The rivalry between Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes and Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan will continue to play out through the bars of a jail cell as Rick attempts to usher in a new beginning in The Walking Dead Season Nine.
Rick keeping the ousted Savior leader prisoner in the Alexandria jail adds a new dynamic to their antagonistic relationship, reversing the position of power Negan imposed over formerly blackmailed communities like Hilltop and the Kingdom.
“We talked about it in the writers room, just this idea of, when a war ends — and then you have people who are soldiers in the war, generals — what happens when there’s no real transition? Because it’s an apocalypse,” new showrunner Angela Kang said on The Walking Dead Season Nine preview special.
“I think in a lot of ways, Rick goes down there and it’s part therapy and part gloating. They’re just trying to work their way through it. They both feel in some ways like dinosaurs after the war. As Rick is trying to figure out what’s the next step, what’s the next mission, Negan kind of needles him, but Rick needs to be able to justify, ‘This is why I kept you alive, it’s so that we can have a future.’”
Because of their history — Negan tormented Rick right off the bat, murdering friends Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), abducting right hand man Daryl (Norman Reedus), nearly forcing a humiliated Rick to sever the hand of son Carl (Chandler Riggs), to name a few of Negan’s crimes — Rick intends to show Negan he was wrong, keeping him alive to see the civilization cultivated by neighboring communities now working in tandem.
“So that’s really what it is, him trying to kind of work it through. And also tell him, though, like, ‘Hey man, you’re suffering, we’ve got a good thing going,’” Kang said.
Despite the ensuing 18 months of peacetime, Rick’s solely-made decision to spare Negan’s life has caused a bit of a rift with Hilltop leader Maggie (Lauren Cohan), who has since given birth to a son and developed into more of an independent leader.
“He has been so supportive of the fact that she’s kind of coming into her own as a leader, he said that he would be the own to follow her, and then at the end of the season when he kind of made this unilateral decision in some ways to spare Negan when they had a pact to kill him, that didn’t sit well with Maggie,” Kang explained.
Now that Maggie has built up the farming community into a major player, audiences will see a Maggie who is “not gonna just fall in line with everything Rick’s doing because she has to take care of her own people now,” Kang said. “She’s got her own agendas and she’s gonna follow them.”
While that new tenser-than-usual relationship “doesn’t mean that they hate each other, they still love each other [and] respect each other deeply,” Kang said, Season Nine will explore the “real differences in philosophy” carried by the Alexandrian and Hilltop leaders. “That’s a story we’ll be playing through the season.”
Both Lincoln and Cohan will be stepping down from the series this front half of the upcoming season.
The Walking Dead Season Nine premieres Sunday, October 7 on AMC.