The Walking Dead Season 9 Episode 1 Review: The Post-Conflict Politics of the New World

“Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry… no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
― Thomas Hobbes

If the last season was about war, the new one is about building peace, prosperity and stability. The opening of the season starts with a glimpse into how this New World looks like. The greys of the apocalypse are replaced with bright rays of light on green crops and a radiant family portrait. Times like these have been a mirage since the start of the apocalypse. More than the walkers, the constant threat was posed by the collapse of law and order. This what TWD is all about: what would happen if the state collapsed? The answer, in TWD universe, is a return to a Hobbesian state of nature of war of everyone against everyone. Nonetheless, insecurity also led groups to bond together, and we have seen more and more different kinds of communities popping up and getting increasingly organized and institutionalized. Now, the challenge is to rebuild some sort of socio-political structures in a post-conflict setting.

Post-conflict reconciliation

Since the opening statement, the memory of war is linked to the grief of loss. The war is narrated here as a clear-cut fight of good vs evil forces, a fight for a better future. Rick and Michonne have taken up the task of bringing together communities that have fought one another, and the wounds are still fresh. It is now time to heal and forgive. The emotion of grief is gripping in this episode, however, we only see it from the perspective of the winners. We know that the Saviors have also suffered many losses. Are they grieving, too?

Coordination

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The first part of the episode is a statement on the efficiency of inter-group cooperation and coordination through the rally operation sequence. Members of all the communities are here together. Rick and Michonne are leading the way. We have frequent and regular scenes of members from all the groups killing walkers, one by one, starting from Michonne and Rick. As they execute the walkers one by one, we see that they are in control, despite few tensed moments, and a not so in control Siddiq. Even the tense scenes contribute to the point. They are all working together – and they look great.

Politics

In the New World, the communities are setting up different forms of social institutions, and we see the leaders talking about their different experiences. We have a happy kingdom led by a benevolent monarch, and a not so happy democracy where an electoral campaign turns violent, leading to the hanging of the corrupt opposition leader.

What about Alexandria? Perhaps it looks like a presidential republic, led by a leader with a strong executive power – though we do not know how exactly he was elected. Overall, it seems to be taking the shape of a federation, where each community has some autonomy, and matters that concern all are regulated by Rick’s central leadership. And now they are taking of a Charter to regulate the relationships between communities. A Constitution? No, a Charter. It does sound like a Constitution though.

The theme of leadership is central in the episode. Rick is coordinating the relationships between the groups, and Michonne is advising him. With the growing number of communities, we also have a growing number of leaders. The members of what used to be a small cosy group, are now scattered among the communities and have duties and responsibilities there. The relationships between leaders and members of the communities are often similar to parental ones, though with different styles. Daryl is a new leader at the Sanctuary. He does not seem be doing so well and is not so happy either. He talks roughly to some of the Saviors there, and gives orders to defiant people. In contrast, ‘famous Rick’ is now the perfect leader.

Maggie has trouble at the Hilltop. The emotional incident at the bridge resulting in the death of a young Hilltop resident highlights Maggie’s relationship with her ‘citizens’, and the burdens and responsibilities that her role entails.

The ‘Others’

The defeated community of the Saviors does not have the same autonomy as the others. It is managed by someone from Alexandria, who takes decisions for them. The dissenting voices who would want Negan back remind us that they are still potential a threat. In addition, they are not autonomous because, as we learn, that place is bare and they are dependent on getting resources from others. It sounds more like there is something bare about them as a group, and they are not fit to lead themselves. ‘They don’t want Negan, they just want food’ Rick points out. They do not mind being under the control of an outsider who waged war against them. Rather, with few exceptions, they are grateful for it… they just want to be fed, right?

Grievances

After the idyllic picture at the beginning, we learn that the situation is not all rosy. There are three main reasons for grievance, particularly at the Hilltop. First, the feeling that justice has not been made for the crimes committed during the conflict with the Saviors. Transitional justice mechanisms have not put up in place in the post-apocalyptic society. Some people are still grieving for their losses and desire the perpetrators to be punished. The second reason is the shortage of resources brings the communities to compete for them, despite the higher levels of cooperation. Third, the desire for more political independence from Alexandria. In addition, some residents of the Sanctuary may be resenting Negan’s detention and Alexandria’s rule.

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Maggie’s grievance is the most visible. Her confrontation with the parents of the boy who died and with Gregory show that her community shares those grievances, too. The theme of loss in the episode is emotional because it reconnects with past losses, particularly that of Glenn. The violence against Maggie is not just the physical attack. All that Gregory is saying hurts because his every word gives voice to Maggie’s own inner grief.

The execution

A primary function of the state is the monopoly over violence. Only the state can use violence to punish and decide who lives and who dies. Gregory’s execution is public so that everyone has to watch and witness who is in power. Viewers will probably not feel that much for him, especially after what we have seen about him in this episode. He has manipulated the loss Ken’s parents, used Glenn’s grave as a trap to kill Maggie, conspired to kill Maggie, and then tried to stab her. He himself admits that he feels no remorse. In contrast, Maggie has been kind to him and forgave his past actions. And, we are reminded, she is a single mom having a rough night, and the tears of the baby during the attack do break our hearts.

So there is no question of how we feel about who is right between Gregory and Maggie. Nonetheless, who is really being judged during the execution, is not Gregory, but Maggie herself. Everyone stares at her. Rick, Michonne, and Daryl are here, too. When Michonne breaks the silence and screams in horror we know that something is wrong. Why do we feel that Maggie is taking a dark path, if Gregory has clearly been portrayed as a bad guy here? Perhaps it is not about Gregory at all. Maggie is breaking away from Rick’s leadership, and Rick is now the messenger of peace in the New World. While Rick and Michonne are now serving the greater good, – or at least this is how they are represented – Maggie is focusing on the narrower interests of the Hilltop. A deep fracture begins to appear.

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