The brotherly bond between Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) will be tested in The Walking Dead season 9 as the schism between the two will deepen over Rick's controversial decision to spare the life of the imprisoned Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).
"There will definitely be story about Maggie and Daryl and Rick and where they are at with each other," newest showrunner Angela Kang told EW. "I don't want to spoil too much about that storyline, but there will be some surprises along the way with it. It's definitely something that we will be exploring this season."
Daryl aligned himself with the like-minded Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Jesus (Tom Payne) at the end of season 8, entering into a shadowy cabal targeting Negan, who the trio feels has not been brought to justice for his crimes.
Despite this widening rift between the two camps, season 9 will dig into "a lot of the core relationships," Kang said.
"We'll be delving into those and seeing how people are thinking about bigger problems. And thinking about their philosophies, and thinking about how people come together and create civilization and what those rules are going to be, and how you contend with it. And I think that there'll be some really interesting storylines for people who care about some of these characters that we've been following for years. Because they are family at this point, and they love each other. They respect each other, but those relationships are very complicated. So, 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."
Kang told TV Line the Alexandrian leader starts the new season "in a place of relative peace," but warned "this being The Walking Dead, there's still danger at every turn."
Asked if some of that danger will come from Hilltop head Maggie, Kang answered, "We'll get into that. When we start off, life is good for Maggie. But Negan still lives in her mind, and [Glenn's murderer being kept alive] weighs on her. So she has to figure out what she has to do to set that right for herself."
Despite that multi-month time jump, feelings haven't cooled: according to Walking Dead insider Johnny O'Dell, Rick and Daryl's relationship will be at "an all time low" while Rick builds up his community and former Alexandrian Daryl moves between communities in search of his place.
This upcoming half-season marks Lincoln's exit from the show after eight-and-a-half seasons. Rick will be "phased out" and Reedus' Daryl will be elevated to the lead role to the tune of a reported $20 million deal.
The Walking Dead debuts its first season 9 trailer this Friday, July 20, at San Diego Comic-Con, ahead of its October season premiere on AMC.