The Walking Dead's ninth season is somewhat revitalised, with a fresh look and a (slightly) fresher narrative.
The Walking Dead is a show that has been experiencing a bit of an identity crisis over it’s last few seasons. With the introduction of Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) at the end of the sixth season, the show’s momentum seemed to grind to a halt with a two season long “all-out war” arc dogged by boring gunfights and seemingly endless factional disputes that culminated very anticlimactically at the end of Season 8. It was slow, plodding and it became a chore to watch each week.
It is fitting then that Season 9, now with new showrunner Angela Kang, strives to make bold changes with the aptly titled first episode ‘A New Beginning’. Kang’s presence is felt immediately with simple and stylistic changes to the presentation of the show, including a revamped title sequence and a fresh new logo. It may be a small change but it hints at the sweeping changes to come. After the titles have rolled, the show continues its upheaval with some more refreshing changes. For the first time since Season 3, there is an established time-jump, with characters having clearly changed in the time we have missed. Maggie (Lauren Cohen) is clearly still bitter that Rick (Andrew Lincoln) spared the life of Negan at the end of last season and is notably darker for it. Carol (Melissa McBride) has entered a relationship with King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and agrees to leadership of the Sanctuary. The show has achieved more character progression in this one episode than it did for the majority of last season.
It was also refreshing to see the walkers themselves become a viable threat again, in an extended sequence that saw a large crew of survivors attempt to retrieve equipment from a historical museum, including seeds and a large cart of some kind. It was trying to move this cart across a glass floor covering a herd of walkers that the episode’s best tension was captured and it was far more interesting than the endless ‘battles’ we saw last season with Negan’s goons. The episode was wrapped up with a plot involving Gregory (Xander Berkeley) attempting to assassinate Maggie following his loss in the Hilltop election between seasons. This concluded in a satisfying manner that sheds light on Maggie’s motivations and sets up a potential rivalry between her and Rick as we approach Lincoln’s last few episodes on the show.
Despite these positive steps however, the show continues to commit some of the sins that have derailed its viewership in the last few years. They introduce us to a character at the start of the episode (who’s name I admittedly cannot remember) as an obvious redshirt, who – surprise – dies halfway through the episode, providing absolutely no interest to the viewer. The show also cannot seem to escape this dull quality that renders large portions of each episode a tad boring. Whilst this episode is exciting, at times it feels like it could devolve into the snore-fest we’ve seen so frequently in the past.
Overall the show is certainly taking a step in the right direction. The fresh look provided by new showrunner Kang and the far better balancing of its bloated cast should give confidence to fans that The Walking Dead can recover from its ratings slump, but only time will tell if it can keep this up over the next few episodes.
The Walking Dead airs every Monday on FOX in the UK.