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.
It's getting a supersized premiere. The series is coming back earlier in October than usual: Sunday, Oct. 7 at 9/8c. Usually it premieres later in the month. The premiere is called "A New Beginning," is directed by executive producer Greg Nicotero and will be nearly 90 minutes long.
It has 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. Nicotero thinks the show relied too heavily on cryptic speeches in recent seasons and this season is a return to meaningful character development. "It reminded me of Season 2," he says. "Everybody always says 'Season 2, it was really boring, Hershel's farm,' and I'm like 'F--- you guys.' Season 2 is when we fell in love with Daryl, that's when we fell in love with Carol (Melissa McBride), because we took the time." And Kang says that she's worked to switch up the "storytelling rhythms," which had gotten a little stale.
But Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan are leaving. Collider reports that Rick Grimes portrayer Andrew Lincoln will leave the show before Season 9 is over. It's unknown at this point how Rick will be written off the show, but his exit will reportedly come around the sixth episode of the season as Lincoln leaves to spend more time with his family in England. He confirmed his exit during the show's panel at San Diego Comic-Con. Lauren Cohan, who plays Maggie, will also depart as she moves on to Whiskey Cavalier, the upcoming ABC series of which she's the star, though her exit will be open-ended and Angela Kang says that they're planning to bring her back in some capacity in Season 10.
Of Lincoln's exit, Kang told Entertainment Weekly: "The goal this season was just to pay homage to that character -- the character that brought us into the show. Rick Grimes has been somebody that people have loved watching, just loved this character's journey. He is this man who was looking for his family, and found them, and lost many of them, but has fought on and on. And I think that's meant a lot to people. And we just really wanted to be respectful of that character and send him off in a great way. So that was the charge for us this season."
Rick's gonna go out swinging. Rick will have a new mace-like weapon in Season 9. It's his answer to Negan's barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat Lucille.
Jon Bernthal will return. Jon Bernthal will reprise his role as Rick Grimes' partner-turned-nemesis Shane Walsh for one episode in Season 9, TVLine first reported. It's not yet known exactly what his return will entail, but presumably he'll appear in a flashback in Lincoln's final episode. Bernthal starred on the series' first two seasons before his character was killed off. He now leads Marvel's The Punisher. Also making special appearances will be Scott Wilson and Sonequa Martin-Green, who played Hershel Greene and Sasha Williams, who died in Season 4 and Season 7, respectively. Sadly, Wilson's appearance will be posthumous, as he passed away at age 76 the same day his Walking Dead return was announced.
There will be a time jump. Kang confirmed at the Kick-Ass Women of AMC panel that there would be a time jump in Season 9, which was later confirmed to be 18 months into the future. "We're playing with time in the season so we get to jump forward in the story. We come in on some pretty fun stuff," she said. In the future the show is heading toward, the survivors are almost out of gasoline and ammunition, so they're living medievally.
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," 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 talked about Seasons 8 and 9 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."
Driving that point home is the fact that the Season 9 premiere is called "A New Beginning."
It has a new opening credit sequence. Emphasizing the newness is the fact that the opening credits have gotten an overhaul for the first time in the show's history. "The opening credit sequence is indicative of the new look and feel to the world this season and we wanted to give a nod to the show's graphic novel origins," executive producer Angela Kang said in a statement. "As we jump into a new chapter of the story, we wanted to present something fun and fresh for our viewers to reflect the changing landscape, where nature will be playing a bigger role. While our survivors work to rebuild and adjust to the crumbling infrastructure, the threat of the dead is constantly looming. And true to the spirit of our show, there are Easter Eggs for the fans to find if they're looking close!" Don't worry, the theme music is still the same.
Alpha and the Whisperers are coming. That horde may contain the Whisperers, iconic comics villains who wear walker skin as clothing and live among the dead, because during the Comic-Con panel Angela Kang announced that Samantha Morton would be joining the cast as Alpha, the leader of the Whisperers. The Oscar-nominated actress will be a chillingly effective addition as the enigmatic big bad. Sons of Anarchy's Ryan Hurd has joined the cast as her second-in-command Beta. And the Whisperers can be heard in a chilling tag at the end of the trailer.
There are a lot of other new cast members, too. In addition to Morton, new cast members include Brett Butler as a "salt-of-the-earth" type named Tammy Rose and John Finn as her husband Earl, Hilltop's blacksmith; Rhys Coiro and Zach McGowan as noncompliant former Saviors Jed and Justin; Dan Fogler as Luke, a survivor who's happy to finally be a member of a community; The 100's Nadia Hilker as Magna, the leader of a small band of survivors, and Into the Badlands' Eleanor Matsuura as her girlfriend Yumiko; Lauren Ridloff as Connie, a deaf journalist, and Angel Theory as Connie's sister and ASL translator. Oh, and Daryl's getting a four-legged friend.
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.
Carol and Ezekiel are an item. In the trailer, Carol (Melissa McBride) and Ezekiel (Khary Payton) can be seen cuddling up by the campfire, which was later confirmed by the above photo. Cute! But that probably means one of them is going to die :(
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 helicopter makes a brief appearance in the key art and trailer below.
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.
The key art teases that they're going into Washington, D.C. The show is currently set in (what used to be) the D.C. metro area, but we've never really seen the city on the show. That looks like it's going to change, since the key art features a bombed-out Capitol dome (as well as Rick Grimes with a new short haircut that's getting into "Old Man Rick" territory).
The full trailer is here. AMC dropped a lengthy trailer at Comic-Con, and it shows first looks at new characters, new looks at old characters, all kinds of exciting action teasing a brewing civil war among the communities and the arrival of the Whisperers.
The Walking Dead Season 9 premieres Sunday, Oct. 7 at 9/8c