The Walking Dead season 9 (opens in new tab) begins neither with an overdramatic bang nor a timid whimper, but a slow-burn yet quietly captivating premiere that makes good on the promise of its title, A New Beginning. Set 18 months after the events of The Walking Dead season 8 (opens in new tab), the 60 minute extended episode is a refreshingly war-free chapter that sheds light on the relational developments amongst Alexandria, Hilltop, The Kingdom, and Sanctuary, while tying up some of the loose threads from earlier this year.
Naturally, we’re left one big question after watching the entire premiere, which we’re discussing at length here with major Walking Dead story spoilers for those who haven’t yet managed to catch up. Seen it? Good, because we need to talk about Maggie. More specifically, is she about to become a minor antagonist to Rick in this first half of the season?
This is a character who’s had to deal with the deaths of her father, sister, and husband within the space of four seasons, and it’s clearly had an effect on her worldview. The empathetic, caring Maggie has made way for a sterner, less forgiving Maggie, and her hard-line leadership style as Hilltop’s big boss reflects this. Moreover, let us not forget that scene during The Walking Dead season 8 ending (opens in new tab) in which herself, Jesus, and Daryl made a secret pact, which essentially teased a civil war between Hilltop and Alexandria following Rick’s decision to spare Negan from any capital punishment.
Indeed, relations are still icy between Rick and Maggie, as evidenced by their uncomfortable conversation around halfway through the premiere, noticeable for what wasn’t said as much as what was. Maggie wanted Negan dead, and perceives Rick’s refusal to kill him as an injustice to both her and the people he murdered, leaving Hilltop and Alexandria on less amicable terms than they could be.
As a result, Maggie has been prioritising Hilltop’s welfare over any concern she may have for Rick, Michonne, and everyone else at Alexandria, which she hasn’t visited in person this whole time, presumably because the first thing she’d do is walk up to Negan’s cell and shoot him point blank.
Then there’s Gregory, the eternal thorn in Maggie’s side who finally pushed his luck a little too far this episode, by peer pressuring Earl into making an attempt on her life during the dead of night. From Maggie’s perspective, the death penalty is not off limits, and her decision to hang Gregory at the gallows was a powerful conclusion to end the episode with, but will she regret it? For one thing, few other key characters supported the decision, even if they respected her authority to make it as Hilltop’s leader.
And then there’s the damage done to Maggie’s internal morality with an action like this. What was it that Gandhi said about an eye for eye? By legitimising murder outside of self-defense, Maggie’s leadership style is starting to veer into the realm of authoritarianism, and we all know, which bat-wielding character that reminds us of...
Ultimately, those of us who believe in Maggie’s inherent warmth and humanity as a character are hoping for some sort of reconciliation, both within herself and with Rick, before actor Lauren Cohan departs the show later this season. The question is how far AMC is willing to explore this new, darker side of her before that happens, and whether a real conflict between Hilltop and Alexandria could break out as a result. Fingers crossed the two communities can kiss and make up before that even becomes a real possibility.