When last season’s all-out war turned out to be more of an all-out bore (am I right, guys?), fans of The Walking Dead were left dubious about the show’s future as a drama worth watching. But that was before AMC threw a massive curve at its audience, in the form of a shocking announcement: the departure of the series’ original leading man. After eight years, more than 100 episodes, and fifteen dozen different levels of post-apocalyptic beardedness, Andrew Lincoln‘s ninth season on the show will be his last — and the Sunday, October 7, premiere made it clear that they intend to give him a heck of a send-off. Here’s everything that went down on the episode, titled “A New Beginning.”
Although Maggie (Lauren Cohan) seemed on the verge of mutiny in the final moments of season eight, she got her anger at Rick under control. The Walking Dead jumped ahead about a year in this new season to show all three communities (the Hilltop, the Sanctuary, and Alexandria) living more or less in harmony. Maggie, now a mom, remained the Hilltop’s leader after a public election — and despite some agricultural struggles and a dash of pro-Negan graffiti at the Sanctuary, everything seemed copacetic. The survivors were thriving, the future was bright, and Judith Grimes was finally displaying signs of age-appropriate verbal development! And that wasn’t even the best part, because …
The rumors are true! After some awfully titillating teaser images of Carol (Melissa McBride) and King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) in what looked like a romantic embrace, the premiere confirmed that these two are involved. A trip to Washington, D.C. to retrieve vintage farming equipment and heirloom seeds nearly went sour when a glass floor shattered beneath Ezekiel’s feet, leading him to fall right into a pack of hungry walkers. Fortunately, he was harnessed onto a rope that allowed his friends to pull him out — at which point, a relieved Carol laid a big smooch right on the lips of her monarch.
Don’t worry, though: the tough, fierce Carol you know and love hasn’t disappeared. When Ezekiel proposed to her later in the episode, she turned him down flat and dissed his taste in engagement rings to boot: “Put that thing away! It’ll snag on everything!”
Although the trip to D.C. was a success, the road home was rough — and for one member of the gang, deadly. After discovering that storms had washed out the bridge to Alexandria and left the road extremely muddy, the group was beset by a herd of walkers. Not wanting his horse to meet the fate of literally every other horse on The Walking Dead (remember Buttons?), a kid named Ken ran back to free her and ended up both kicked by the horse and bitten by zombies for his efforts. Ken promptly died from internal injuries, and Maggie was left with the unhappy job of giving his parents the news. Clearly, this was the fault of the jerk horse above all else, but the parents blamed Maggie — and one treasonous lurker saw his chance.
So, remember Gregory (Xander Berkeley), the man who spent two entire seasons messing things up for the survivors with an endless series of ham-handed attempts at manipulation? He was still living at the Hilltop, still seething over his loss to Maggie in the community’s election and still nursing the bizarre delusion that he could be an effective leader — if only the current one were, uh, gone for some reason. That night, after Ken’s funeral, Gregory lured Maggie to the graveyard in the hopes that Ken’s grieving dad Earl — pumped full of bourbon and murderous bad feelings by the resentful ex-leader — would end her life.
Fortunately Maggie fought Earl off and went straight to confront the treasonous snake – “You can’t even murder someone right!” she sneered – easily disarming him when he attempted to stab her himself. And because frontier justice reigns in a world overrun by zombies, this was the end for Gregory. His brutal hanging was the last scene in the episode — and our first inkling of just how far Maggie will go to keep her house in order.
The Walking Dead airs on AMC Sundays at 9 p.m. ET.
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