“A New Beginning” finds The Walking Dead in a promising place, but there wasn’t enough in the season premiere to convince that the old rot didn’t seep right through to the show’s foundations.
Between the eighth season of The Walking Dead and the fourth season of Fear the Walking Dead it has been inarguably proven that Scott Gimple is incompetent or evil or both. And in that case, good news! The ninth season of The Walking Dead has replaced him with Angela Kang, who… is someone different, which can only be an improvement. And “A New Beginning” was indeed an improvement over most of what we’ve seen from AMC’s zombie dramas over the last year or so, having fast-forwarded the setting by about 18 months, and rebuilt civilisation over conflicts that at the very least feel earned and organic.
And you know what – I’m still not convinced. Call me a cynic, but it takes a bit more than a colourful palette and some sensible human drama to win me over, especially considering that little of consequence actually happened in “A New Beginning” until right at the end, and the rest of it was fraught with the usual issues. The cast is still too big. The show still builds suspense and tension by having characters behave in nonsensical ways. I still mostly don’t care about anything that’s happening. But I’m willing to concede that with this new setup I eventually might, and that means the show is the best it has been for ages. (This is a bit like being the best-looking patient on the hospital burns unit.)
A lot of “A New Beginning” was devoted to reintroducing the various apocalyptic communities and reiterating the headspace of the major players. Rick – supported tirelessly by Michonne and mostly by Carol – is pretty suited to the idea that he has built an idyllic paradise, but others, most notably Daryl and Maggie, are unhappy with how the war with Negan and the subsequent embrace of the Saviours has forced them to compromise. They send them food and put up with their backchat, and Maggie must live day-to-day with the knowledge that the man who battered her husband to death has his feet kicked up just down the road.
This all makes a decent amount of sense to me, and whenever The Walking Dead is navigating this precarious peace, it’s pretty good. Not great or anything, but decent. Some of what happens in “A New Beginning” is cheap, stupidity-fuelled zombie business that just looks like last season through a slightly different lens. But then there’s a whole subplot involving Maggie’s democratically-elected governorship of Hilltop being challenged by Gregory, and that was quite effective. I must admit that I liked it mainly because it resulted in Gregory, an insufferable weasel, being hung from the neck until dead, but also because it raised a lot of interesting questions about apocalyptic governance. That kind of thing, you have to suspect, will provide most of the season’s conflict; not just who makes the decisions, but how those decisions are arrived at, and how they matter going forwards.
The question remains, though, if any of this is enough. We’ll see.