In Washington’s capitol building, half-dead figures stagger around looking for brains, a herd mentality as they go after anything that disturbs their routine in the dark and sinister shadows. But enough about the recent news cycle, let’s get to the opener for Season Nine of The Walking Dead… which also includes such a sequence as Rick and his growing band of survivors head into Washington DC to salvage equipment and resources that include wagons, seeds and ploughs.
It’s around eighteen months since Rick (Andrew Lincoln) defeated Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), but spared his life, much to the chagrin of many members of Rick’s team. Unseen for the episode – possibly to give some breathing space away from the dominating force of last year – Negan apparently languishes in solitary confinement but we’ll catch up with him soon enough. Elsewhere, there’s been some literal world-building as the various communities move forward in plans for both self-sufficiency and co-dependence, a network of groups working for a common good. Rick is seen as the architect of this new set-up but though he shoulders the responsibility, he’s wary of accepting that this is anything but a precarious status-quo. Maggie (Lauren Cohan) is now leader of the Hill, having to walk the line between standing firm against well-meaning plans Rick has that may impact her base but also facing subversion from within as Gregory goes all ‘Little Finger’ and plants seeds of doubt among the faithful – well, that’s not going to end well.
Dramas have to build things up before they are torn back down and essentially the season opener shows what is at stake and some of the slight cracks that are likely to become fault-lines as things progress. Daryl notes how simpler things were when they were a small group simply moving to survive instead of laying the foundations for something bigger. Perhaps that’s also a comment on the show, but had the show not evolved, it would likely have been buried before. You would have had to be hiding under a corpse to not be aware of the various cast departures that are imminently ahead of us in the latest run and that perhaps colours the perception of what we’re watching – but the idea of a transition to a bigger world and canvas and the needs to rebuild a kind of civilisation make a lot of sense. It would be impossible for a show built around rotting corpses to remain fresh and it’s the human dynamics that often make drama interesting. That being said, it has felt in recent seasons that the undead have been limited to background material and punctuation, so it’s good to see a few more in this episode.
Of course, there are human monsters as well and while there are a number of deaths of secondary characters here, there’s one notable death that many fans won’t be exactly mourning, but which does strike a more savage tone to the show… as the new ‘civilisation’ decides how to punish those who transgress. It’s cold, clinical and feels more like the Old West than a New Order. But there were some more sly and funny moments – Siddiq (Avi Nash) being more scared of spiders than zombies, Carol (Melissa McBride) calling Daryl (Norman Reedus) ‘Pookie’ and warning cigarettes would kill him and there was a nice background joke of an ‘Evolution of Man’ poster leading to a zombie was perhaps even better and more subtle before it was moved front and centre in case you missed it.
It’s a promising start to the new run under new showrunner Angela Kang, taking over from Scott Gimple – one which may not win back departed fans but should satiate those who have stuck around…
The Walking Dead is on AMC every Sunday and on FOX in the UK on Mondays…