Kaitlyn Waller, Staff Writer
The successful horror show has been heavily criticized by fans during the last two seasons, most notably stemming from the gruesome season seven premiere. Ratings plummeted again last season, in large part due to the controversial exit of one of its lead characters. “Walking Dead” fans complained about the slow-moving and incredibly long and circular all-out-war story arc, blaming showrunner Scott M. Gimple for the decline in quality: plot armor, weak and convenient plots, over-the-top poetic speeches, incongruous music, and close-up face montages.
It’s hard to miss the most obvious source of recent disappointment readily advertised in AMC advertisements: season nine is lead character Rick Grimes’s final season.
This is, however, a new beginning for “The Walking Dead.” Angela Kang is the new showrunner, replacing Gimple, and the “Walking Dead” logo and opening credits have been re-imagined. The logo is now white, enlivened with spots of green after eight seasons of increasing decay. The opening theme is now hand-drawn, picturing the renewal of civilization symbolized by foliage covering rot and a sole walker standing outside the immense new construction at Alexandria. The plot is also fresh, the all-out-war arc having closed last season, with a new arc beginning with Maggie Greene, a storyline teased during the closing minutes of the season eight finale.
Although “The Walking Dead” characters are trying to transition toward cohesive humanity and civilization, the show is still dark.
“The Walking Dead” has new, richer cinematography, complete with its signature nighttime scenes. The season nine premiere felt like the dark old-west with the return of horses and “new” technology, such as wagons and lamps, recalling season two’s eerie gothic horror. The walkers were also re-done, and the former unnatural, poetic dialogue and speeches were replaced with more frequent and genuine conversations.
One noticeable flaw was that the episode began incredibly slowly and focused on unknown characters. The central action wasn’t reached until the last 20 minutes when the importance of these subplots finally became apparent. The episode also had forced drama and convenient plots, especially after how far the characters have come in “The Walking Dead” universe.
The conflict between Maggie and Rick Grimes continued, but there was also new conflict between Maggie and the Hilltop people who questioned her leadership after a botched supply run. Rick and Daryl Dixon were also in conflict over how best to approach their new relationship with the Saviors; the episode two trailer teased at escalated conflict between the Saviors and Alexandria of Rick’s community.
The final 10 minutes resolved a conflict familiar to “Walking Dead” fans at Hilltop, when the importance of the episode’s initial event in foreshadowing the final action finally became apparent.
Overall, the premiere primarily focused on Rick and Michonne’s continued effort to bind the various communities into a lawful and humanitarian charter to restore the old world order. Also, as in last season, it set up the ensuing tensions between different approaches to managing the compounds and their resistance to Rick’s overreaching rule.
The episode was a satisfying opener for “The Walking Dead,” as long as the remainder of the season has a quick, ensuing pace, unlike the last two seasons. The plot seems promising and there is much to look forward to in future episodes, as comic book readers know.
“The Walking Dead” airs on Sundays at 8 p.m. on AMC.