The Walking Dead’s ninth season marks a new beginning for the show and the end of the road for a series regular.
The dead are still walking, but over the past two years the series has been dawdling; the protracted war with the Saviors testing viewers’ patience. Perhaps galvanised by this home truth, the show’s creative team has initiated a bold reset for season nine.
Series’ writer Angela Kang has replaced Scott M. Gimple as showrunner, but the most radical change impacts the regular cast line-up, with the departure of Andrew Lincoln after eight years on the show.
“My relationship with Mr. Grimes is far from over,” teased Lincoln at San Diego Comic-Con. “And a large part of me will always be a machete-wielding, Stetson-wearing, zombie-slaying sheriff’s deputy from London, England.”
While fans will be lamenting the loss of Rick Grimes, who has anchored the show and its group of survivors from the very beginning, Lincoln himself is very excited about this season. “There are two episodes that, for me, are my two favourite episodes since the pilot.”
Lauren Cohan’s Maggie will also have a reduced role in season nine. “The future looks different for everybody, and we get to explore that,” she said. “[Maggie’s] child has no father and the person responsible for that [Negan] is still around. When it really comes down to it, what do you do? That’s what this season is all about.”
It’s unlikely there will be any redemption for Negan this season following his unexpected reprieve from Rick. However, Jeffrey Dean Morgan hinted that fans are going see a very different version of the character. “He’s in a bit of a predicament and he’s having to face some stuff – both internally and outside – that he hasn’t had to deal with before.”
The rebuilding of society also begins in earnest and is the major focus of TWD’s narrative reshuffle, along with a significant time jump (in service to the comic books) and the emergence of a sinister new threat known as ‘The Whisperers’.
“The first eight seasons were one chapter. Season nine is a whole new beginning for the show,” explained Gimple. “I think people are going to be very surprised. They’re going to see things they haven’t seen, and a different world.”
“We’re playing with time this season,” added Kang, “so that gives us the opportunity to see where our characters are at after the war has ended. We get to see the world in a way we’ve never seen it before. Nature is taking over, man-made structures are falling down and that invites challenges for our group. We see how intrepid they are and how clever they are.
“We’re dealing with themes of civilisation: how do you look to the past to build the future, and how do you deal with the differences in philosophy and what are the things that we owe each other as people?”
The late Carl’s vision for “something after” the war has been a catalyst for change, it would appear. But in the world of The Walking Dead, navigating the laying of new foundations and laws inevitably comes with a high price attached.
“Exacting that vision comes with many consequences,” confirmed Danai Gurira, “and we will see the complications. When folks aren’t on the same page, there’s going to be severe conflict.”