The Walking Dead does not dabble in election politics (either directly or metaphorically, although the show has been used by politicians), but with a month until the midterms in America, the series is now taking a decidedly political approach to its ninth season. This isn’t about Democrats and Republicans, however. It’s more fundamental than that: It’s about what form of government The Walking Dead’s “New Beginning” will take.
The Walking Dead is now in the post-war Reconstruction phase, and as the series hinted when Michonne took a long glance at the Civil War infographic in a museum, it will take up issues presented in post Civil War era of America with a sort of twist: It’s not only trying to figure out how to run its government in the aftermath of the All Out War, but it’s officially setting up a government for the first time. It will also have to do so, eventually, without its leader, who we may discover is more Ulysses S. Grant than Abraham Lincoln (Grant led the Union in the Civil War, but soon discovered that running the country is a lot different — and far more difficult — than leading the war efforts), while the United Colonies of Alexandria may also soon find that it needs Negan to help keep things in line.
For now, however, Rick and Michonne have never been happier (Carl’s death, notwithstanding), as they comfortably rule over the colonies: Alexandria, The Kingdom, The Hilltop, Oceanside, and The Sanctuary. They are no longer worried about day-to-day survival, but about larger matters, like how to keep the citizenry content and well-fed. They’re contemplating a charter, or a Constitution. At The Hilltop, leaders are already being Democratically elected. Forming a government, however, comes with its own host of problems, as the old-world’s infrastructure continues to fall. Roads are washing out; bridges are falling; and zombie hordes still present their own set of issues, as a group of people representing all the colonies discovers on a resource run to a museum in the city. The failing roads and bridges make trips between the colonies more challenging, and when a horse cart pilfered from a museum gets stuck on a muddy road, Kent — a young member of The Hilltop colony — is bitten by a zombie and dies.
It’s not immediately obvious, but in a way, Kent may end up being the Crispus Attucks of the war to come, but this one won’t be a physical war. It will be a political one, with casualties. Kent’s fairly benign death — one that he basically brought on himself — ends up sending shockwaves over on The Hilltop. The parents of Kent, Bernard and Tammy (90’s sitcom star Brett Butler of Grace Under Fire fame, who continues her comeback after a spell of homelessness) blame Maggie for their son’s death, and more specifically, they blame The Hilltop’s ethos.
See, in the post All-Out War era of The Walking Dead, all the colonies seem to be thriving, except The Sanctuary. The decision not to kill Negan and The Saviors and absorb The Sanctuary into the United Colonies of Alexandria has had some major repercussions. The Sanctuary is faltering; crops are dying; and the people are starving, and so the other colonies have to provide a share of their resources to keep it sustainable. The resentfulness, however, runs both ways: There are many among The Saviors who see Rick Grimes as their own Savior, the man who ended the war and ousted Negan. However, there are others who clearly miss life under Negan. He was ruthless and evil, but he did keep everyone inside the Savior compound safe, well fed and busy with their own jobs. Negan ran a well-oiled machine, and without him, The Sanctuary is floundering.
When Kent dies, however, Bernard and Tammy raise hell about the fact that their son died while trying to provide resources to The Saviors. They have a very protectionist view of things, a.k.a., that The Hilltop should watch out only for itself and its people. That it should not be responsible for the well being of The Sanctuary, especially because The Saviors tried to kill them all in the All-Out War. Bernard and Tammy find a sympathetic ear in Gregory, who lost his leadership role in The Hilltop to Maggie in The Hilltop’s first election.
After Kent’s funeral, Gregory begins working on Bernard and Tammy, and eventually, he stokes a drunken Bernard’s anger into a plan to kill Maggie. The plan fails, however, and Maggie roots Gregory out as the mastermind. What’s a leader to do in this situation? Maggie takes extreme measures, and she has Gregory executed in front of the entire colony. While that is a rejection of Gregory, it’s not a rejection of Gregory’s protectionist streak. As Maggie suggested to Rick — who is trying to be the diplomatic President of all the colonies — she is ready to be her own leader now, and while she is willing to help The Saviors, it won’t come without a cost. The Saviors’ welfare state is over as far as Maggie is concerned. She’s ready to do things her way. She’s ready to institute a Maggietocracy.
— It’ll be interesting to see how things progress in The Sanctuary. Daryl has too much resentment for The Saviors to continue being their leader, so he’s handed those duties over to Carol, whose interests in running The Sanctuary are unknown. Is she doing a solid for Daryl? Or is she trying to run away again?
— The person she might be running away from is King Ezekiel, who may be smothering her with affection. He proposed to her in this episode — one of many proposals, it seems — and while Carol rejected that proposal, she does seem to be genuinely in love with Ezekiel. I think, however, that she’s still feeling some reluctance about getting too close to anyone, knowing that in this world, it could end in tragedy.
— Negan does not make an appearance in the season premiere, but his presence is obviously felt all over the episode. My hunch is that it will be one of Negan’s hangers-on who eventually assassinates Rick Grimes, and that he will die in Omar Little fashion.