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TV Review: The Walking Dead - Season 9, Episode 1

Season 9, Episode 1: A New Beginning

PLOT: The communities are trying to move on from all-out war, but there are leadership issues to deal with.

REVIEW: With new showrunner Angela Kang at the helm, the ninth season of AMC's The Walking Dead is the show's shot at redemption. A redemption that's going to be hard to achieve, with it set to lose its lead actor / character - Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes - somewhere within the first eight episodes. I wasn't feeling a lot of hope for the show's future after the frustrating disappointment of the eighth season, but I'm open to giving Kang and her crew a chance and would love to see The Walking Dead improve.

The season 9 premiere comes with the promise that it's "a new beginning" for the show, and it even features a literal new beginning, as a new title sequence has been created to reflect the current setting. We're years down the line from the start of the zombie apocalypse, eighteeen months have passed since the season 8 finale, and the characters are now living in a world where buildings and roadways are crumbling, nature is reclaiming property, dark rooms are lit by candlelight, and horses have replaced gas-powered vehicles as the primary mode of transportation. If season 1 was NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, we've now reached the DAY OF THE DEAD stage of the apocalypse - and there's even an homage to that film in this episode. A New Beginning was directed by special effects artist Greg Nicotero, who serves as an executive producer on The Walking Dead and got his film career started by working with George A. Romero and Tom Savini on DAY OF THE DEAD. The influence Romero had on him is evident in a sequence set in what remains of Washington D.C., which is very reminiscent of the first scenes in DAY.

As we catch up with the characters, we find that Alexandria community leader Rick has been living a happy domestic life Michonne (Danai Gurira) and his young daughter, Maggie (Lauren Cohan) has given birth to the child she had been pregnant with for multiple seasons and recently won an election to lead the Hilltop community, Carol (Melissa McBride) is officially in a relationship with Kingdom community leader Ezekiel (Khary Payton), Cyndie (Sydney Park) and the women of Oceanside are part of the community alliance, the Saviors are struggling to carry on without their former leader Negan, and Daryl (Norman Reedus)... well, he's still Daryl, but after growling his way through season 8 he has gone back to being able to speak full, coherent sentences. Which makes sense, because AMC reportedly wants Daryl to take over as the lead on this show in Rick's absence.

After an eventful trip into Washington D.C. to score some old supplies, A New Beginning shifts focus to the drama, and it's all about who leads the communities, who should lead them, and who wants to. It's an odd structure for the episode, because after a first half that's packed with zombie attacks and dangerous scenarios, most notably a scene that involves moving equipment across a cracking glass floor that gives a view of a whole lot of zombies waiting below for someone to go busting through (and someone does), we settle into a second half that's slow and talky. We find out what Daryl thinks about the community alliance and his part in it, we see former Hilltop leader Gregory (Xander Berkeley) scheming against Maggie, and we're introduced to Hilltop resident Tammy Rose, a grieving mother played by Brett Butler, who I grew up seeing on the sitcom Grace Under Fire. Butler is a stand-up comedian, but there's nothing funny about Tammy Rose.

There are some interesting things going on with the characters, but to start out with thrills and then segue into quiet conversation after quiet conversation made the second half of the episode feel like a slog to me. I did appreciate, to some degree, the amount of screen time given to Gregory in the second half, as I have always gotten enjoyment from watching this weasel at work... But his story was really played out at this point, and I think the Gregory situation was resolved in the correct way here.

A New Beginning was a middle-of-the-road, decent episode. I liked the first half, which proved that The Walking Dead can still be somewhat cool when it wants to be, but that second half was a drag that leaves me unable to stir up much enthusiasm for what might be coming next. The structure of this episode was not the best way to go with a season premiere. Front-loading the action was a mistake.

I'm rooting for The Walking Dead to become a show I can get completely wrapped up in again, but it didn't achieve that with this episode. 

BEST ZOMBIE MOMENT: A New Beginning contains an image that will be the ultimate nightmare fuel for some viewers: Siddiq (Avi Nash) comes face-to-face with a dried-out zombie that has a stream of spiders crawling out of its eyes, nose, and mouth.

GORY GLORY: There are no "Glenn's head" level gore effects in this season premiere, but some zombies do get their heads damaged - like when Rick and Michonne, riding on horseback, take out a couple of zombies with the use of a sword and a club weapon that looks like Rick's own version of Lucille.

FAVORITE SCENE: Cyndie and Daryl have a brief exchange about being stricken by memories of lost loved ones. Seeing that she's troubled, Daryl asks Cyndie if she's alright, and she replies that she was thinking of a fight she had with her brother. "It's funny, you know? How certain things just bring up random memories like that. Does it happen to you?" He says, "Most of the memories I got of my brother, we're fighting. But I had friends that fought with me. They wanted to be here. They didn't make it. So yeah, it happens to me." A nice, emotional moment, with a bonus Merle reference!

FINAL VERDICT
 

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