Walkers keep on walkin'
The Walking Dead has now returned for season nine, with plenty of changes occurring between the end of season eight back in April and now. Here’s everything you need to know about the latest season of the long-running zombie show.
Spoilers lie ahead…
- Season nine debuted with ‘A New Beginning’ in the US on October 7, before premiering in the UK on FOX on October 8.
- ‘A New Beginning’ didn’t exactly pull in the viewers, however – only 6.08 million tuned in in the US, making it the lowest-watched season premiere since the pilot episode in 2010.
- New showrunner Angela Kang has confirmed that a trio of deceased characters will be making appearances during season nine.
- The cast of The Walking Dead, both old and new, send a farewell message to Andrew Lincoln
- Read more: The Walking Dead – can season nine win the fans back, or is the ailing show finally (un)dead?
The Walking Dead season nine is here – how have viewers responded?
The promise of the new season hasn’t pulled in quite as many viewers as producers would like, that’s for certain. 6.08 million people in the US tuned in to the premiere of season nine on Sunday (October 7): a number which, while seemingly sizable, is actually 47% down on figures from last year’s season premiere (11.4 million). The show now looks it may dip into the five million bracket in the coming weeks – the kind of viewing figures not seen since season one back in 2010.
It’s not all bad news, however: The Walking Dead was still the top-rated show on US cable on Sunday night by a large margin, while its network AMC have said that the premiere also drove the single-highest day of new sign-ups in the short history of their advert-free service AMC Premiere.
Is Andrew Lincoln leaving the show?
Sadly, he is. Collider first reported back in May that Andrew Lincoln, who plays central protagonist Rick Grimes, will leave The Walking Dead during season nine. The actor has starred as Grimes since the show’s pilot episode in 2010, and he will reportedly only feature in half a dozen episodes in season nine before being “phased out”.
Lincoln’s departure was first confirmed by Michael E Satrazemis, a long-time director of the show. Satrazemis acknowledged Lincoln’s exit in a tribute post on Instagram in June – which was swiftly deleted, of course.
The director’s written caption for the post (a screengrab of which you can see below) read: “Many of us have spent the last 8 yrs [sic] of our lives living, working, creating, high-fiving, hugging and sometimes even bleeding real blood with Andy [Lincoln]. All to make something special. He is one of the greatest men I’ve ever met. And a friend.”
Lincoln’s upcoming departure from the show has since been confirmed by both the actor himself and those close to The Walking Dead universe. Lincoln – who first spoke publicly of his decision to leave during Comic-Con in San Diego over the summer – addressed the seismic news during an appearance with his castmates at New York Comic-Con in early October.
“I’m still in a world of denial,” Lincoln told fans at the event, before later shedding light on his last day of filming. “We did a final scene where I had to laugh and chortle, very uncharacteristic for my character. We did one take and I felt my toe being tickled, and then my other toe was tickled. I laughed! It was [Norman Reedus, who plays Daryl] and [executive producer Greg Nicotero], and it was the most unprofessional moment of my entire career. I think of myself as a professional actor, but I finished like a fool.
“These guys and everybody back in Atlanta, and all of [the fans] here,” Lincoln added when asked about what he would miss most about the show. “I’m going to miss the whole experience. I can’t explain it. I think I’m only going to get a handle on it in 20 years when I look like the old Rick Grimes. I’ve loved every minute of it. Thank you.”
New plot teasers released for the upcoming season 9 show have given a big hint about when Lincoln could leave the show, and it appears to be around episode 5 or 6 based on new synopses released by Zap2it.
The synopsis for episode 5 seems to detail the most action surrounding Grimes, with the synopsis for episode 6 remaining blank, hinting that this could be the episode when he exits the show. Summaries for episode 7 and 8 hint at an aftermath of some serious event; Grimes is curiously not mentioned again after episode 5.
In episode 5, ‘What Comes After’, the synopsis says: “Rick is forced to face the past as he struggles to maintain the safety of the communities and protect the future he and Carl envisioned.” For episode 7, ‘Stradivarius’ it says: “Carol seeks out an old friend living alone in a wilderness teeming with walkers; survivors make the perilous trek to a new home.”
Episode 8, ‘Evolution’ says: “A small rescue mission braves a dangerous herd in their hunt for a missing comrade, only to discover a surprising threat that could doom them all.”
Now, the show’s makers AMC have revealed more new teasers about Grimes’ death, with show runner Angela King telling The Hollywood Reporter that it will be: “giant season finale in the middle of the season”. The makers have also seemingly confirmed that episode five of season nine will be when Rick Grimes will be seen for the final time.
The episode, called ‘What Comes After’ will be shown on November 4. In the last episode (October 28), Grimes was seen impaled on a spike whilst dozens of walkers approached him.
Kang also revealed more details about the episode, saying: “There’s an emotional story to it. There’s also a lot of adventure, action, heroism and some pretty big twists…I’m excited for that. I think there’s going to be some things that are unexpected for the viewers. It’s pulse-pounding and epic.”
Who will replace him?
Sources close to the show have suggested that Norman Reedus has been offered the chance to step up as the new lead of The Walking Dead. Reedus was reportedly negotiating a new deal in light of Lincoln’s departure, with reports claiming that he would become the ‘”new number one” on the show if the deal – which sources say was worth $20 million – was struck.
However, Reedus insisted ahead of the premiere of season nine that it “wasn’t the case” that he would be replacing Lincoln as the show’s leading man.
“As soon as the news was out that Andy was leaving, the Internet was like, oh, he’s going to be the new Andy, but that’s not the case,” he told Deadline. “Andy was number one on the call sheet. I was number 20. I’m still number 20. I want to stay number 20. The Internet says whatever the Internet says, and that’s been a thing forever for this show, but I have to still play the character like I’ve played it. For Daryl, for the survivors, there are communities, which you can see from the first episode we’re trying to form alliances with and work together with.
“Having Andy leave, it’s a big blow to the show but his energy is still there,” he continued. “So he’s very much still present on set, as is Lauren, but you know, it’s a different show now. People are rising to the challenge in different ways and in unexpected ways that you don’t see. It feels like a new show. Like a really honest, heartfelt Western that’s scary, and the threats are different. It’s more Hannibal Lecter and less Batman, no pun intended.”
Meanwhile, the cast of the show have compiled an emotional video to say goodbye to Lincoln ahead of his exit from the show on Sunday (November 4).
The two-minute video sees past and present stars of the show remembering their time with Lincoln. Scott Wilson – who died in October aged 76 – begins the clip and will appear in Lincoln’s final episode. “I had the pleasure of working with Mr. Lincoln once more, so that was really a great day for me,” Wilson said in the video.
Other stars who paid tribute to Lincoln included Norman Reedus, Steven Yeun, Lauren Cohan, and Danai Gurira.
Lauren Cohan, who plays Maggie, said: “Andy is one of the most kind and generous people that you could ever work with”. Sonequa Martin-Green added: ‘To see someone who has that level of excellence and maintains that level of excellence, brings it out in you.”
Steven Yuen’s departure said: “I keep racking my brain to figure out something to say and every single thing kind of fails that, so all I really wanted to say is Andy, I love you”. In the emotional clip, Norman Reedus added: “He’s taught me to be a better father, a better friend, a better actor.”
Are any other cast members leaving?
After speculation spread earlier this year that she may leave the show for good due to a pay dispute, Lauren Cohan – who plays Maggie – confirmed on April 25 that she would reprise her key role in season nine of The Walking Dead. “I’m going back,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “There’s a lot more Maggie story to tell.”
It’s since been reported that Cohan will still be “phased out” of the show this season. The actress will only be departing for the time being, however, with her fiery widow character only reportedly set to feature in six episodes of season nine – a decision triggered by Cohan’s newly-announced role in the forthcoming ABC show Whiskey Cavalier.
Showrunner Angela Kang is still 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.”
The conclusion of the opening episode of season nine saw the shocking death of Hilltop villain Gregory in a move which mirrored the narrative of the original Walking Dead comics. But, after his exit aired on October 7, actor Xander Berkeley admitted that he wasn’t entirely satisfied with the nature of his departure.
“There’s only so long a douchebag like Gregory can stay alive, so I wasn’t shocked to find out – even though it was very much [written into the show] at the last minute and I had been a little bit set up to expect a very different journey”, he told Entertainment Weekly, revealing that previous showrunner Scott M. Gimple had apparently planned to keep Gregory in the story for a bit longer. However, Berkeley added that he had “no hard feelings” about having his character killed off.
Will any old characters be returning?
Yes! New showrunner Angela Kang confirmed during an appearance at New York Comic-Con in October that season nine will see the return of Jon Bernthal (who played Shane), the late Scott Wilson (Hershel) and Sonequa Martin-Green (Sasha). The context of the trio’s comebacks to The Walking Dead is still unknown, but it is likely that the characters – who have all died on the show – will return in either dream sequences or flashbacks.
Any new cast members?
Plenty. On July 18, it was widely reported that Eleanor Matsuura will be playing Yumiko – a character from the Walking Dead comics who, like Daryl, uses a crossbow – in season nine. Matsuura strongly hinted that she had joined the cast after posting on Instagram that she’d just moved to Atlanta – a mere stone’s throw away from the show’s regular filming location in Senoia, Georgia.
Lauren Ridloff, meanwhile, will become the first deaf actress to feature on The Walking Dead. She’s joined the cast for season nine to play the character of Connie.
Other new additions to the cast include Nadia Hilker (as Magna), Brett Butler (Tammy Rose), John Finn (Earl), Samantha Morton (Alpha), Ryan Hurst (Beta) and Cassady McClincy (Lydia).
What about the crew?
Angela Kang has taken over from Scott M. Gimple as the new showrunner of The Walking Dead. Gimple has moved upstairs to become Chief of Content, a role which will allow him to oversee the entire Walking Dead franchise.
What other changes should we expect?
Speaking immediately after season eight ended, Gimple teased the show’s transformation for season nine by describing it as a “quantum leap forward”.
“The show will evolve in a huge way [in season nine],” he said. “They’ll be dealing with things we haven’t seen them deal with before and dealing with each other in ways that we haven’t seen before. What [the writers] have planned… it just feels new. It feels like an evolved show. [The past eight seasons] very much lived in the world that Rick began with. It was so informed by the pilot. It just takes this quantum leap forward in the stories we’re telling.”
Angela Kang later confirmed a time jump – just like in the comic book series – would be happening in season nine. As it kicked off, a synopsis for the new block of episodes confirmed that the narrative would resume 18 months after the events of season eight, which saw Rick finally defeat Negan.
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in July, Kang said “we’re really looking at the start of a new chapter of the show.”
“We’ll explore what happened as man made objects and structures break down,” she said. “Infrastructure like roads and bridges are changing and crumbling. And we’ll also explore what happens as resources are getting low.
“There’s a fun Western vibe that has emerged,” Kang added. “We are going into a period where a lot of the things that we’ve seen in previous seasons have broken down, so they’ve got these horses and carriages that are being drawn around instead of cars. Things are lit with oil lamps. People are using different kinds of weaponry. There’s a real grittiness to it that I think will be fun and fresh for the viewers.”
The Newnan Times-Herald reported back in April that a pre-production permit request had been made to erect a 55-foot windmill on the Alexandria filming set. This further suggested that the show was set to skip ahead in time – to at least a point when the windmill’s construction is nearly done or totally complete. The structure, as fans will know, is a prominent fixture in the comic series on which the TV programme is based.
Will Maggie and Rick be enemies?
At the end of season eight, Maggie vowed to bide her time and show Rick he was wrong to keep Negan alive; Daryl and Jesus seemed to be on her side. Fans were livid that the former friends might turn on one another – but, given the time-jump, maybe all of the drama will have been resolved by the time of season nine. That’s what Norman Reedus seemed to suggest back in April, reassuring fans that his character won’t be turning on Rick:
Will we meet The Whisperers?
It’s almost certain that we will.
After Negan and The Saviors, the next big baddie in the comics upon which The Walking Dead is based on is a group called the Whisperers. Members of this creepy lot go by names such as Alpha and Beta; they wear walker skin and only talk in whispers to avoid being attacked by the undead; and the heads of their enemies are placed on poles outside their territory. They’ll be an intriguing addition to the canon of Walking Dead TV characters: let’s hope we meet them soon.
What else is going to happen in season nine?
According to Angela Kang, in season nine we’ll see “our group together working in unity in a lot of ways, but you’ll also see some changes in the way that they deal with each other. In some ways, you’ll see that the vision has succeeded beyond anybody’s wildest imagination. But you’ll also see the cracks in that.”
A lengthy plot synopsis of season nine read as follows: “Last season brought the culmination of ‘All Out War,’ which pitted Rick Grimes and his group of survivors against the Saviors and their cunning leader, Negan. With Negan’s life in his hands, Rick had a character-defining choice in front of him.
“By making the unilateral decision to spare Negan, Rick upheld the values his late son, Carl, championed in order to build for the future, but created conflict within his group. Now, we see our survivors a year and a half after the end of the war, rebuilding civilisation under Rick’s steadfast leadership.
“It is a time of relative peace among the communities as they work together, looking to the past to forge the future, but the world they knew is rapidly changing as man-made structures continue to degrade and nature takes over changing the landscape and creating new challenges for our survivors.
“As time passes, the communities confront unexpected obstacles, danger, and of course, walkers, 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.”
Elsewhere, a hint about Daryl’s storyline may have been revealed by Norman Reedus back in July when speaking to TVLine about the character’s sex life. The actor alluded to the character’s, erm, lack of steamy scenes in the show so far, speculating on some reasons as to why that might be.
“I think when it happens, it’s gonna be a big deal… but I’m glad that we have played him the way we’ve played him,” Reedus quipped. “I think if we would have had some hot steamy barn sex somewhere, it would be over and done, it wouldn’t be a thing.
“I don’t think he’s that type of a guy,” Reedus continued. “I think he’s the type of guy that when he does it, he’ll be in love. Like, he will fall in love. He wears his heart on his sleeve. Everything he means he says, when he cares about someone, he cares about them. And I think playing it in that direction is better than having an episode or a scene in one thing. It means more to him. He’s sensitive.”
The actor also spoke last year about Daryl’s sexuality, revealing that producers initially considered Daryl to be a gay character in the show. “It never happened, obviously, but I’m not against it and if it happened, I would be down for it and I’d try to kick ass at it, but I don’t know if that’s where we’re going with it.”
How many episodes will there be in season nine?
16. Since season three, each season of The Walking Dead has consisted of 16 episodes which are split into two parts. The first eight-episode block will air weekly from October 7 to November 25.
Any trailers for season nine?
Yes – check it out below.
A first look at the upcoming new season arrived on July 6 with the first promotional poster for season nine – featuring helicopters, abandoned government buildings and plenty of new hair cuts.
And there’s going to be a new video game, too?
Yes, a brand new Walking Dead game is coming to Windows on November 8 (November 6 in North America) before a later release on PS4 and Xbox One on February 8, 2019 (February 6 in North America). Created by developers Overkill, the game – titled Overkill’s The Walking Dead – will be an FPS co-operative multiplayer, with players able to control a new set of characters: Aidan, Grant, Heather and Maya.
Watch a trailer for the game below:
In other news, Robert Kirkman confirmed during a Comic-Con event in October that Skybound had struck a deal to complete Telltale Games’ Walking Dead video game series.
Additional words and updates by Sam Moore