Angela Kang came in with a bang in her first outing as the showrunner for “The Walking Dead.”
The Season 9 premiere was an impressive mix of action, horror, comedy, and genuine emotion, hearkening back to some of the best episodes in the show’s history.
The premiere opens with a quick look at Alexandria, Hilltop, and the Sanctuary, which are all more built up after the time jump from the Season 8 finale. People are now riding on horseback due to the increasing scarcity of gasoline, while Alexandria has lined its streets with solar panels. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) spend some time with Judith, while Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt) work on producing corn ethanol fuel at the Sanctuary.
Rick then leads a group into the ruins of Washington D.C. with the hopes of scavenging materials from a museum like an antique plow, a canoe, and a covered wagon. Once inside, Anne, a.k.a. Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh), leads the group to a stockpile of seeds kept in the museum, which she learned about back when she was a teacher. Later, Carol (Melissa McBride), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), and Michonne discuss the fact that Maggie was elected as the leader of Hilltop, officially ousting Gregory (Xander Berkeley). Michonne is also temporarily stunned when she sees a display about the U.S. Constitution, hinting at her desire to establish a system of laws between the now allied communities.
This also marks one of the first times all three women have been together onscreen for some time. According to Kang, she and the writers tried to think of ways to get characters who had had limited interactions in recent seasons back in contact with each other.
“Because we have these really strong women characters…we had the opportunity to really delve into some of these stories and play combinations of characters that we haven’t seen very much,” Kang said at a press event ahead of the premiere. “We realized Michonne and Maggie don’t have a lot of stuff together in past seasons, or Michonne and Carol. We really wanted to see how they interact now that they’ve all risen to a place of strength and leadership.”
The group then tries to carefully remove the wagon from the museum, which is complicated by its enormous size and the fact they have to carefully get it across a glass floor, underneath which is a large number of walkers. They manage to get it across, but Ezekiel (Khary Payton) falls through the floor when carrying the plow with Carol. A rope tied around his waist keeps him from falling all the way down, but the walkers immediately start nipping at his heels. He does his best to fight them off as the others pull him up to safety. Once back topside, Ezekiel and Carol embrace and share a kiss.
The group rides out of town, at which point Ezekiel proposes to Carol. She tells him to put the ring away, and he promises to hang on to it until she is ready. On the road ahead, the group discovers that a bridge has collapsed under the weight of a walker herd that came through. They are forced to take an alternate route, on which the wagon gets stuck in mud. As they struggle to get it free, walkers descend on them. They load the canoe and plow into the wagon and start to run, but Ken, the son of Hilltop’s blacksmith, cannot leave the horses to be killed. He runs back to free them, only to get bitten by a walker and then kicked by the horse he was trying to save (not cool, horse. Not cool). In the process, the plow gets thrown from the wagon and destroyed.
Maggie returns to Hilltop and tells the boy’s parents–Tammy (Brett Butler) and Earl (John Finn)–about what happened on the run. Tammy breaks down and blames Maggie for what happened, while Earl shuffles quietly out of the room. Tammy proceeds to blame the Saviors for taking many of the resources produced by Hilltop, leading Maggie to question how she is to lead the community.
At a funeral for Ken–which Tammy said Maggie is not welcome to attend–Gregory gives a speech in which he praises Ken for helping to keep Hilltop alive. He then offers a bottle of alcohol to Tammy and Earl, but Earl is a recovering alcoholic and refuses. Tammy takes a drink, and Earl ends up carrying her to bed. Gregory follows them into their house, where he proceeds to get Earl drunk and riles him up, blaming Maggie for his son’s death and casts doubt on the results of the election.
Rick arrives at the Sanctuary, where he promises to give the community all it needs to survive and flourish. But Michonne spots some graffiti on the wall that reads “Saviors Save Us! We Are Still Negan.” Daryl says such graffiti has been appearing more and more since the crops have failed to grow at the Sanctuary. Daryl then pulls Rick aside and tells him he will not lead the Sanctuary anymore, and that things have only gotten worse since the original group split up among all the different communities. This moment, coupled with a brief scene Daryl had earlier in the museum, represent the most the character has spoken in quite a while. According to Reedus, fans can expect quite a bit more of this from Daryl as the season goes on.
“You’ll definitely get to know Daryl better,” he said. “I’m talking all the time. I didn’t really talk the last two seasons…And you’ll be very proud of him. I think the old Daryl that started the show with a chip on his shoulder, I think that’s gone away. He’s not going to be Rick but you get to know a lot about him.”
Daryl and Maggie then share a moment outside the Sanctuary, where he tells her he approves of her relationship with Ezekiel. Carol then offers to take over for Daryl at the Sanctuary, both to help him and to give herself time to think about Ezekiel’s proposal.
At Alexandria, Rick and Michonne get into bed, where she tells him that the communities need to establish a charter in order to govern themselves more effectively.
“She was thinking further and she’s thinking further right now about how we create order and stability for our childrens’ children,” Gurira said. “We as women think about whose shoulders we stand on and making our shoulders strong enough for those coming after us to stand on. That’s how we think. We’re a link in a chain.”
Back at Hilltop, Maggie takes a walk with her son. Gregory stops her and says that someone has defaced Glenn’s grave. When she goes to investigate, a very drunk Earl attacks her, but people rush to her aid. Maggie storms into Gregory’s quarters, accusing him of trying to have her killed. He pulls a knife on her, but she manages to subdue him.
Rick, Michonne, and Daryl travel to Hilltop. Maggie and Rick speak, where he asks her and Hilltop to again provide the Sanctuary with additional food. Maggie agrees, but only if the Sanctuary provides most of the labor to repair the broken bridge and send over the corn fuel they’ve been making.
That night, we see that Maggie, in front of the whole community, has Gregory sitting on horseback with a noose around his neck, the other end tied to the beam of a building under construction. She gives Daryl a signal and he smacks the horse’s rear end. It runs off, leaving Gregory to die by hanging.