makeup job doing a fantastic job of bring them to unlife each week.
While they’re not nearly the threat today that they were in the past, it’s nice to see that there is still tremendous care being given to make sure they look the best/worst they can and can still give us the heebie-jeebies when the camera lingers on one of their disgusting faces.
Plus, the one that grabbed Siddiq (Avi Nash) and had spiders crawling through its face — that one will probably give us nightmares. It’s nice to see they’re not done with coming up with new and unique ways to freak us out with walkers.
"Put That Thing Away"
All the Caryl shippers lost their minds after King Ezekiel’s near death in the museum. After he was pulled to safety, he and Carol (Melissa McBride) shared an intimate kiss, revealing that they had feelings for one another. And then, on the ride out, he held out a ring and proposed.
"Put that thing away. It’ll snag on everything," the ever pragmatic Carol said. "And I told you not to ask me that. Especially after something like this."
Later, she totally slapped him in the face by separating herself from him altogether, choosing to stay at the Sanctuary and replace Daryl as acting leader there. Even worse, and Ezekiel can be glad he didn’t see it, she and Daryl totally shared a moment and we did not miss it.
It was when they were sitting side by side and she revealed to Daryl that Ezekiel (Khary Payton) proposed. Daryl gave his blessing and the two longtime friends chatted openly about their fears and concerns. It was when the camera pulled back as Carol pulled her legs into her and leaned on Daryl that we saw a friendly intimacy we’re purposely choosing to read too much into. It’s our show and we’ll watch it how we want to!
"She Doesn’t Have to Be"
We’ll admit this isn’t a shock for the reason you might expect. After a "red shirt" gets bit on the way back from the museum, Gregory (Xander Berkeley) plies him with alcohol and concocts an awful plan. What’s shocking is that it’s been however long since we stepped away and he’s just now getting around to this.
Apparently, there was recently an election in Hilltop that Gregory called for, but he still lost to Maggie (Lauren Cohan) in the vote. Being the spineless snake he is, though, he’s decided the election was rigged. And so, he convinced a grieving father to try and take Maggie out by attacking her that night.
It was a typically spineless thing to do, and when Maggie confronted him about it and angered him enough to try and kill her directly, he couldn’t even get that right, returning to sniveling again. And that’s where we realized just how old it was with this character. It’s the same cycle over and over again, and it’s that kind of repetition that started to kill the show over the past two seasons.
"Punishment Fits the Crime"
Apparently Maggie got that memo, too, because she went ahead and made the hard call. Maggie has grown into a stone-cold ruler since Glenn’s death, and we’re not 100 percent sure if that’s a good thing or not. In this case, though, we have to agree with her and we have to agree that it was her call.
Hanging Gregory was a summary execution for attempted murder, and by many modern standards, this is perfectly reasonable. There were some who objected, but it is absolutely clear that if he were left to his own devices, he would try something like this again and again and again. Gregory is a character who does not and apparently cannot grow.
And if the show is going to grow and evolve, there is no longer a place for him in it. It’s as if killing him was a symbolic way to try and convince viewers that we were moving past the kind of circular storytelling we’ve been dealing with too long. And also that they’re not going to kill off Negan no matter how much that might also best serve the story.
"It’s Bad Timing"
We already know that both Maggie and Rick are looking to depart the show this season, with the latter definitely saying goodbye for good (or at least that’s the plan). And we’ve been told that the impetuous Daryl is going to step up as a leader. And yet, he’s always been the emotionally-led hothead who’s more likely to be the cause of the problem than the voice of reason.
In a bitter exchange with a Sanctuary resident who was just trying to give him some intel, Daryl started to give a glimpse of how he might be able to mature into leadership material. He was asked to speak to the people, and he spat back, "I ain’t getting up on a stage, giving a damn speech like him," referring to Negan. Then, after a beat he spoke more gently. "It’s bad timing. We just lost someone out there."
That someone was the "red shirt" who bit it on the return run from the museum. And honestly, we’re not totally sure why they need to bring so many people on that run. It kind of felt like an excuse to get as many principal characters into one sequence together before they get all split up into smaller groups that we’ll check in on throughout the season until the next finale/premiere.
Of course, that’s the way "TWD" has handled its massive ensemble in the past, and this is a bold new era. We’re not going to retread old ground, are we? Are we?!
"That Changes Now"
Maggie is more than just a leader willing to kill someone who tries to kill her. Sure, that’s the kind of statement that will help solidify her rule, if only through fear from some people. But she proved in negotiations with Rick that she’s willing to lead and actually think about the well-being of her people, something Gregory insisted she was not doing.
When Rick came to her asking for the Hilltop to give even more than it already has to help keep the Sanctuary afloat, and help repair a bridge, she pushed back. "No more food and supplies without getting something back for it," she said plainly.
She then laid out what she wanted, and it was a pretty hard bargain. She wanted the Sanctuary to provide the manpower to repair the bridge and give the Hilltop all of the fuel they’ve made from corn crops. One of the more realistic aspects of the new season is that fuel is finally becoming scarce as we start to see more traditional modes of transportation making a comeback, like horses and carriages.
Maggie is stepping up and asserting herself as a true leader. Hilltop is thriving more than any other community, and certainly producing more. That gives her leverage power. Meanwhile, Rick is kind of used to just telling everyone what to do and having them fall in line. It’s nice to see someone push back while being totally reasonable. And it’s necessary for the show to grow and survive without him.
"Saviors Save Us"
The graffiti on the walls of the Sanctuary seems to be setting up the main conflict of this first half of the season, which is a little disappointing, honestly. After two-and-a-half seasons or so of Negan, do we really want rebellion in his name to be the very next threat the gang has to deal with?
It’s at least a little more interesting, because it’s coming from a place of unrest and dissatisfaction with being a part of the communities. And the frustration they must feel at not being self-sufficient as a community. Plus, these are a ruthless people who were on board with eviscerating Alexandria, the Hilltop, the Kingdom and Oceanside, and now they find themselves dependent on that.
Pride goeth before the fall, and their pride is definitely taking a beating. Surely it will be their ultimate downfall as they — or at least some of them — choose to fight against Rick and the powers that be, looking to either restore Negan to power, or at the least go back to his way of doing things.
Honestly, the Sanctuary isn’t particularly sustainable as a place for people to live. It’s impractical and the conditions there are atrocious. If they can’t be integrated into one of the other communities, and make the factory a place of work only, then they need to find a better place to live.
It’s hard to say where the story is going to go exactly from here, other than to assume this unrest will erupt into violence at some point soon. We’re rooting for genuine surprises and twists we can’t see coming a mile away. We’ve been promised more deaths along the way. `
Gregory was a good one, even if it was overdue by a year or more, but its time to shock us and perhaps break our hearts again. There are just way too many people on this show and everyone is starting to feel pretty safe. And to keep it interesting, make it someone other than Rick or Maggie, because we know they’re leaving.
Season 9 of "The Walking Dead" continues on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.
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