Be warned! This review will cover aspects of the episode. Spoilers will lurk like groaning walkers…
Welcome back to what the Walking Dead team have long been promising is a very different show. The episode is even called A New Beginning We time jump forward 18 months after the end of the All-Out War and, from the first evidence, things are indeed quite different. People smile! More than once! The communities of Hilltop, Alexandria, Oceanside (mentioned, not seen) and even the Sanctuary are trying to work together to figure out the next step in human society. Which mostly means looking to the past to build the present. As the infrastructure around them starts to decay – bridges are cratered by storms and walker hordes, petrol is starting to run dry – they’re turning to horse-powered transportation (except for Darryl, who clings to his own steel horse for dear life) and looking for ways to use old fashioned methods.
But does this mean incoming executive producer Angela Kang and the crew have really made a change? Well, there’s no Negan this episode for one, even if we are reminded that he’s festering away in a prison cell. And the episode feels a lot like a new pilot for this latest shift in direction, laying out the various tensions as the communities figure out who should provide the food and in return for what. There’s also Maggie truly embracing the leadership of Hilltop (replacing Gregory – more on him shortly) and starting to feel that maybe she has a better handle on the overall big picture than Rick.
Another addressed by the episode – if not solved, because that would be far too easy – is the show’s recent seeming lack in its own title characters. The zombies have long since been reduced to little more than a nuisance, but here the zombie-powered tension is once again cranked up by Kang and regular premiere director/undead make-up maestro Greg Nicotero, staging a very different kind of set-piece in the museum with the slowly cracking glass and the cart the team is trying to manoeuvre. It’s effective and pulse-raising, and the zombies feel like an actual concern. Even if the pressure is released because the person in real danger is Ezekiel, and you’re left fairly certain he won’t perish just yet.
No, the real test here is young Ken, introduced in this episode and summarily offed a few minutes later. The episode does at least make a stab at having us feel for his death, even if it then leads to the least effective subplot in this extended season premiere: Gregory. Despite Xander Berkeley’s best efforts, it’s hard not to see Gregory as anything but his usual snake-in-the-grass, pain-in-the-ass self. Even giving an emotional tribute to Ken. The less said about his stupid, visible-from-space plan to off Maggie, the better, though we’re at least glad some consequences finally came his way.
If the end of the All Out War run hadn’t ended so quietly, A New Beginning might’ve made you feel a touch of whiplash for how primarily quiet it was. Kudos for finding something for almost everyone to do beyond Rick and the core gang, and the seeds (pun entirely intended) have been planted for some decent storylines. We know that a Big Threat is just around the corner, but for now this was a solid scene-setting outing that actually delivered on its promise and was entertaining in a way the show has rarely managed in years.
Highlight: The museum haul.
Lowlight: Gregory’s hackneyed scheme.
Kill of the week: Poor exkendable.
Quote of the week: “It can’t happen on a horse!” – Carol, on Ezekiel’s proposing to her as they ride back from the museum.
Zombie of the week: Scarecrow zombie!
MVP: Maggie, making the tough choice.
The big question: If the Sanctuary is really so useless, why not just ship the people off to the other communities to help out? More farmers, more scavengers. They could just leave Eugene’s crew making fuel and some defensive fighters. Also, didn’t they have a working forge? If the plan is to go back to blacksmithing, wouldn’t that help?
Read last season’s reviews below… The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 1: Mercy
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9pm on AMC in the States and Mondays at 9pm on Fox.