The Walking Dead Season Nine will lay the groundwork to introduce the Commonwealth, one of the bigger parts of a major ongoing storyline from Robert Kirkman's comic book series.
New showrunner Angela Kang confirmed with IGN the sign spotted in the Season Nine trailer name-dropping the Commonwealth was a deliberate Easter egg, but said that specific Ohio-set network of communities won't be coming into the story just yet.
"Obviously the Commonwealth does mean things to people; we're starting to seed in some future stories. The timing of those stories may not be in the immediate future, but there will be things this season that are groundwork being laid for finding out more about the world," Kang said.
Other signs point to the Commonwealth, literally, with a wooden direction post aimed towards Toledo, Ohio — a state that goes on to become a major player in the Walking Dead comics post-war.
Ohio is home to the Commonwealth — a network of nearly 50,000 survivors interspersed throughout different settlements — and is the location of Stephanie, an over-the-radio pen pal for big-brained Eugene who ultimately brings him and his Alexandrian friends into the Commonwealth.
The mysterious recurring helicopter — which has appeared on the key art and posters for this new season, conspicuously located near Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) — could be tied to the Commonwealth, who would have the resources necessary to own and operate a helicopter, which we learned last season has as-of-yet-revealed ties to Anne (Pollyanna McIntosh), formerly Jadis of the Scavengers.
"One of the things I know fans have been interested by is this helicopter, and so we will learn a little bit more about that mystery and how it might connect to other people or other places," Kang teased.
The helicopter could be linked to the looming exits of either Rick or Maggie (Lauren Cohan), who will be written out this first half-season as both actors are leaving the show — at least for now.
Cohan and Kang both say Maggie's story this season is left open-ended, suggesting a future return down the line, and Lincoln hinted at his own exit from the show being temporary when he ominously told ComicBook.com, "My relationship with this part is far from over. I'm not gonna say anything more than that but I will say, 'Watch this season.'"
Addressing the press during San Diego Comic-Con, Lincoln pointed to longtime co-star Lennie James, who plays Morgan, who left the show without dying by jumping over to spinoff Fear The Walking Dead.
"Lennie James is a perfect example of leaving without dying and doing rather well on it, so there is that way," Lincoln said.
"And then there is obviously the other way, which we've done quite a lot," he said of Rick meeting a bloody end. "Obviously I'm not going to tell you which way [Rick leaves]. I mean, I'd prefer the Lennie James of it all. But I think what we have in store this season is truly remarkable, and I'm very proud of the work that we've done."
Kang is playing Rick's exit close to the chest, but did say Lincoln is "incredible" in his final run of episodes which make for "an incredibly emotional journey" this front half of Season Nine.
The Walking Dead Season Nine debuts Sunday, Oct. 7 on AMC.