Review: The Walking Dead 9×01, “A New Beginning”

Aaron Neuwirth reviews the season 9 premiere of The Walking Dead, "A New Beginning" in which Rick and the gang raid the capital.

Following a decline in interest when it came to The Walking Dead, and an unusually good season of Fear the Walking Dead, the prospect of a soft reboot for the original AMC zombie hit was an interesting one. Much like the comics, “A New Beginning” begins this 9th season of the series by moving things forward in time (18 months), following the “All Out War” arc between Rick and Negan. With all of that in mind, however, this introduction to the season still played like a standard premiere episode. It’s overextended, with the front half putting the focus on an elaborate zombie-infused action setpiece, followed by an establishment of the new status quo. Some premieres have done this stronger within the series. As “A New Beginning” stands, it’s a nice start to a season that should presumably have some big surprises in store.

It’s tempting enough just to talk all about the fun going on in Washington D.C. Regardless of context, this whole sequence works as a standalone piece of zombie cinema. There’s a logical objective involving the need for agricultural equipment. The design of this location led to some neat visuals. And all that effort even leads to a death that may not seem important as far as who was involved but builds to another tense scenario (and death) later in the show. While The Walking Dead has long moved past the ideas of zombies being scary, it’s sequences like these that can really show the usefulness of a proper horror sequence.

All of that still only amounts to a portion of the episode, compared to everything else we see. Even if we’ll need another week or two to get a better sense of where everyone is, much of “A New Beginning” finds time to give us the main players, what’s going on with these various communities, and what the new struggles are. While Negan may still be imprisoned in Alexandria, it’s nice to find The Walking Dead finding a way to function as far as dialing up the dramatic stakes, without having to put one face on it.

As it stands, the series is now in a position to take advantage of the cast currently in place and put them at odds with each other. Sure, Daryl may be one episode away from getting into a fight with the rude savior that doesn’t like being told to paint over graffiti, but the show is leaning on becoming much more interesting by finding ways to have Daryl and Maggie challenge Rick. No, I wasn’t quite a fan of this setup at the end of the previous season, but I also can’t say the show hasn’t done the work to get us there. It also makes all the difference that we know a bit more about the behind-the-scenes aspects of this series than usual.

With Andrew Lincoln calling it quits this year (and Lauren Cohan also appearing in a more limited capacity), The Walking Dead is in a position to pull off some unexpected plot turns, which automatically has me less skeptical about what I believe the show is willing to do. Hell, since it was decided that Carl was no longer needed, there is a sense that things could go back to a place of genuine surprise for comic readers and TV watchers alike. Not that having a roadmap to some degree has ever affected this series, but The Walking Dead has both a new showrunner (series vet Angela Kang) and a level of creative juice that has me more intrigued by the potential of this arc.

The world of this series is currently comprised of too many characters we are supposed to care about to some degree and multiple communities to keep track of. In addition to thinning out the cast (or at least letting the spotlight hang around a few for some of these weeks), finding ways to effectively build up the troubles between these different communities can hopefully lead to the sort of friction that’s not merely resolved by big shootouts and different leaders grandstanding. Instead, we could be seeing sneaky moves and alliances take hold, with precise strikes further mixing up what we know about the people and places in this series.

By the time Rick is gone from this series, it may mean we are back in a depressing position, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be exciting. The Walking Dead is always going to cherish that sense of nihilism that permeates the themes and monologues often given, but what if that added up to something a bit more fresh? Fear the Walking Dead was able to pull this off, so hopefully, The Walking Dead can too.

If this is becoming too much about my hopes for the season over the episode itself, I apologize. There’s just only so much to say about seeing a happier Rick worrying about his people and whether or not they’ll be able to get through all this, “together.” Next week will start pushing things into a more definite direction, as this episode mainly wanted us to know how much of a hold Maggie has on the Hilltop and her position of power. With that in mind, it is good to see how much this show gains from seeing her and Rick have real conversations, even if it comes at the expense of learning more about anyone else.

Honestly, the biggest hope I have for this season is seeing many of these characters talk again. If the previous seasons’ focus on Negan made everything about strategy when it came to how people would relate to each other, now things can get back to true character moments. That’s why I was happy to see Carol and Daryl relate to each other again. Michonne and Rick get some great scenes as well. The actors may have these roles locked in, but seeing them perform with each other provides more meaning than just seeing a lot of them do stuff and things in group activities.

“A New Beginning” may have lacked the sort of “can’t miss” thrills of previous explosive premieres, but it has provided a good start to a season in a fine position to grow. Since the Great Rick Grimes ended the war, I want to see this new cold war allow for some great turns and more chances for characters we haven’t gotten much of in a while. And if a killer zombie setpiece comes in every now and again, I won’t be against that either.

Dead Bits:

  • Zombie Kill of the Week: Rick rides in on a horse and slams a walker in the noggin with a cool-looking weapon. That’s enough for me.
  • So that’s a wrap on Xander Berkley’s Gregory. Such a weaselly character and I loved every minute of what he had to offer. Maggie hurling, “you can’t even murder someone right,” was such an excellent way to go through their final confrontation, before seeing him be hanged at midnight. So long.
  • Lots of new hair to make note of. Rick is keeping it short. Aaron has a big, bushy beard. Eugene has a ponytail!
  • Gabriel now wins as far as looking the most like a character from a comic book.
  • A zombie with a bunch of spiders crawling out of its face – awesome!
  • So Brett Butler didn’t waste any time making her character the most depressing one on the show.
  • “The Great Rick Grimes.”
  • “Does he snore fancy too.” – Daryl getting punchy towards The King was fun.
  • Thanks for reading and feel free to hear what me and a few other fans of the show have to say about the series on The Walking Dead TV Podcast.

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks,, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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