The Walking Dead Awards: A field trip to Washington, D.C.

Season 9, Episode 1: Gonna paint your wagon

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It only took eight years for the gasoline to run out.

Photograph by Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

(Spoilers ahead)

Each week, we comb through the guts of The Walking Dead, much like a horde of hungry walkers, to bring you the episode’s best moments, surprises, and other post-apocalyptic curiosities. This week: infinite ammo has been turned off, infinite fuel has been turned off, and infinite food has been turned off.

Season 9, Episode 1: “A New Beginning”

Worst news: The night before the premiere, just after it was announced at New York Comic-Con that he would be reprising his role in season nine, actor and Atlanta native Scott Wilson, who played Hershel during seasons two through four, died at age 76.

Most unexpected moment: The new intro! We’re used to a couple of changes to match each season’s new plot (and new cast members), but this is the first major overhaul since the show began. It’ll definitely take some getting used to.

Best indicator of the time jump: At first there wasn’t a clear indicator just how much time has passed since the season eight finale (minus Judith, whose exact age has always been ambiguous, looking taller and talking), but baby Hershel Rhee makes us comfortable thinking it’s been about a year or so.

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Baby Hershel also wins the award for cutest new character.

Photograph by Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

The times are changing: No gunfire, very little fuel consumption, minor electricity usage, horses, wagons, and crumbling infrastructure. It’s almost as if the writers got the memo that this world is post-apocalyptic. We’re glad to see the change in direction.

Best set: Atlanta’s government district really worked as the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

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We see you, Gold Dome.

Photograph by Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

Most obvious metaphor: Gabriel kills a walker up against the last panel of a “human evolution” chart. We see what you did there. (As did Anne, who quips about it being the “de-evolution of man.”)

Second most obvious metaphor: On the wall of the basement where the walker hoard roams in the museum are the words “manifest destiny.” So if you don’t know where this season is headed, you’re not paying attention.

Cutest prop: Judith’s crayon drawings of Michonne and Carl.

Best memory: Mentioning Ed, Carol’s quite dead abusive husband (who barely had any screen time in season one) is the kind of connectivity that makes this show work.

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Carol and the King

Photograph by Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

Best new couple: Speaking of Carol, while her new romantic relationship with Ezekiel isn’t exactly unexpected, it was surprising to be thrown into a relationship so serious that Ezekiel proposed to her on horseback. But Daryl gives his blessing, even if Ezekiel is “cheesy,” something Carol says is nice after life with her abusive ex. It’s good to see both Ezekiel and Carol happy, and it’s good to see that Daryl and Carol still have the bond that fans have loved for years. Of course, nothing happy on this show ever lasts . . .

Foreshadowing: Which brings us to another TWD couple, Richonne. Near the end of the episode, Michonne sweetly says to Rick while the two are in bed, “We’ve both lost enough. It’s time we won a little, don’t you think?” Oh no. Clearly the writers are going to torture us with this whole “the final season for Rick Grimes” thing. (For those under a rock, Andrew Lincoln revealed over the summer that he is leaving the show after season nine.)

Best line: “When we were fighting the Saviors, you told me soon you’d be the one following me. But you didn’t, cause I wasn’t someone to follow. That changes now.” —Maggie to Rick

Most disturbing image: The walker who had thousands of bugs and spiders spewing out of its sockets, all over its head. We’re with Siddiq on this one; we hate spiders.

Biggest question: How did we go nine seasons without seeing carrion critters infesting walkers?

Best kill: How many episodes have we spent bemoaning Gregory’s existence? As Maggie said, he’s had opportunity after opportunity to turn his act around and not be a conniving jerk, but setting up a hit on Maggie’s life (not to mention putting on an extremely phony act of caring about Ken, the kid who died in the walker attack, to get Ken’s grieving father to be the hitman) was the last straw. This villain won’t be missed.

Episode MVP: Angela Kang, TWD’s new showrunner (and writer for the premiere). While it’s too early to tell for sure after just one episode, we felt that the premiere delivered a sharp turn from the standard walking-in-the-woods-and-nothing-happens-all-season formula that made last season such a chore to sit through. Here’s hoping that she continues to be a shot in the arm to reinvigorate this waning series.

And once again, where exactly does Rick fall this week on the calm/crazy scale?

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Illustration by Matt Walljasper; photographs courtesy of AMC