The Walking Dead recap: Someone to follow

Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee, Xander Berkeley as Gregory - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC
Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee, Xander Berkeley as Gregory - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC /

The Walking Dead Season 9 gets a much-needed boost from a time jump and opens on a world at odds on how to govern itself.

“Postpone organization as long as possible. It was organization that always seemed to be the problem. When the cells began to clump together and become dark.”

These words are from the final chapter of “The Stand”, Stephen King’s apocalypse opus. In many ways, that novel mirrors what has been happening throughout the last eight seasons of The Walking Dead. A supervirus takes over humanity, leaving the morally just to tangle with the forces of evil. But when evil is (temporarily) vanquished, and all is said and done, where does humanity go from here?

The Walking Dead Season 9 opener picks up the next chapter in human evolution by addressing the sticky process of rebuilding government after a period of relative peace. This central conflict differs from what we’ve seen so far on the show, putting an end to what I’m calling the “murder crisis” era, and moving into a time of restructuring.

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And, while Stephen King argued that government can be antithetical to rebuilding a peaceful society, our gang is surging forward with all sorts of blooming systems of governance. The structure seems to be occurring almost naturally. Under the guidance of King Ezekiel, the Kingdom is experimenting with an odd sort of monarchy. With their recent free election, the Hilltop has established a loose democracy, and Alexandria isn’t quite sure what it is yet. Meanwhile, the Sanctuary is a hot mess. Like a hyped up version of Model U.N., the immediate world of the show represents wildly disparate communities just fumbling through as they try to make something work with the resources at hand.

Yet, since our core gang is at the heart of each of these groups, we can trust and follow their complicated decisions in an intimate way that few other shows can deliver. If you’ve stuck with The Walking Dead this long, you’re here for the relationships. ::raises hand:: And in Season 9, the relationships seem to be taking a leap to the next level in humanity. Amidst all the government chatter, the premiere also delivered trademark tension, jump scares, and even featured an emotionally affective death. While there was a fair bit of tension sprinkled throughout the episode, most of the time spent with our heroes is focused on thoughtful discussions of politics and peace that require no action, but that propel the story forward all the same.

When we pick up with our old friends, a crack team of foragers is preparing to brave the streets of Washington D.C. This includes all our core faves. Michonne (Danai Gurira), Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Carol (Melissa McBride), and Daryl (Norman Reedus) are each there in all their glory, accompanied by the competent and loving people they’ve found along the way. Representatives from Oceanside, including Cyndie (Sydney Park) are there, as is Ann (Pollyanna MacIntosh). Ann’s integration into the group isn’t really discussed – she’s just kind of there. But she’s led the group to a museum with a helpful stash of post-apocalyptic goodies just sitting there for the taking.

The Walking Dead Season 9
Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Sydney Park as Cyndie, Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, Danai Gurira as Michonne, Khary Payton as Ezekiel, Sydney Park as Cyndie – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC /

This group knows how to survive. It’s deep in their bones. So when they encounter problems extracting some key merch from the building, they handle everything with stoic grace. As they move heavy equipment over a failing glass floor – with convenient walker-pit-of-doom visible below – cracks predictably start to appear in the surface. The grand setting of the museum lent the feel of a fun heist movie while the walker soup below churned up some delicious, old-fashioned Dead anxiety.

It’s the tensest game of Don’t Break the Ice in history as members of our team steadily work their way over the crumbling plexiglass. Ezekiel (Khary Payton) falls, but we all know he’s not going to die. The show knows it can’t possibly take any of our faves away from us because we know we’re losing Rick in just a few short episodes. And the future of the show depends a lot on some of these people to pick up the slack of such a beloved and central lead. What I’m saying is that we can’t lose Ezekiel. He’s the key to a successful future for the show. Hell, I’d watch a show JUST about Ezekiel and Carol leading and solving problems together over at the Kingdom.

Ultimately, they’re able to work together to shoplift what they need. They head out, leaving behind the crumbling jungle that was once our nation’s capitol. Given all the political discourse and dissent in the news over the past few weeks, it feels fitting that a long-running show about the end of the world would start to circle back to how best to govern and organize itself.

On the way back, they hit a roadblock, and rando dude Ken sacrifices himself in order to save his horse. It’s sweet but dumb. And, even though we had no clue who Ken was, his death was handled with a sensitive gravitas that got my all feels going. I may even have shed a tear. It’s been a long time since a death on The Walking Dead has made me feel anything but anxious frustration, and I fully credit this change in tone to new showrunner Angela Kang. Among other things, Kang has an uncanny knack for writing short-term characters whose loss is truly felt when they go. (See also: Every single one of the female Saviors in episode “The Same Boat.”) Ken’s death catalyzes the situation back at the Hilltop, and, of course, that rat bastard Gregory (Xander Berkeley) tries to use the death of a child as political leverage.

Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC
Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC /

Now, I’m no government major, but I’d think it would feel quite horrible to be a leader responsible for the loss of a life. Maggie brought Ken into the fray – he clearly wasn’t ready – and now she must carry that burden. Ken’s parents, Tammy and Earl, understandably grieving, lash out at Maggie, a convenient receptacle for their rage. Given a few days, their anger would have likely calmed down into a more depressive state of grief, but Gregory chooses to play devil to their worst impulses. He gets Earl to do his bidding and attempt to assassinate Maggie.

It’s a bad move because Maggie is a literal Wonder Woman in this new world. (Seriously, she’s a triple threat – a farmer, a badass, and a woman with revenge in her head and love in her heart.) With the help of a few Hilltoppers, she thwarts the assassination attempt and then single handedly bests Gregory in a knife fight. In Maggie we trust. Maggie is my chosen leader.

(P.S. Dear AMC, please don’t let Lauren Cohan slip through your fingers. Pay her whatever she wants. It will be worth every penny. Sincerely, Me.)

Just like with Game of Thrones, it’s great to see capable, focused, yet sometimes difficult women at the helm. Following Gregory’s lame and sinister attempt to knock her from power, Maggie gets mad. The man still calls her “Margaret” for goodness sake. He’s got to go. So, she makes a choice here that doesn’t jive with the tone of mercy Rick has already set when he imprisoned Negan. Like fellow female leader Daenerys Targaryen, Maggie doesn’t take any prisoners alive. They’re women who seek to swiftly and irrevocably deliver justice to those who’ve wronged them.

And whether or not this brand of justice is the “correct” one or not has yet to be seen. Will this action have any repercussions for Maggie? For Rick? For the new world they’re trying to create? Is there a correct way to create societies that harmonize instead of clash? It’s a complex process full of thorny moral complications that this show once excelled at addressing.

If The Walking Dead Season 9 opener is any indication, new showrunner Angela Kang is working her way back to real stories that matter – the narratives that occur inside our heads, between individuals, and now, with larger societies. I’m sure there will be some zombie gore along the way, but I’m not quite ready for a another Big Bad quite yet. If Kang continues on this path, we’ll hopefully get a stretch of episodes that explore the pacts made between humans in the name of peace… and how these societal agreements often go horribly wrong.

Next. 5 Reasons Why I Just Can't Quit The Walking Dead. dark

Random Thoughts Before I Go:

  • The Richonne moments in this episode warmed my soul and made me smile. But they also broke my dang heart. Rick is only on the show for a short period longer, and I honestly can’t imagine a world for Michonne that doesn’t include him. Aside from that, I don’t feel that Danai Gurira is long for the show due to the massive popularity of Okoye in the Marvel universe. (See: Insane prices on all Okoye Funko Pops.) These two have had such a fleeting time together, and as the end looms on the horizon, I’m finding myself preemptively grieving the loss.
  • That said, I think I do believe I could get behind the love triangle between Carol, Ezekiel, and Daryl as the new central core relationship of the series.
  • The new intro is beautiful and also heavily features crows, which is probably why I made the connection with “The Stand” in my mind. My well-worn copy features a neon purple crow on the front cover. It’s a pretty great cover.
  • The museum heist somehow reminded me of the second episode of the entire series where Andrea worries aloud about taking a small mermaid necklace from a department store in the middle of Atlanta. In a post-apocalyptic world, shoplifting isn’t a thing anymore (yet), but it’s still a thrill to watch the group take what they need from a setting where people are usually not allowed to touch anything at all.

‘The Walking Dead’ airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.