The Season 9 premiere of The Walking Dead may not have been the most thrilling episode in the AMC series's history, but it did get one thing very right: Gregory had to go. While Daryl fumes over Rick's decision to help the remaining Saviors instead of leaving them on their own and Ezekiel and Carol go public with their romance, the real drama of the premiere goes down at Hilltop.
"A New Beginning" starts out with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the rest of the main cast on a mission to Washington, D.C. to procure seeds and other farming equipment from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Things go well until a new cast member, Ken, shows up. He's obviously zombie food and, sure enough, Ken gets bitten on the road home and dies. Maggie (Lauren Cohan) has the tough task of telling his parents, and they don't take it well.
Maggie has just been elected leader of Hilltop over Gregory and the scheming coward isn't taking the loss lying down. He gets in the ear of Ken's dad, Earl, an alcoholic, and uses his grief against him. Ken never should've been on that mission, after all. It wasn't safe. It was all Maggie's fault for bringing him along. It's not long before Earl's tanked and going after Maggie with a dagger.
Surprised, but always on guard, Maggie handles Earl after taking a blow to the face and then goes right after Gregory. Lambasting him for not taking advantage of all his second chances, Maggie doesn't put him away until Gregory attacks her himself. Armed with a knife, in cartoon villain fashion, he reveals how he'll explain away her death after he kills her. Maggie then proceeds to subdue him and it's curtains for Gregory.
All his second chances used up, Maggie finally decides to execute Gregory. He's hanged Old West-style, on horseback, as the community watches. May we never hear that lying voice again. (And RIP to Xander Berkeley, one of the many great character actors to appear on The Walking Dead. We can add this send-off to his list of amazing career death scenes — among them being stabbed in the mouth by the T-1000 in Terminator 2 and getting hooked to death in Candyman.)
Gregory's death was way overdue, but at least we won't have to listen to his whining and transparent bullshit for another year. Instead, the first half of Season 9 seems to be about inner strife. Rick and Daryl disagree, and Maggie's in the middle. The Saviors are a problem waiting to pop off so we'll see the beginnings of that next week on the bridge.
What fans are really anticipating is how the show jettisons its biggest star, Lincoln, and one of its biggest stars, Cohan, during Season 9. Both actors have said this season will be their last on the show. It's just a matter of how and when it'll happen for Rick and Maggie. Let me go out on a limb and predict the midseason finale and season finale will probably be the best places to look. And I don't see bloody face-eating zombie deaths for either.
The Walking Dead returns next Sunday on AMC.