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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

[RECAP] Season 9, Episode 1 of The Walking Dead, "A New Beginning" - SEASON PREMIERE

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By Carolina Gallardo (@carolgallardo)

By the end of the season nine premiere of The Walking Dead, Maggie Greene made a statement to the people of Hilltop and Alexandria and, in turn, new showrunner Angela Kang made her own definitive statement to the audience at large: This was going to be a very different kind of Walking Dead and it's never felt more exciting and reinvigorated.  Not only was this a fun episode to watch that called back to the good old days of the show, but it was also an episode with very little filler and a lot of substance, something we've been sourly needing for some time.

The very beginning of the episode gives us a brief synopsis of the conflict and eventual war with The Saviors, in the form of Rick recounting what occurred, almost as if he's explaining to a newcomer what happened.  We then join Alexandria, sometime in the near future (based on Maggie's baby and Judith, one can infer that perhaps 1.5 to 2 years has passed).  We see that society, more specifically Alexandria, has been rebuilt, it has been rebuilt with the resources now available, as well as with the guidance of Georgie's "Key to the Future" manuscript (remember that?).  We see that the wooden gates of Alexandria are made of spiked logs, there are solar panels being employed and there's of course, the infamous windmill.  And older Rick, Michonne and Judith seem to be living comfortably as they take in their new society with a relaxed happiness that hasn't been seen in some time.

At the same time, back at The Sanctuary, they do not seem to be fairing as well as at Alexandria.  We see that Eugene seems to have set up his post here, along with Daryl as they work to create fuel from the corn crops in the fields.  This is all in anticipation of a supply run in Washington DC proper that allows us to see various members of the different communities united at one time in order to pull off this ambitious feat.

Something to note in this episode that was a welcome change from previous seasons was that rather than segmenting story lines into episodes about SPECIFIC characters (otherwise known as "bottle" episodes), we get to see almost ALL our main characters in this ONE episode.  Obviously on a show where the cast has become much larger than the original group, this is not always simple to do, but the manner in which it was done in this episode was effective and effortless (at least in how it came off to the viewer).

In any case, we finally get to see our crew leave Alexandria and finally tackle a decaying Washington DC proper, with a decomposing Capitol Building and Washington Monument in the backdrop.  Our crew's goal is to pull some much needed supplies and tools from the Museum of Natural History in order to "Learn from the past to inform our present", a reoccurring theme in this episode.  Before entering the museum, however, we get to live vicariously through Rick and Michonne as they take out some Walker Senators, one still in suit and tie.

Not to get too political or anything, but in today's current political climate, that scene was downright therapeutic.  Am I right?

Eventually, Rick and team enter the building, separating into smaller groups, each group with its marching orders on what to find in the museum.  The main items on their list seem to be seeds, canoes, wagon and a plow.  During their exploration, we find out some curious little tidbits of information such as that Anne/Jadis (now going by Anne) was a teacher before the apocalypse; We hear Daryl have an actual conversation!  I, for one, almost forgot what his voice sounded like!  And finally, we learn that a formal election was held at The Hilltop and Maggie was officially voted as the leader, over Gregory.  It's during this time that we see Michonne gaze at a museum display related to the Civil War labeled, "A More Perfect Union".  Fitting, no? 

There's also a fun scene where Father Gabriel kills a walker by a wall mural that's supposed show the evolution of man.  Anne/Jadis jokingly comments how this is now an art exhibit for the De-Evolution of Man.  Ha.

The tension starts up when our team all work together to try and get all of the items on their list down the stone steps and over a glass trellis floor leading to the exit out of the museum.  If that weren't bad enough, the area underneath the glass floor is full of walkers in an area of the museum fittingly entitled "Manifest Destiny".  Most of these items are clearly incredibly heavy and our team has wrapped rope around each person's waist to keep them connected and to provide some additional girth and strength in pulling each piece across the floor.  As they go back and forth over the floor, we start to see cracks developing on the glass, adding to the tension of the scene.  Just when we think our crew was able to just make it, the floor shatters and King Ezekiel throws up the canoe and falls into the lower area, hanging over the horde of hungry walkers below.  Luckily, the rope pulley system is able to pull him up, over and back into safety...and into an embrace from Carol.  Well, that's one romantic relationship confirmed.

Our crew then heads out and back to Alexandria, with their new tools and supplies in tow, with Daryl paving the way and taking out any walkers that cross their path.  During this trip back, we meet some newcomers to our group (most notably the blacksmith's son, Ken) and even witness a proposal from Ezekiel to Carol (which Carol turns down, in typical Carol fashion).  Eventually, they come across Rosita who informs them that the bridge is completely out and they will need to find an alternative route of getting back.  At this point in time, it appears that they have developed a sort of system of passageways that they have labeled Route A, B, C, D, etc.  Regardless, Rick, as per usual, dictates the best course of action, something that Maggie seems to not entirely agree with but goes along with, as per usual.

In the course of this new direction, the group encounters a deep area of mud that causes the wagon to get stuck, to a point that the horses struggle to be able to pull the wagon.  Rick and crew all get out and start to work to push it over and through the mud, not realizing that a horde of walkers have started to meander toward them.  They get the wagon out of the mud just in time, however now they need to fight off the walkers that have descended upon them.  Michonne and Daryl get to work to start taking them down (Daryl now with not only a cross bow but some fun, fancy knife work as well).  Unfortunately, in the midst of all the chaos, the plow falls and breaks and young Ken is bitten by a walker and we are given the impression that his infected arm was cut off, in an attempt to save him.  Alas, it is to no avail, and he passes away, as Maggie tearfully kneels in front of him and finally stabs him in the head.

We see then that a part of group, specifically Rick, Daryl, Carol & Ezekiel enter The Sanctuary to meet with the now subjugated Saviors.  The relationship between Rick and The Saviors is still a very delicate one, as evidenced by those that are vocally appreciative of Rick's willingness to help them with food and supplies...but also by graffiti on the wall stating "Saviors Save Us; We are Still Negan".  At the sight of these words, Daryl immediately orders that the words are painted over and stares disapprovingly as Rick essentially makes nice with The Saviors.  The two longtime friends then have a private moment where Daryl confidentially tells Rick that he is not comfortable being at The Sanctuary at all and feels that he is more useful outside in the woods (Ah Daryl, ever the feral cat).  As much as Rick has high hopes that they can forge "a more perfect union" with The Saviors, Daryl has his doubts, pointing out that this location is a factory and nothing HAS been able to grow there, which is why Negan had people GIVE him things.  After some talking (if you can imagine, Daryl actually having a conversation!), Daryl states that he'll be joining Maggie and the baby at The Hilltop instead (a bit of a slap in the face to Rick).  Afterward, we see that Carol overhead this conversation and she will end up taking up Daryl's post at The Sanctuary, giving her some space from Ezekiel.

Later we learn that Ken was a member of Hilltop, shedding light on why Maggie specifically took his death so much to heart.  As elected leader, this young life was lost on her watch and she takes it upon herself to sit with Ken's parents and explain to them what exactly happened.  As any parents would react after losing their child, they are angry and heartbroken at what they see as the fruitless death of their young son.  A remorseful Maggie offers to hold a funeral service for their son which they tearfully accept, but not without the bitter resentment of what has befallen them.  In a statement that likely speaks for many at The Hilltop, Ken's mother Tammy states "My son is dead, your son has no father and the Saviors eat our food".  Yikes.

A funeral is eventually held in honor of Ken, with Gregory giving what appears to be heartfelt eulogy.  Jesus himself even comments on what he feels is his authenticity.  We end up seeing that it was all a farce and that Gregory was just positioning himself in a sympathetic position to appeal to Ken's parents.  He then proceeds to liquor up his parents and convince specifically Ken's father that his son's death was all the fault of Maggie and that if he was still in control, this all could have potentially been avoided...but there is still a way out of all this.

In what is arguably the most climatic part of the episode, we see Maggie, still heavily burdened with the death of Ken, taking baby Hershel for an evening walk in his stroller.  Gregory runs into her and comments to her that while burying Ken, they noticed that perhaps accidentally, Glenn's grave was defaced.  This of course strikes a chord with Maggie, who proceeds to walk to the grave, stroller in hand.  It's at this point that we see a dark cloaked figure come out of the darkness and tip over the stroller, sending a screaming, wailing baby to the floor, and begin to viciously attack Maggie.  The combination of the baby helpless on the floor screaming and the fighting between Maggie and this assailant raises the level of horror, fear and tension to another level (maybe because I'm a mom?).  Maggie fights back with every inch of her life and at the sound of all the ruckus, Enid comes running only to be thrown to the side and to the floor.  Finally Jesus arrives with Alden in tow and they are able to hold down the figure who is revealed to be Ken's father.

After tending to Hershel, Maggie immediately goes to Gregory's quarters, fully aware that he was the one that orchestrated this assault.  At first he tries to discount her words because of her obvious head injury but as she angrily presses on, he ends up admitting to what he did and what's more, attempts to stab her himself, only to be overpowered by her and having the knife now turned on him.

In the cold light of day, Rick, Michonne and Daryl visit The Hilltop, primarily for Rick to discuss with Maggie the idea of using resources to rebuild the bridge and also borrowing food and supplies to tide over the Saviors for the time being until they can grow viable crops.  They are shocked to see Maggie's black and blue face, but her recent assault seems to be the last thing she wants to discuss.  With that in mind, Rick begins to discuss with her his plans and the things that he needs from her but Maggie has very clear terms: Labor is fine, Food is fine...but supplies will only be granted if the Saviors give up all their fuel and provide most of the labor needed for the bridge.  Rick implores Maggie to be more generous with them but she is firm in her stance that they lost the war and these are the repercussions.  Damn.  She also makes a point that she cannot solve their problems when she has her own problems here that she needs to figure out.  No handouts here from Maggie Rhee, clearly.

She then states what we have been seeing repeatedly in the trailer which is that Rick chose not to listen to her back when they defeated the Saviors but that all changes now.  Maggie then states that it's getting dark and it's time to put the kids to bed.  And we end up seeing for good reason.

It is now nightfall, and we see there is a large ominous gathering outside at the Hilltop (with Rick, Michonne and Daryl present), all with sullen faces and torches.  Maggie makes it clear that she doesn't want to have to do this but at the Hilltop "the punishment fits the crime".  She then turns and asks someone if they have any last words.  We then see that she is referring to Gregory, who has been positioned on a horse, with a noose around his neck, ready to be executed.  Gregory screams that they shouldn't do this and that she's only doing this at night because she's ashamed.  Maggie, unflinchingly, denies being scared and orders Daryl to proceed in pushing the horse, which he does to Michonne's horror because two children happened to run out just at this moment.  But it is far too late.  Gregory is promptly hung, as Maggie states for this to be a lesson to all and orders him to be cut down.  Damn Maggie.

Overall, this episode largely focused on what happens AFTER a war: How do we GOVERN?  How do we UNITE once divided factions into a contributing, functional society?  We have someone like Rick that takes on a benevolent, almost Socialist approach, ensuring that everyone's needs are met.  Then we have someone like Maggie who has a far more Authoritarian approach and believes that she needs to look out for the needs of her people FIRST, before she can solve the problems of others (particularly others that were once the oppressors).  Nowhere is their diverging styles more apparent then in their approach to Crime & Punishment: Negan murdered Glenn, Abraham and various others and was essentially granted life in prison; Gregory attempted first degree murder on Maggie and was immediately publicly executed as an example to all.

This new way of thinking about recreating a governing society in the backdrop of a wasteland is a captivating one, particularly when bearing in mind the natural human conflicts that occur when trying to form a "more perfect union".  The Walking Dead is heading into some uncharted territory for the first time in a long time and it is fascinating and exciting to watch again.  Maggie Rhee and Angela Kang have certainly made their point loud and clear to all.   


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