When The Walking Dead returns for its ninth season in the fall, it will in some ways be a different show than it was at the end of Season 8. It will have a new showrunner and a new story, since the Season 8 finale was something like the conclusion of the first long war-driven novel, and Season 9 will start the second, civilization-driven story. Here's what we know so far about the next 16 episodes of AMC's flagship horror drama.
(Warning: Mild/potential spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 9 past this point!)
It will have a new showrunner. Angela Kang has been promoted from Co-Executive Producer to Executive Producer. She has been a writer on the show since Season 2, and has penned some of the show's finest hours, including Season 4's "Still," Season 6's "The Next World" and the Season 8 highlight "The Lost and the Plunderers." She's taking over for longtime showrunner Scott Gimple, who is moving up to the newly-created title of Chief Content Officer for the whole Walking Dead franchise, developing new ideas to keep it growing.
Kang's going to return the show to its former glory. In an interview with Fandom, executive producer/director Greg Nicotero said that Season 9 "is kind of morphing back into a Season 4, Season 5 kind of vibe." Not coincidentally, Seasons 4 and 5 are the show's most fan-beloved and highest-rated, while Season 8's season finale was the lowest-rated since Season 1.
It's going to be the start of a new story. Season 8 was the end of the first stage of The Walking Dead. "I think that when we got the news that Carl was dying on the show, it certainly for me, it felt like very much a bookend of a much bigger journey that began in the hospital," Rick Grimes portrayer Andrew Lincoln told Comicbook.com. "Searching for his wife and his son were the two engines that kept this man alive at the beginning of the show eight years. To lose the second engine that fueled him, at this point, certainly did feel, to me personally, not just the end of a chapter but a book, really."
Scott Gimple talks about Season 8 in similar terms, saying that the finale concluded a lot of characters' storylines in ways that open them up for new storylines going forward. "This is sort of the end of a very long chapter of The Walking Dead," Gimple told Deadline. "And I don't mean the past couple years, I mean the first eight years of the show, and that this ends a period of the story that will not be replicated. It is going to turn into, in some ways, a very different show."
Zombies are going to be a problem again. In the Season 8 finale, the survivors saw an enormous herd of walkers off in the distance, bigger than they'd ever seen, and it was coming their way. Rick said that all of them — Alexandrians, Hilltoppers, Kingdommers, reformed Saviors — were the living, and they had to work together against the dead, who are the real enemy.
The Walking Dead deprioritizes zombies when there's a human antagonist, and for the last two-and-a-half seasons that's been Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). But since Negan's been defeated, walkers will pose a real threat for the first time since the first half of Season 6. Now that the survivors are on the same page, they'll have to protect their budding civilization from the force of nature that is a zombie horde.
But there may be a human enemy among those zombies. In the comics, the enemy that emerges after the Saviors are defeated is the Whisperers, a band of weirdos who make skin-suits out of walkers and live among the dead. They might be part of that horde off in the distance. Eagle-eyed comics readers watching the Season 8 finale spotted what they think are a couple of teases that the Whisperers are coming: some posts in a field that look a lot like the ones the Whisperers use to mark their territory, and a hint that Dwight's (Austin Amelio) missing wife Sherry (Christine Evangelista) might be Alpha, the Whisperers' sadistic leader, since the infinity symbol she drew in the note she left for her husband is reminiscent of Alpha's ouroboros belt buckle.
Working against this theory is the fact that the comics take a big time jump after the end of the Savior war that doesn't seem to be imminent on the show, since stories have been seeded in the Season 8 finale that may need to be told sooner rather than later. On the other hand, Fear the Walking Dead Season 4 took a time jump after ending Season 3 on a cliff-hanger and it worked out fine, so there's no real reason The Walking Dead couldn't figure out a way to skip forward a couple years.
Maggie's coming back. For a while there, it looked like Lauren Cohan, who has played Maggie Rhee (née Greene) since Season 2, was leaving the show. She had been trying to negotiate a new contract with AMC, but the parties are having trouble coming to an agreement and she booked a lead role on an ABC pilot Whiskey Cavalier. But shortly before heading off to Atlanta to work on Season 9, she told EW that she'd be back, because "There's a lot more Maggie story to tell."
Whiskey Cavalier might still get picked up to series and cut into Cohan's availability, but we'll cross that walker-infested bridge when we come to it.
Al and Siddiq are sticking around. Callan McAulliffe and Avi Nash, who play Savior defector Alden and Hilltop doctor Siddiq, respectively, got promoted from recurring to series regular, according to The Hollywood Reporter. So they'll be getting more screen time in Season 9.
What about that helicopter? Throughout Season 8, we kept seeing a helicopter that never got explained. Whoever owns it has some kind of relationship with Jadis/Anne (Pollyanna McIntosh), and now that she's going to live with Rick's people, she may want to let them in on her secret. The Walking Dead may keep dragging this out — comic publisher Skybound's social media manager Johnny O'Dell said that the mystery will be resolved in a "later season."
Alexandria's being rebuilt. After saying goodbye in Season 8 when the Saviors burned it, Rick and co. will return to their former home in the Alexandria Safe Zone. We briefly got a taste of it when Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) visited the burnt remains of his church, but Comicbook.com reports that a rebuild of the set is in progress.
Work on Season 9 is well underway. The writers began working on Season 9 last month, according to Digital Spy, and filming began April 30.
The Walking Dead Season 9 is coming to AMC this fall.