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The Walking Dead - A New Beginning - Review

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The Walking Dead returned for season nine with “A New Beginning” written by Angela Kang and directed by Greg Nicotero. With a new showrunner it really felt like a new beginning. I found the episode pretty boring to be honest, and unfortunately, with the worst ratings since season two, it seems like the impeding exodus of Andrew Lincoln (Rick) is actually going to be an ending for the show. And of course, Lauren Cohen (Maggie) is also moving on to another show – even as Maggie moves up into a leadership role…

As the episode opens, we get a voiceover from Rick talking about rebuilding the communities and we get a montage showcasing exactly that. There’s a sweet little scene with happy family Rick, Michonne (Danai Gurira), and Judith. There’s a sense of foreboding, however, as they are surrounding by a flock of crows… that we then see on the seriously desiccated crops of the Sanctuary. Did anyone really think anything could grow there?

Daryl (Norman Reedus) is in charge of the Sanctuary and it seems that Laura (Lindsley Register) is now his number two. He stops two of the people there from hanging a walker as a scarecrow – ala Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

They’ve clearly developed a good communication system – using Negan’s walkie talkie system. There’s a nice scene between Jesus (Tom Payne) and Aaron (Ross Marquand) – both of whom, I’d hoped to see more of. Jesus takes the walkers down with a kick to the face while Aaron kills them with a pointy staff – ala Morgan (who is missed too). Aaron asks for lessons, and Jesus invites him the class he teaches at the Hilltop.

Most people are now on horseback – except for Daryl as the Sanctuary is making gas out of the corn – under Eugene’s (Josh McDermitt) direction, of course! I’m sure that this is mostly because Reedus is not a rider and really not too fond of horses! We get a nice gathering of all our regulars as they band together to raid the museum in Washington for supplies – plows and seeds. I have to admit that I didn’t recognize Enid (Katelyn Nacon) at first. She’s dressing exactly as Rosita (Christian Serratos) used to dress. We don’t really get enough of her to determine how she’s changed during the time that has passed since the finale, but I expect her to be somewhere where Rosita was when we were first introduced to her – focused on the mission and holding others at bay.

The raid on the museum has some nice moments – I liked Michonne and Rick taking out the walkers from horseback like medieval knights. Did anyone see that glass floor and NOT think someone was going through it? Just a bit too obvious. There’s a nice shot of Anne (formerly Jadis – Polly McIntosh) looking longingly at the banner for Fine Art. Indeed, most of them find something from the past that really speaks to them. We also see that the walkers are getting more and more desiccated. I did like the shot of the walkers below the glass walking over a map of the US with “Manifest Destiny” behind them – a nice little political nod on the part of the show.

I was definitely expecting we were about to lose Siddiq (Avi Nash) – or he was about to lose a leg. When Rick and Enid save him, he seems like he’s a lot more freaked out about the spiders than the walker! It’s a nice little moment of humor, especially the look between Rick and Enid.

Gabriel is amused by an installation for Evolution – “intelligent design” – that has a walker impaled where a modern human should be – it’s really the same comment as with the walkers taking over Manifest Destiny – the perversion of progress or the ultimate result of corruption if you’d rather. Anne stops and likes it too. It’s the ultimate installation art! “The de-evolution of man.”

There’s a nice moment between Daryl and Cyndie (Sydney Park). He offers to help her with a canoe – definitely useful for Oceanside. He asks her if she’s alright and she tells him she’s thinking about a fight she had with her brother in a canoe ride at the county fair. She asks if he gets random memories like that. He tells her that most of his memories with his brother, they’re fighting – but they aren’t happy memories. It’s a nice reminder of how far Daryl has come – he remembers his friends that fought with him that wanted to be there but didn’t make it – those are his family. He admits that the random memories happen to him too. Daryl’s confiding in Cyndie is also a sign of how far he’s come.

The entire mission was Anne’s idea! She remembered that the museum stored the heirloom seeds which she’d been told about when she brought her class there on a school trip. So we learn that she was a teacher. They take the opportunity to take another wagon and plows that their blacksmith can use as a blueprint to make more.

We learn that Gregory (Xander Berkeley) actually called for an election – which Maggie won. Carol (Melissa McBride) asks how he’s taking the loss. Maggie says he’s being weirdly friendly – but did anyone trust this? Michonne scoffs – “The re-birth of democracy. By THAT guy.” Carol mentions that she lives with a King! And at that moment, it might just have meant that she was living at the Kingdom still, but it becomes very clear that she and Ezekiel (Khary Payton) are actually together! Yeah! I love this pairing, and I really hope that with all the other losses we are about to have, they at least differ from the comics here… Maggie comments that having a King works for the Kingdom, and Carol agrees that the people seem to like it, but there’s something about a vote.

Michonne’s eye is caught by a display about “A More Perfect Union.” Again, the politics are a bit on the nose here. There’s a bloody handprint smeared on the Civil War. Michonne tells Maggie that she’s glad that she won her election – and Maggie says she’s glad she grew up on a farm.

Naturally, the glass floor starts cracking as they pull the wagon over it, weakened by the walker that fell several stories onto it when they arrived. It would seem logical to walk only on the girders visible under the glass and to take the shortest route with as few people on the glass at a time as possible – but of course they don’t do this – and the rope holding Ezekiel over the walkers starts to fray as they pull him up after he falls through. It’s mostly worth it for the hug and kiss between Ezekiel and Carol, however. We get some nice shots of a desiccated Washington as the group leaves.

Honestly, one of my favorite parts of this episode was the commercials with Michael Cudlitz and Josh McDermitt hawking a video game…

Daryl throwing spears from his motorcycle – and picking it back up again, was amazing.

My other favorite scene was Ezekiel proposing to Carol – even if she refuses to say no, especially after him almost dying. She makes a lame excuse about the ring snagging on everything – but it seems like she’s weakening a bit by the end of the scene. For his part, Ezekiel isn’t deterred and simply says he’ll keep it for now and that he’ll always love her.

Of course the trip home results in one of the wagons getting bogged down in the mud when they have to take an alternate route because the bridge is out – we’d seen it earlier when Daryl crossed and it had a huge hole in it. Maggie insists that she needs to get back to the Hilltop – because of Hershel. AW – she named the baby after Hershel. This was particularly poignant as Scott Wilson, who played Hershel, died the day that the episode aired. The show was still able to dedicate the episode to him.

For once, someone saves a horse – so I was sad to see Ken (AJ Achinger) have to die for it. Of course, just like Star Trek’s red suits, you know anyone that you don’t know on a run is likely walker-fodder… I was a bit sad that it was less losing his arm than the fact that the horse kicked him and caved in his chest that kills him. Mind you, having had horses almost my entire life, I can tell you I’ve seen people survive much worse kicks…

Ken’s parents, Tammy (Brett Butler) and Earl (John Finn) don’t take the news well. We learn that all is not rosy at Hilltop. Tammy calls Maggie on sending all their supplies to the Sanctuary – Ken died for nothing but an old plow. Earl tries to get her to calm down, but Tammy tells her that she’s not welcome at the funeral. Tammy admits that Gregory is a scoundrel, but he does always put the Hilltop first.

Alden (Callan McAuliffe) sings at Ken’s funeral – and it’s wonderful! He sings a celtic song based on a poem: “’Tis the Last Rose of Summer.” The last line resonates well with the show: “who would inhabit/ This bleak world alone.” It underscores the necessity of the survivors working together, forming new families when they have to.

Back at the Sanctuary, Rick is hailed as a hero. Eugene has been in charge while Daryl gone. Laura wants Daryl to let everyone know that they’ve had a good haul of supplies. Daryl refuses to get “on a stage” like Negan. Michonne is disturbed when she sees someone has left graffiti on the wall: “Saviors save us! We are still Negan.” Clearly, people at the Sanctuary aren’t entirely happy either. When Daryl tells Justin (Zach McGowan) to paint over it, he gets a less than enthusiastic and sulky response – do we have a new Jared? You might recognize McGowan from his recurring role on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Back at the Hilltop, Tammy and Earl have actually asked Gregory to speak at the funeral – and he’s clearly still campaigning… However, Jesus tells him his words were beautiful. Gregory says he’s just grateful for where he is – but even Jesus looks skeptical. And he immediately starts to put a plan in place. He offers Earl – a recovering alcoholic – a drink. He refuses it at first, but once Earl puts Tammy to bed, Gregory moves in to pick off the low-hanging fruit.

Daryl tells Rick that he doesn’t feel right being trapped behind the walls of the Sanctuary – he feels like he’s a prisoner. Daryl insists that he’s better “out there.” He also tells Rick that nothing grows at the Sanctuary – it’s a factory. Rick again points out where Negan was right – the Sanctuary needed others to support it. Rick insists that it’s different because people give willingly. Daryl points out that that can’t last – and we’ve already seen it starting to unravel at Hilltop. Rick insists they just need to stick together. But Daryl points out that they aren’t together anymore – their little group who could do anything are scattered all over now.

Rick invites him back “home” to Alexandria, but Daryl insists that he’ll go to Hilltop to be with Maggie and the baby. Rick tells Daryl he could use his help in Alexandria. Rick tells him they aren’t together because things have changed, and Daryl tells Rick it’s because Rick changed them – he clearly blames Rick. Carol overhears and is ready to step in and try to make things right in the “family” by offering to take over the Sanctuary. It’s also a way for her to take a step back from Ezekiel.

Carol joins Daryl on the loading dock. He offers her his cigarette, and it’s a nice indication of how she’s changed when she butts it out and tells him it’ll kill him. She’s worried about dying. I loved Daryl asking if Ezekiel – who sleeps like a baby – snores fancy too. Daryl is happy for her. It’s a great scene between McBride and Reedus. He confesses that he misses seeing her. Carol offers to take over for Daryl. He asks if she’s going to bring Henry and the King, but she has told him yet. She tells Daryl about the proposal – and she confesses that part of her wanted to say yes! She wants to continue to help, to take her time. She’s clearly still trying to keep her distance – and it’s clearly not working. Daryl offers to stay with her, but she tells him no – and then cuddles up with him as both can’t sleep – too used to being on watch over those they love and are afraid to lose.

There’s a nice link to the last episode as we see Rick’s reflection in a mirror as he gets ready to get into bed with Michonne. She teases him about being the “famous Rick Grimes.” Michonne has seen the unrest. She wonders if they did the right thing. Maybe they should have killed Negan. Rick insists that killing Negan wouldn’t change anything that was happening. Michonne suggests that maybe it’s time they had an agreement about how to act and what happens if people don’t act according to the agreement.

Rick tells her that Daryl isn’t happy. She points out that Daryl cares, and Rick agrees – but sometimes Daryl cares too much. Michonne and Rick both know Daryl and care about him and she is ready to trust that if Daryl is worried they should pay attention. Rick wants to focus on rebuilding the bridge – and Michonne will focus on getting everyone to agree to a Charter – not a Constitution. It’s another nice nod to the current breakdown in American politics. Both of their activities will focus on pulling the communities back together. Rick wonders how he got so lucky to find her, and Michonne says they’d lost enough – it was time for them to win a bit.

Gregory pores hatred for Maggie into Evan’s ears as he pours whiskey down his throat. Then Gregory plants the seed to send Maggie to Glen’s grave – and if you didn’t already hate Gregory, he also endangers the baby! Enid comes to her rescue, but it’s Alden and Cyndie who save her from a drunk Evan trying to kill her. Enid is slammed into a rock – and the next time we see her she’s in a wheelchair, so I wonder how badly she is hurt?

Maggie is far from stupid and immediately confronts Gregory. Typically, he tries to feign innocence, but it’s too late for that. Maggie is done putting up with all the “stupid shit” that he’s done, however. He’s her Negan in many ways. Gregory isn’t entirely stupid, however. He knows people well enough to know how to manipulate them. He knows that Maggie won’t go back to Alexandria because Negan is there – and isn’t that at least part of the reason why Daryl won’t go either? Gregory makes one more play to try to kill Maggie, but she overpowers him – stopping short of just cutting his throat.

Carol says goodbye to Ezekiel, telling him she’ll see him soon and to give Henry a kiss from her. She insists that she’s not running away – she just wants to help her friends who need her. She insists that she has a home that she wants to get back to – and he tells her that he’ll be content to move at her speed – “the waiting is such sweet sorrow” – really. Who wouldn’t fall for that?

Daryl, Michonne, and Rick arrive at Hilltop and the first thing they see is Maggie’s bruised face. We get a terrific scene over Hershel – who Maggie describes lovingly as “a little stinker” – and Rick says is “just perfect.” Rick invites her to visit Alexandria – Judith remembers her and would like to see her, but Maggie can’t. Rick is ready to put the real reason for his visit off to another time, but she insists.

Rick asks for her help in fixing the bridge. He points out that Hilltop is thriving because of her and she’s been generous. She tells him that if her people want to work on the bridge, she won’t stop them, but she’s done giving supplies and getting nothing back. She wants the Sanctuary to supply all the labor for the bridge and to give her all the fuel they’ve made from the dead corn. Rick tells her that the Sanctuary is barely holding on and they are obliged to help them. Maggie asks why. They surrendered and they didn’t kill them.

Maggie reminds Rick that when they defeated the Saviors, he said he’d follow her. She admits that she wasn’t someone to follow then – but she is now – and it changes now. She tells him that it will be dark soon and it’s time to put the children to bed. It’s a nice way of saying that their age of innocence, the time when things were good, is drawing to a close. It’s time for the adults to act and make the hard decisions.

After dark, Maggie gets to work – she doesn’t want the children to see. She tells the crowd that she doesn’t want to do this – but at Hilltop, people have to know that the punishment fits the crime. Evan is tied up, but Gregory is finally going to have to pay for his actions. Maggie is prepared to hang him ala the old west – off the back of a horse. It's also a nice link back to Manifest Destiny from earlier - and the need for that Charter. Really, hanging this way is not at all humane as he’ll suffocate rather than snapping his neck and dying instantly – which also didn’t happen every time even with a drop hanging.

Gregory accuses her of being ashamed and doing it in the dead of night, but she’s not ashamed. Naturally, Daryl is her executioner and slaps the horse out from under him. Rick and Michonne are there and Michonne tries to stop it when she sees two of the children show up. Rick stops her – clearly respecting Maggie’s right as leader of the community to make the decision. Jesus is clearly disturbed by Gregory’s suffering. Maggie tells them that she made the decision, but she doesn’t want to have to do it again.

This definitely felt like a new beginning for the show with a really different feel to the episode. Like Daryl, I really hate seeing our core characters suddenly be the antagonists for each other. Overall, I liked the episode a bit better on second viewing. It was nice to see Carol actually on the verge of being happy, but seeing how hardened Maggie has become was a lot less satisfying. Norman Reedus had more to do than he has for a while and stepped up to deliver a solid performance. It’s clear the show is relying on Reedus to really step into the star role after Lincoln and Cohen bow out at the end of the first half of the season. Did you watch? Just pop in for the re-cap here? If you did watch, what did you think? If you didn’t watch, why not – and will you come back to the show? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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