AMC's The Walking Dead returned to New York Comic Con to celebrate its upcoming ninth season. The episodes that will make up Rick Grimes' swan song premier tomorrow, October 7th, and fans are of course curious at what's in store.
The trailers have confirmed two major plot points: two years have elapsed since the end of the war between the Saviors and the other communities and this season will introduce the Whisperers, villains fans of the comics have been dying to see adapted on the show. Their arrival brings with them new cast members Samantha Morton as Alpha, Ryan Hurst as Beta, Nadia Hilker as Magna and Cassady McClincy as Lydia. As yet, there is no word on whether or not the Whisperers will show up while Rick is still around or if they'll appear in the latter half of Season 9 after Andrew Lincoln's departure. Also exiting this season, thought not nearly as definitively as Lincoln, is Lauren Cohan. It seems Maggie Rhee will abandon her post as leader of the Hilltop in some capacity while Cohan leaves to star in the ABC pilot Whiskey Cavalier.
But perhaps the most interesting question regarding the new season is just what this show will look like now. After the poorly-received All Out War storyline, TWD went through a very public overhaul. Angela Kang was promoted to showrunner after having written for the show since Season 2, and she promised that Season 9 would see a return to the show's roots. What that could mean when the trailers show the society at its most advanced since the onset of the apocalypse remains to be seen.
The panel moderated by Chris Hardwick featured appearances by Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes), Melissa McBride (Carol Peletier), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Negan), Norman Reedus (Daryl), Danai Gurira (Michonne), showrunner Angela Kang and executive producers Scott Gimple, Gale Ann Hurd, Dave Alpert, Robert Kirkman and Greg Nicotero, who also directed the premier.
The crowd went absolutely wild over Andrew Lincoln and even erupted into a basketball type cheer shouting "An-Drew Lin-coln!" followed by claps. From there the conversation moved to discussion of Angela Kang's new role from her perspective:
It's amazing, it's a lot of responsibility I get to do a lot of different things in this role that I feel like I get to grow as somebody in this career just getting to be involved in all aspects of production, post-production as well as the writing.
Much was made of Andrew Lincoln's exit, with producers and cast sharing endless anecdotes about the actor's inhuman work ethic, his inspiring leadership and overall how much the man is beloved and how much he'll be missed. Dave Alpert shared that his favorite Rick moments were at the top of Season 1 when Rick rides into Atlanta and sees the devastation and also at the beginning of Season 3 when he's fully transformed into a leader in the apocalypse. Gale Ann Hurd shared a story about how she'd asked him during Season 1 if he was a soccer fan and he lied to her face saying no. He apparently was intimidated by her and the fact that she was a fan of Arsenal, and since he's a fan of their rivals Manchester United, he lied about it and continued to lie for four years.
Lincoln himself reminisced about his final day during which he got so immersed in his work he actually pulled part of the set down and knocked out a cameraman. He also had to laugh during one of his final scenes and apparently Norman Reedus, who was directing, elicited that reaction by tickling his erstwhile co-stars feet with a feather.
Danai Gurira pointed out that Lincoln's looneyness on set actually helped her get out of her own way when she first started:
I only got to work with Mr. Lincoln in episode 7... what really struck me I was like, oh thank God. He's a maniac. I just love it... Singing really badly with his earbuds on, running up and down, doing pushups... that gave me full permission to be a maniac.
Jefferey Dean Morgan shed every single piece of Negan when asked about his time with Lincoln and simply said, "Working with him is gonna go down as one of the greatest pleasures of my life." After Morgan spoke, Hardwick announced that they had taken an online poll to see what everyone's favorite Rick scene, and then aired a scene between Rick and Daryl after the two reunite in Season 4 in which Rick utters the famous, "It's not on you. It's not on you. You back with us is everything. You're my brother."
As to whether or not Shane would return to the show even in flashback, Angela Kang confirmed that Jon Bernthal would indeed return to the show as would Scott Wilson (Herschel) and Sonequa Martin-Green (Sasha). It's pretty obvious at this point that unless science has taken some serious leaps and bounds in the time between Seasons 8 and 9, that those appearances will be a flashback or dream sequence of some kind.
As to what audiences could expect from Season 9, Norman Reedus and Danai Gurira both described the show as a western, which is clearly reflective of the 19th century technology that dominates the communities now, as well as the tenuous and lawless nature of the area between the communities and the relationships that hold them together.
Finally, as for Negan, Jefferey Dean Morgan hinted at the difficulty the character's facing now that he's imprisoned and largely alone. When Hardwick asked him if there was going to be anything redeemable about Negan to be had, he had this to say about his divisive character:
Wholly different side of Negan that we're gonna see this year, I would hope being that it's a 180 turn that there's something redeemable in there or we're in a heap load of trouble... Negan's fighting some difficult battles. It's tough in a ten by ten cell, he's got a lot of time to reflect.
The Walking Dead premiers October 7th at 9pm on AMC.