WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 9 episode "The Bridge," which premiered Sunday on AMC.
Last week, “A New Beginning” presented The Walking Dead audiences with the most optimistic look at post-apocalyptic life we’ve ever seen on the AMC drama. During the two years that have elapsed since the conclusion of “All Out War,” peace has sustained long enough for the communities to finally make some real progress. Alexandria is rebuilt and exploring solar power, the Hilltop has become a successful farm under Maggie’s able leadership, and even the Sanctuary is attempting to contribute as best it can having benefited from Rick’s amnesty. All in all, things are starting to look a lot like Carl Grimes' vision for the future, and what he begged his father to create. The opening sequence of this week's episode, "The Bridge," echoed the dreamy glimpses that permeated Season 8, with a graying but trimmed Rick Grimes waking up to his family and friends living in peace and harmony. But this is The Walking Dead, and Rick’s swan song, so not only can we expect everything to come crashing down, it might be that it comes crashing down on him.
The end of “A New Beginning” explored the darker side of the new world Rick is building when it ended with Earl and Gregory’s botched assassination attempt, followed by their imprisonment and executions. “The Bridge” made it even clearer that, despite the impressive progress Rick has made, the peace he’s created is still tenuous. Savior Justin keeps up his general douchebaggery, so when he eventually makes a catastrophic mistake redirecting a herd that results in Aaron losing his arm, Rick exiles him. But at this point, Daryl and Carol are even less convinced that everyone can live together peacefully in perpetuity. The mysterious Savior disappearances aren’t helping, either, and considering they’re making up most of the work force on the bridge, but also aren’t armed, tensions are ratcheted up even higher. If Rick can’t even convince his closest friends to get behind him to creating this new world, what hope does it have in the long-term if the dissatisfied, and now terrified, Saviors get their hands on weapons and grow their numbers?
While Aaron manages to look at the tragic loss of his arm as magnanimously as a saint (shoutout to Enid’s killer grace under pressure, by the way), it’s clear that his commitment to Rick’s vision and the future just might be the exception to the rule. That’s certainly what Negan thinks. The Savior leader made a less-than-triumphant return to the series this week in bookend scenes with Rick. In the comics, it’s Carl who periodically visits Negan, but in his absence, the show has Rick come down to gloat about how everything is “thriving” without Negan and his particular brand of leadership. Of course, the Savior can’t resist pointing out that it’s only a matter of time before it all comes crashing down, but what could’ve felt like bravado actually seems like a warning Rick should heed. The question is whether he’s capable of doing so, or if he’s blinded by success bolstered by wishful thinking and a desperate desire to give his son’s death meaning.