October 8, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “The Walking Dead”



THE WALKING DEAD has never been prized for its subtlety, and it didn’t attempt any with the title of its crossroads Season 9 premiere:  “A New Beginning.”  Which it definitely was, as the first episode under new showrunner Angela Kang (who was promoted up through the writer/producer ranks), and of a season that will have to weather the losses of lead actors Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan.  “A New Beginning” was clearly trying to push the series into a different direction from the one that over the course of eight seasons was getting tired and self-defeating, as reflected in swiftly declining (although still high) ratings.  It will take some time before we know whether the approach is working.

The premiere, to be sure, didn’t stint on many of the elements that have always been a part of The Walking Dead.  There were plenty of ravenous walkers, and the agonizing death of a supporting player who was unfortunately bitten.  The main characters haven’t stopped hatching idiotic plans, most notably when it didn’t occur to any of them that lugging a hugely heavy covered wagon over a glass floor under which was a platoon of zombies might require a little thought in advance.  The bickering among human settlements hasn’t ended, even though the groups in the Alexandria, Virginia area are now theoretically united.

What’s different, at least so far, is the absence of a homicidal Big Bad.  (Although we know that Negan, in the person of Jeffrey Dean Morgan, remains a series regular, even if unseen in the premiere.)  Instead, the episode focused on the struggle to rebuild civilization, putting into place a system of laws and government among survivors of ultraviolence.  Alexandria itself, under the benign authority of Rick (Lincoln), seems to be under control, but things are uneasy at Sanctuary, where Daryl (Norman Reedus, reportedly on his way to becoming Walking Dead‘s new main protagonist) is to lead Negan’s former followers.  And at Hilltop, despite an election that put Maggie (Cohan) in office, rebellion threatens, especially with the slimy Gregory (Xander Berkeley) to stir the pot.  Gregory attempts an assassination that leads to frontier justice on Maggie’s part, perhaps setting the stage for a showdown between Rick and Maggie that will result in one or more of the upcoming exits.

Unlike Fear the Walking Dead, which accomplished an almost complete reboot this season, the mothership  still has most of its pieces in place.  So although this iteration of The Walking Dead tells a somewhat different story than previous seasons, its tone and characters are for now the same.  That’s a problem, because the show has been overpopulated for years with secondary characters who are less than compelling, and while it’s nice to see Carol (Melissa McBride) and Ezekiel (Khary Payton) smooch, they don’t get much screen time.  Kang’s dialogue is as earnest and sometimes flat as the Walking Dead norm (and at 86 minutes including commercials, as unhurried), and Greg Nicotero, who’s directed 27 episodes of the series, isn’t the guy who’s going to find a new way to visualize the narrative.

We won’t really know where this Walking Dead is going until Lincoln and Cohan have been phased out through the course of the season.  For now, it feels less like a new song than a slightly refurbished arrangement of an old standard.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."