AMC delivered the first official look at The Walking Dead season 9 Thursday, debuting the full key art for the upcoming season premiering this October.
The poster — featuring Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), Michonne (Danai Gurira), Carol (Melissa McBride), Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) — teases the broadening of the Walking Dead world as promised in the season 8 when Rick, addressing the members of the Alexandria, Hilltop, Kingdom, and Sanctuary communities, told the assembled fighters “there’s gotta be something after” the defeat and ousting of the oppressive Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).
“We are life. That’s death,” he said, motioning towards a massive nearby horde of walkers. “And it’s coming for us, unless we stand together. Go home. And then the work begins. The new world begins. All this... all this is just what was. There’s gotta be something after.”
When The Walking Dead returns for season 9, that “something after” means a new creative lead, fresh characters and locations, an updated status quo, and a new beginning.
Leading man Andrew Lincoln and series veteran Lauren Cohan will both be exiting The Walking Dead in the front half of season 9.
AMC is expected to officially announce Lincoln’s departure ahead of his final episodes, but Lincoln — and subsequently Rick Grimes — will be gone before the end of season 9. Cohan similarly is contracted for just six more episodes, indicating an exit by or before the mid-season finale.
Lincoln and Cohan will be “phased out” and Norman Reedus will reportedly receive a beefier role to the tune of a $20 million payday.
Neither actor has commented publicly on stepping away from The Walking Dead, but Cohan boarded soon-to-debut ABC spy dramedy Whiskey Cavalier — since ordered to series — after a widely-publicized pay dispute with AMC.
Lincoln hopes to spend more time with family overseas, according to former co-star Chandler Riggs, whose own long-surviving character was killed off midway through season 8.
Lincoln hinted at losing steam after the loss of Rick’s son, Carl, telling EW, “I always thought that the kid would be the future, and that was the whole point of this — that I was going to hand over the revolver and let him walk off into the distance.”
The actor made similar comments to ComicBook.com, telling us Carl’s death came like “very much a bookend of a much bigger journey that began in the hospital” in the 2010 pilot.
“Searching for his wife and his son were the two engines that kept this man alive at the beginning of the show eight years,” Lincoln said. “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, who served as showrunner from season 4 until season 8, has since been elevated to the position of chief content officer for the Walking Dead brand on AMC.
Gimple will remain as executive producer on The Walking Dead but has handed showrunning duties to first-time showrunner Angela Kang, a writer-producer on the series since its second season in 2011.
Longtime fans will recognize Kang’s works — Kang scripted such episodes as 4x16, ‘A,’ which saw Rick brutalize the Claimers, and 8x08, ‘How It’s Gotta Be,’ where Carl stepped up to defend Alexandria from the Saviors’ explosive surprise attack — and this new season is in good care in Kang’s hands, Gimple said of the new narrative moving forward.
“The newness of the narrative is driven by her vision. She’s putting different things forward that we haven’t seen before. And she’s also been working on the show since season 2, so she knows it inside and out,” he said.
“And even this year, when I was working on [The Walking Dead Seasons 8 and 9, and Fear the Walking Dead season 4], more and more responsibility went to her, so it’s not like she’s jumping into something she doesn’t know. She knows exactly where all the keys are. She’s completely equipped to do a great job.”
“We’re working on a season that has a really fresh look and feel. We’re playing with time in this season, so we get to kind of jump forward in the story,” Kang revealed during ‘The Kick-Ass Women of AMC’ panel in June.
Going into season 9, “We come in on some really fun stuff,” Kang said. “I’m really focusing a lot on the core character relationships in the show that have kind of been long lasting as well as servicing all of our wonderful series' regulars.”
Kang’s comments confirm some time will have passed when we see next see the survivors of The Walking Dead, but an exact amount has yet to be revealed.
A similar time jump occurred in Robert Kirkman’s comic books following the conclusion of the ‘All Out War’ storyline. Issue #127, the first entry in volume 22, ‘A New Beginning,’ saw the book leap more than two years into the future after the defeat of Negan and the Saviors.
Season 9 crew apparel further teased an adaptation of ‘A New Beginning’ and set photos, snapped at the start of filming in May, revealed new looks for several characters — including full beards for Rick and Aaron (Ross Marquand) and a reimagined Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), who appears to have suffered permanent effects from his season 8 sickness.
A lack of belly on Maggie in the first poster suggests the time jump skipped past the bulk of Maggie’s pregnancy: in the comics, Maggie and Glenn’s baby, Hershel, was first seen in issue #130 and was already almost two-years-old when introduced.
Alternatively, the time jump on the television series could be less significant than believed — meaning not much time has passed since the season 8 finale, still placing Maggie in the early stages of her pregnancy.
The Walking Dead will add to its expansive cast with new characters brought over from the comics, namely girlfriends Yumiko and Magna, who were reportedly confirmed by casting intel dished by TV Line in May. Their comic book counterparts integrate into the group and play a role in the conflict against the Whisperers — an enemy group of savage, nomadic travelers that utilize the flesh of the dead as a form of camouflage.
Last month, Skybound confirmed season 9 will bring to screen “characters from the comics as well as new characters unique to the show,” which could see the TV series introduce newcomers Dante, Marco, or Ken and, potentially, Whisperer leader Alpha and right-hand-man Beta.
Meanwhile, Avi Nash and Callan McAuliffe — who joined The Walking Dead in season 8 as Siddiq and Alden, respectively — were promoted to series regulars during the offseason.
With the war concluded, the communities will next turn their sights towards rebuilding civilization.
“I think what’s exciting about next season is, just by virtue of the narrative, the story evolves a great deal,” Gimple told TV Line. “From the things said in the finale, there’s a bigger ambition now, a bigger thing that they’re chasing. It isn’t just regular, everyday survival, which they’ve become quite adept at. It’s what to do with that. Now they’re going after civilization.”
Rick and his allies have now taken steps to achieving the “very ambitious dream” envisioned by a dying Carl, a peaceful future Rick promised he would help realize. Creating such a reality “requires cooperation,” Gimple said, “and the stakes are much higher. That leads to very different types of stories and different sorts of conflicts.”
In season 9, The Walking Dead “evolves in a huge way,” Gimple told Variety. “They’ll be dealing with things we haven’t seen them deal with before and dealing with each other in ways we haven’t seen before. What they have planned is — it just feels new.”
Rick will continue to navigate the fallout from his decision to spare Negan’s life, a move that earns continued resentment from Maggie and Daryl — something that will play a role in season 9.
Gimple shot down the idea of a civil war between communities, saying Maggie’s clandestine plotting with Daryl and Jesus (Tom Payne) in the closing moments of season 8 concerned Negan — not Rick.
“Make no mistake, no one is getting in front of Maggie to stop her,” Gimple warned. “That’s where there is danger and potential conflict.”
Season 9 will put more of a focus on rebuilding and will see civilizations grow — particularly the Hilltop, which will implement the plans given to Maggie by mysterious benefactor Georgie (Jayne Atkinson).
Much like the back half of season 4 and the front half of season 5, the characters will reportedly spend more time on the road in season 9 as confirmed by Walking Dead insider Johnny O’Dell in the Skybound mailbag. Also teased were several new locales, including a trip into the city — a decayed Washington, D.C., as confirmed by set photos where downtown Atlanta, Georgia operated as a stand in for the ruined remains of civilization located nearby Alexandria, Virginia (where the show is now set).
Featured prominently on the key art for season 9 is the United States Capitol, the insides of which will be explored early on in season 9.
At June’s ‘Kick-Ass Women of AMC’ panel, Kang promised expanded roles for The Walking Dead’s leading ladies, namely Michonne, Maggie, and Carol — all featured prominently on the key art for season 9, a rarity for the series.
“We're going to see some really great stories with the women on our show, particularly," Kang said.
“And I think for people who are really invested in, say, Michonne, Maggie, Carol, there's such great material for them as well as, of course, Rick and Daryl, and those other characters that we love. But for people who are looking for that specifically, they will really see some incredible work from our women.”
Kang dished on “really great moments and great stories” for other supporting players, singling out Anne (Pollyanna McIntosh) — better known as former Scavenger leader Jadis — who integrated into Alexandria at the end of season 8.
“I think we're going to see Anne in a way that people will be very surprised by seeing a different aspect of her character,” Kang said.
Anne is tied to the mysterious recurring helicopter that popped up throughout season 8 and which can be spotted on the season 9 poster — indicating a revelation about the helicopter, and who it belongs to, will play a major role this season.
As reported by ComicBook.com in June, Jon Bernthal — who portrayed Rick’s former best friend and partner Shane in the first two seasons of The Walking Dead — will reprise his role in an unknown capacity in season 9.
The star has since gone on to make his mark in major Hollywood movies and headline his own series in Marvel-Netflix’s The Punisher, and while Shane’s return is expected to be brief, Bernthal is confirmed to reappear as Shane sometime in the first half of season 9.
Shane’s return will come by way of flashback or hallucination — possibly as visions experienced by a dying Rick Grimes, if Rick is killed off as expected.
Bernthal will take part in the Walking Dead panel scheduled for San Diego Comic-Con later this month.
AMC will drop The Walking Dead season 9 trailer at San Diego Comic-Con when the zombie drama takes over Hall H on Friday, July 20.
The Walking Dead and Fear The Walking Dead panels will run from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. in Hall H. The sprawling panels will include Andrew Lincoln, Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride, Norman Reedus, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Fear’s Kim Dickens, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Colman Domingo, and Lennie James, plus executive producers Gale Anne Hurd, Robert Kirkman, and Angela Kang, among other guests.
The network is expected to debut both the trailer and The Walking Dead's return date for season 9, premiering sometime in October.