The Walking Dead season nine premiere, A New Beginning, foreshadows the significant changes coming. The show leaps forward in time at least a year. The peace established after Negan's defeat is tenuous at best. Alexandria, the Hilltop, the Sanctuary, and the Kingdom are struggling to share resources. Rick Grimes' (Andrew Lincoln) unquestioned leadership is over.
A New Beginning opens with a voice over by Rick summarizing the end of the war. We get a quick montage of different groups working together in a rebuilt Alexandria, the Sanctuary, and the Hilltop. A gray bearded Rick walks out unto his patio. Michonne (Danai Gurira) is painting with Judith, who's now talking. The three walk through a field and watch a flock of blackbirds. A new credit sequence rolls showing the new colonies, a windmill, and a herd of walkers coming.
The first tier cast is all together in Washington D.C. Daryl (Norman Reedus) is on a motorcycle, the rest are on horseback, and in a wagon. They cut through walkers to the Museum of Natural History. They carefully tread over the glass floor, which has walkers below. Rick orders the group to separate and search. Daryl and Cyndie (Sydney Park) find a canoe. Jadis (Polyanna McIntosh) leads Rick to a basement, where they find a repository of seeds. The rest of the group take a plow and wagon.
They gingerly move the wagon and canoe across the glass with ropes. The plow fractures the glass. King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) pushes it across, but plunges through the floor. He's held up by a rope around his waist as the walkers reach for him. The others pull him back up. Carol (Melissa McBride) and the King share a passionate kiss.
The caravan heads back to the colonies. Ezekiel breaks out a ring and asks Carol to marry him. She laughs and politely turns him down. They reach a bridge, but it has collapsed. They try another route, but the wagon gets stuck in the mud. As they struggle to free it, a herd of walkers moves in. The wagon is freed, but a horse is besieged by walkers. A boy from the Hilltop, Ken, cuts it loose. But he is kicked by the horse, bitten by a walker, and dies. Maggie (Lauren Cohan) weeps as she gently drives a knife through his skull.
At the Hilltop, Maggie tells Ken's parents of his passing. His mother is angry and bitter. She voted for Maggie over Gregory (Xander Berkeley). She acidly curses Maggie for failing the Hilltop, for letting their food go to the Sanctuary. She ends her tirade saying Maggie couldn't even protect the father of her son. Ken's funeral is solemn. Alden (Callan McAuliffe) sings; Gregory delivers a heartfelt eulogy. Maggie was not invited.
Daryl returns to the Sanctuary with Rick and Michonne. The Saviors are impressed by Rick's presence. He promises they will continue bringing food and supplies. Michonne is horrified to see graffiti supporting Negan. Daryl orders it painted over immediately. On the catwalk, Daryl tells Rick he will leave the Sanctuary and go the Hilltop. Rick asks him to come to Alexandria, but Daryl refuses. The Sanctuary is dying. They cannot survive with the other colonies. Rick's choices have prolonged the inevitable.
At the Hilltop, Ken's father puts his wife to bed. Gregory plies him with alcohol. He comments that Ken's death is Maggie's fault. She should not be in charge. Back at the Sanctuary, Carol sits with Daryl on the dock. She tells him that she will take over, and of Ezekiel's proposal. Daryl likes the King, but thinks he's corny.
Rick and Michonne are in bed. Michonne mocks him for being famous. Rick wonders how he was able to find such a fantastic woman. Michonne says they deserve happiness. She brings up the idea of a charter. They need to lay down universal laws for the colonies. Rick agrees and they embrace.
That night, Maggie is walking baby Herschel in his stroller. Gregory approaches and tells her Glenn's grave has been defaced. She rushes over to inspect it with the baby, and is ambushed by a hooded man. The noise awakens Enid (Katelyn Nacon). She comes to the rescue, but is knocked out. Alden and Cindy intervene and they subdue the hooded figure. It is Ken's father, drunk.
Maggie confronts Gregory in his room. He was too much of a coward to murder her himself. Gregory replies that he built the Hilltop, and she is just Rick's lackey. He attacks her with a knife, but Maggie wrestles it away. She puts the knife to his throat, but doesn't kill him.
At the Sanctuary, Carol says goodbye to Ezekiel and Jerry (Cooper Andrews). She will rejoin them once the Sanctuary is settled. Daryl, Rick, and Michonne arrive at the Hilltop. They are stunned to see Maggie battered and bruised. On Maggie's balcony, Rick plays with baby Herschel. He asks Maggie to provide more aid to the Sanctuary. Maggie replies she is no longer following Rick's lead. She will give them food, but she wants all of their fuel, and they have to provide the labor to rebuild the bridge.
That night at the Hilltop, the colonists are gathered, the children are in bed. Gregory is tied up on a horse, with a noose around his neck. His treachery has finally caught up. Maggie tells her people that this is her decision. The judgement suits the crime. She allows Gregory last words, he begs to be saved. A couple of children have sneaked to watch, Michonne yells for Maggie to stop, but she gives Daryl the order. The horse runs off and Gregory is hung.
"A New Beginning" draws division lines. Maggie has her baby and her responsibility to the Hilltop. She and Daryl are no longer subservient to Rick. Negan is still alive and clearly has support among the Saviors. Rick's benevolence will be his achilles heel. The episode, as usual, was horrible contrived. But it does set up massive changes to come. The show will benefit from Andrew Lincoln's departure. The Grimes storyline has run its course. Next week stokes more conflict as the bridge is constructed on The Walking Dead when it returns on AMC.