The Walking Dead is at a crossroads. Of course, that oftentimes feels like the default setting for the show's winding nature, and even a boon for the show's unpredictability factor. The series has featured forty different actors as members of the main cast over the course of nine seasons of television, and the willingness the series has to kill off main characters has made it one of the most genuinely surprising shows on television, to the point where fans can't be blamed for just tuning in to see who bites it next.
But things have shifted over the last two seasons. Whereas earlier character deaths were less crucial to the overall story, the series has been in a spiral of losing many of the characters who have defined the show, characters who still do define the source comic stories. With the imminent casualties of the Whisperers arc threatening to reduce the number of protagonists even further, you have to wonder whether The Walking Dead has enough characters left who we care enough about to allow the show to lose any more.
The Death Count
In 2018, a surprising number of major characters within the Walking Dead universe were killed off or removed from the show. While the fates of supporting characters like Simon and Gregory makes sense within the grand scheme of things, the surprising murder of Jesus and the controversial death of Carl are more impactful to the overall story, especially in light of three other major departures.
Rick Grimes is believed dead by the rest of his world, while Maggie has left for parts unknown to set up a new settlement. Now, Danai Gurira has announced that she will be leaving the series in the upcoming tenth season, and though it's unlikely Michonne will be killed, it has been confirmed that she will only appear in a handful of episodes in the eighth season. While this does give the various characters the opportunity to return for the planned movies set within The Walking Dead universe, or even to the main series itself, it means they are removed from the ongoing show, leaving a more inexperienced cast of characters to try and survive against the Whisperers.
If the Whisperers arc is anything like the original comic version of the story, audiences are looking at even more casualties in the pipeline. The show has made plenty of changes to the events of the comics and shifted deaths around other in the past, but it's hard to believe that the show would skip the dramatic and heartbreaking beginnings of the Whisperer conflict: The discovery of numerous allies, beheaded as a warning towards the other survivors. The casualties included Rosa and Ezekiel, both of whom are among the major remaining characters on the television series. They're also people the show can't really afford to lose.
Even just as recently as the Super Bowl, AMC was advertising the show with five characters: Daryl, Carol, Michonne, Ezekiel and Judith. While Daryl and Carol are both living proof that the show can deviate from the original series in interesting and compelling ways, the show has transformed Michonne into perhaps the most important character in the franchise. Her pending loss will hit the show hard, especially if Ezekiel follows suit. That would just leave the series with just a handful of characters fans are truly vested in, only two of whom were among the original members of the cast.
The Walking Dead has been the crown jewel of the AMC schedule, even as ratings have slipped in recent years. Fear the Walking Dead has been an interesting experiment that has borne out plenty of strong stories, and the news that Walking Dead movies will eventually reunite the missing members of the cast is promising for long time fans of the series.
But at the moment, there just aren't many characters left to carry the torch Rick and Michonne have wielded for so long. Daryl and Carol will both have to step up in more ways than any character has in the past. Both have traditionally worked best as supporting players, and now they're bound to become more of the focus of the series. The series could try to assuage some of these fears by bringing back characters like Dwight, who may be out of the plot but has been confirmed to still be alive, but the fact of the matter is that the show has been hemorrhaging characters, leaving it to relative fresh faces like Judith and Siddiq to carry the show.
The Walking Dead has reinvented itself over the years, which has helped keep the show refreshing and exciting. Season 9 in particular has been a return to form for the show, but the series has always had strong characters at the center of the story to anchor the attention of the audience. With only a few main characters left and many of them coming up against Whisperers, the show might not have enough people left to keep things going.
Airing Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC, The Walking Dead stars Norman Reedus, Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride, Alanna Masterson, Josh McDermitt, Christian Serratos, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Nadia Hilker, Dan Fogler, Angel Theory, Lauren Ridloff, and Eleanor Matsuura. The Walking Dead returns Feb. 10.