When The Walking Dead resumes its refreshed ninth season with new episodes in February, the series will offer up new threats as well as plentiful surprises for both comic book readers and show-only viewers.
"As with every season of the show, there's a certain amount of stuff from the comic that we follow relatively faithfully, but really more in terms of orange cones in the stories, is kind of how we think about it," showrunner Angela Kang told Deadline.
"Like, oh here are these moments that we want to try to adapt, but a lot of times the routes that we take go into different directions."
Such deviations include the Season Eight death of Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) and the Season Nine send off for his father, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), who will be spun off into his own trilogy of television movies away from the mothership series, as well as the mid-season departure of Hilltop leader Maggie (Lauren Cohan).
"The array of characters and the timeline that we're in are completely different, and so there are obviously going to be some deviations," Kang added.
"So, there are some familiar markers to people who know the comics very well, but I'll say that there are some other surprises coming up along the way as well."
A fan of the Whisperers plot thread from creator Robert Kirkman's comic books, Kang was mindful of spoilers but hinted the more iconic beats of the story could play out in the back half of the season.
"I'll say that you know this is obviously an iconic story line from the comic and there's certainly memorable parts of the story that we want to tell, but it will be specific to the show," Kang said.
Emerging as the newest headlining villain is Whisperer leader Alpha (Samantha Morton), who reaches the series accompanied by daughter Lydia (Cassady McClincy) and merciless right-hand man Beta (Ryan Hurst).
"I think on screen it is a pretty striking introduction, and then we will get into some meaty stuff with her pretty early in the back half of the season," Kang teased of the villainess, glimpsed in the first trailer for the second half of Season Nine.
"I'll say that off-screen Samantha could not be a lovelier person to work with. We have really truly enjoyed having Samantha, and I can't wait for people to see the work she's doing. I've been working on some of the episodes in post she's in, and I think she's just a tremendous actress. There's some really cool stuff with her coming up."
Kirkman, who serves as executive producer on the series, previously said changes from page-to-screen happen "from time to time on the show" and such deviations just make the screenwriter "more excited."
"I think that any time that path is not set, any time you can't look at a comic book series and go, 'oh, I know exactly what's going to happen,' it makes things a little bit more exciting," Kirkman said during a March appearance on Talking Dead.
"And dealing with those unknowns, when we're in the writers room, when we're working on Season Nine, all those changes that kind of snowball out from that, it just makes for a better show."
The Walking Dead Season Nine returns to AMC with new episodes Sunday, February 10.