Whisper it, but The Walking Dead might be about to be pulled back from the brink.
Spoilers for The Walking Dead season 8 and early details about season 9 are posted below.
Let’s face it: the once-acclaimed zombie extravaganza has properly stagnated ever since its controversial season seven premiere. Viewer numbers have dramatically tumbled, there’s been a greater frequency of arduous, “why-did-I-bother?” episodes, and a pervading feeling among long-time viewers of the show that the bleak, walker-filled dystopia had lost its once-fearsome bite.
But change could very well be on the horizon for The Walking Dead. Its US network, AMC, seem to be very keen to arrest the show’s obvious decline, with the blank slate of season nine promising a new narrative direction, exciting new locations and the exit of not one but two main characters. The potential of this new block of episodes, which will premiere in the UK on FOX this Monday (October 8), could win back a good chunk of the show’s once-formidable fanbase, which at its peak attracted the highest 18-49 viewership of any TV show in the US.
So how might The Walking Dead‘s renaissance come about, we hear you ask? Well, from what we’ve heard so far about season nine, there could actually be plenty to be cheerful about – here’s some choice reasons why you should give the show another chance this autumn.
There’s a new showrunner at the helm
Scott M. Gimple’s reign as The Walking Dead showrunner saw the series enjoy its highest-rated episode (2014’s ‘No Sanctuary’ drew in 17.29 million viewers in the US) and suffer some of its lowest (only 6.30 million tuned in to see ‘Still Gotta Mean Something’ earlier this year), but his January promotion to the newly-created position of ‘Chief Content Officer’ of The Walking Dead franchise won’t have upset too many loyal fans of the show. Disgruntlement with Gimple’s stewardship hit a noticeable peak in December 2017 when over 87,000 irate Walking Dead fans signed an online petition demanding his removal from the show following the controversial killing off of Carl Grimes – a move which didn’t follow the blueprints of the original comics and even came as something of a surprise to Carl actor Chandler Riggs.
Angela Kang has been hired as the showrunner for season nine, and it’s an appointment which could be the breath of fresh air that The Walking Dead so evidently needs. There’s been plenty of talk among fans, critics and those in The Walking Dead‘s inner circle about the sense of optimism which has been created by Kang’s promotion, with the new boss herself keen to emphasise that season nine will be noticeably impacted by a raft of positive changes.
“We’re playing with the style of the show a little bit,” she told Variety back in June. “I think fans will enjoy the new look and feel that we have. Obviously, the show has an established feel that we want to keep. We love these stories about survivors and how they’re making their way through the world. That said, we want to keep things fresh, so I’ve had these great conversations with out DPs and our directors about amping up the look of the show.”
The result of those “great conversations” has already led to the show receiving a revamped opening credits sequence for season nine, which you can see below.
There’s been a significant time jump
“We’re playing with time,” Kang revealed earlier this year about the timeframe of the events of season nine. “And because we’re jumping forward in time, there will be some exciting new things about the look of the show. The world is starting to break down and nature is taking over. It’s moved away from cars and bullets and is much more horses and hand weapons. It’s a fun evolution we’re playing with.”
It’s been established that The Walking Dead will resume 18 months after the events of ‘Wrath’, which saw the defeat of Negan and the Saviors (more on that shortly). Civilisation is slowly coming together under Rick’s leadership, but, of course, trouble is never far away. “As time passes, the [survivors’] communities confront unexpected obstacles, danger, and of course, walkers,” the official season nine synopsis teases. “But nothing quite prepares them for the formidable force they are about to encounter, which threatens the very idea of civilisation that our survivors have worked so hard to build.” Could that possibly refer to the mysterious Whisperers, who are rumoured to be the next set of challengers to the Walking Dead‘s fragile sense of order? We’re actually *quite* excited to find out.
Rick is on his bike
After 115 episodes as the Walking Dead‘s central figure, Rick Grimes’ (played by Andrew Lincoln) time on the show will finally come to an end at some point in this coming season. While it’ll be strange to watch The Walking Dead without its sheriff protagonist taking on baddies, walkers and his own crippling traumas, it may take something as narratively-seismic as the seemingly-immortal Rick exiting the show’s universe to shake things up for the better. It’ll also be fascinating to see how Kang chooses to handle Rick’s departure: will he ride off into the sunset for pastures new unscathed? Will he meet a messy end in the middle of a walker horde? Or will Daryl (Norman Reedus) assume the throne as expected by rubbing out his long-time companion (which, while pretty unlikely, would certainly shake things up a bit)?
Rick won’t be season nine’s only major casualty. Maggie (Lauren Cohan) will also be departing for the time being, with the fiery widow only reportedly set to feature in six more episodes as Cohan has signed on to star in the new ABC show Whiskey Cavalier.
However, Kang is confident that Maggie will return at some point in season 10. “I’ll say first of all that we’ve still planned some more story with Maggie. Lauren wants to [do it], it will be a little subject to her schedule but hopefully we have her back next season,” she told Comicbook. “We have always planned to have this great story with Maggie this season and I think we promised something. We wanted to pay off that promise. We definitely have a very strong Maggie arc.”
No more Negan
Well, there will definitely be less of him, that’s for sure. Negan’s baseball bat-wielding shtick became a very tired motif during seasons seven and eight, with viewers not universally warming to the slow erosion of the villain’s omnipotence over the majority of that 32-episode block – particularly during the tiresome ‘All-Out War’ story arc.
The defeat of the Saviors during the season eight finale did elicit many a relieved cheer from the Walking Dead fandom, though – albeit tinged with disappointment that Rick elected not to kill Negan, therefore not delivering the closure we all wanted as recompense for the latter’s murderous acts in ‘The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be’ (remember how Maggie wasn’t best pleased with Rick’s reasoning for his decision, too). Season nine will instead continue with Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s character still part of the action – albeit behind bars and under the watchful eye of Rick.
Could he even become part of the gang after a prolonged period of reflection and rehabilitation, helping them to confront the Whisperers? OK, maybe we won’t go that far just yet…
It’s the perfect time for former fans to get back into The Walking Dead
Were you pissed off by the laborious ‘All-Out War’? Persistently annoyed by Negan constantly avoiding any sort of comeuppance? Or just generally dissatisfied with a show which continually failed to live up to its past glories as one of TV’s must-watch shows? We hear you. But we’d also counsel you to take all of the above into account when it comes to deciding whether to keep watching The Walking Dead this season. The promised changes to the narrative, cast and production crew for season nine come across more as a genuine decision by AMC and the powers that be to freshen up the show rather than a desperate attempt to prolong a franchise which has so much riding on it – don’t forget, there are hugely ambitious plans in place for The Walking Dead universe to carry on for many, many years to come.
Here’s hoping, then, that season nine will be the revitalising shot in the arm that The Walking Dead so desperately needs – we’ll give it a go if you do.