SERIES 9; EPISODE 1
So The Walking Dead returned to our screens last night – and although the Rick Grimes shaped cat was let out of the bag months ago, the premiere reminded us that there are a lot of other players and storylines to pay attention to. The Walking Dead has always been something of an ensemble cast (more so in the last few series especially) but we can expect some of the regulars, like Carol, Daryl and Michonne to fill the void that Rick will leave when he departs in a few episodes time. Details of the exact nature of his departure are still under wraps and at this point there seems like little point trying to guess how it will all unfold. All we can hope for is that his impending exit doesn't get in the way of other stuff. The ratings seem to suggest that Andrew Lincoln's decision to leave the show might have had a rather sizeable effect on how much hunger there is for another season. Down 20% on last year's premiere episode, new showrunner Angela Kang sure has her work cut out if she is to revive the fortunes of what was once the biggest and best show around.
It's established pretty early on that things have moved on about 18 months since the end of series 8. Jumping ahead in time is actually a sensible idea and allows for some interesting developments and relationships to have established – as well as providing a chance for a slightly different tone and atmosphere.
So what has happened since we were last with the gang? Negan is still stewing in prison – and continues to be a source of conflict between several of the group. Maggie obviously wants him dead (and still refuses to visit Alexandria due to his presence there) whilst Rick and Michonne are keen to honour Carl's legacy and keep him confined. It's a situation that is only going to worsen and you can already tell that more than harsh words will be exchanged in this battle of wills.
Carol and Ezekiel are now a thing. I have to say this is not something I had ever really considered but my initial reaction wasn't one of dismay and disbelief, something about it makes sense and as Daryl says later on, if anyone deserves a bit of happiness, it's Carol. Daryl himself is conflicted over what is happening within and between the communities. He's been acting as viceroy of the Sanctuary since the overthrow of Negan and although the former saviours seemed to be playing ball, Daryl clearly loathes the place and the people who reside there. He'd much rather be with Maggie, who has FINALLY given birth. Seriously, I was half expecting her to still be pregnant, despite the 18 month leap forward in time. But the baby is called Hershel, so that's cool. Maggie is having problem of her own – namely in the form of Gregory, who ruthlessly attempts to exploit the death of a young guy who was killed whilst out with Maggie and Rick and some of the others when they were trying to scavenge farming equipment at the start of the episode. After Maggie is attacked by the young guy's angry drunk father, she confronts Gregory who not only confirms he was behind it, but then tries to stab her. Of course, there's no way Mags is falling for a little stunt like that and she soon overpowers him.
What follows though is something that will probably divide audiences as much as it divides our central characters. Gregory's public hanging, whilst sort of justified, feels like the beginning of a dark and turbulent journey for Maggie – and one which will pit her against Rick and Michonne in particular. After all they have been through fighting Negan, you'd think that in-fighting would be the last thing that they would want to do – but here we are. I can't be the only one who felt a little frustrated by Gregory's botched attempts to off Maggie though surely? Gregory has always been a snake but he is a coward and always tries his best to live another day. His brash, foolish scheming and attempts to murder Maggie in his own house just seem a trifle out of character to me. Almost too brave and foolhardy. I get that his downfall had to come sooner or later but the way it was done just felt a little rushed.
Saying that though I thought that generally this was a solid episode. The opening sequence in the museum was a lot of fun and even though we are only one episode in, it felt a little different. The walkers took centre stage in several scenes and we got less of the artsy dramatic bravura that was so prevalent in series 8 and more gritty horror western stuff which The Walking Dead was so good at in its infancy. Fingers crossed things will continue in this vein and Kang can continue to mix things up a little bit more in the next episode. There might still be life left in the series yet...