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(Warning: Major spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 9 ahead.)
After two incredibly bad seasons, The Walking Dead is back to its best with its ninth season. Thanks to bold new directions led by new showrunner Angela Kang, AMC’s zombie drama is not only watchable again, it also proves it can thrive without Rick Grimes.
The early part of season nine was much dictated by Andrew Lincoln’s much-trumpeted exit in Episode five. In the last scene of the pivotal episode however, the show took a bold turn by making a six-year time jump—adding to the one and a half years added in the season’s premiere—as we see a much-older Judith Grimes saves a group of fresh-faced survivors.
From episode six onwards, it’s as if The Walking Dead is a new rebooted series.
Alexandria, Hilltop and the Kingdom are now more detached than ever after Rick’s “death” (Oceanside is mentioned but not seen). Suspicion of newcomers is at an all-time high. And though familiar faces are still pally with each other, no one is showing a hardened Michonne much love.
Most significantly, there is a new scary villain group disguising themselves as walkers, injecting much fear factor back into the show, something which has been duly lacking throughout the long drawn-out “All Out War” between Rick’s unified forces and Negan’s Saviors.
The mid-season finale, episode eight's “Evolution,” is easily one of the best Walking Dead episodes for quite some time. It was scary, shocked fans with the unexpected death of a main character, and ended with an intense cliff-hanger that makes one want to know immediately what happens next for the remaining protagonists.
Let's take a look at what to expect when the series returns next February.
1. Whispering walkers are the new big bad.
“Don’t let them get away,” utters a voice within a walker herd as they hunt down Eugene and Rosita in episode six. That hair-raising moment marks the much-anticipated arrival of The Whisperers, a sadistic group from The Walking Dead comics whose members wear zombie skins, walk among flesh-eating walkers, and kill other humans whom they feel is a threat to their existence. Led by their leaders, Alpha (Samantha Morton, Minority Report) and Beta (Ryan Hurst, Sons of Anarchy), the group is expected to terrorize our heroes for the rest of season nine.
2. Unexpected Deaths a la Jesus
Jesus’ death was sad but also a thrill because it was so unexpected and quick. Knowing Carl was going to die in season eight and the agony prolonged was not, but Jesus getting stabbed in the back by a walker who can also speak was indeed shocking and, sorry, great entertainment value. Hilltop’s reluctant stand-in leader has been annoying of late but at least he went out with a flourish, displaying his martial arts skills until his tragic end. Expecting the unexpected will keep viewers on edge.
3. Judith Grimes is the new Carl.
As Kang tells IGN, the six-year time jump was designed to have Judith at the same age as Carl was when the series began. That means the young ‘un (Cailey Fleming from Star Wars: The Force Awakens) is now the show’s new Carl and its moral compass. With stepmom Michonne being security head and undisputed leader, Judith has much clout in Alexandria so here’s hoping she will be doing more than just rescuing stray survivors and being Negan’s best mate.
4. Michonne ain’t Ms. Popularity.
We need to know what exactly did Michonne do to piss off all her former friends from Hilltop to the Kingdom. Her current stance is safety first for Alexandria and the rest can bite the dust. She tells Siddiq that whatever she did that the others hated her for is what keeps them alive. But with a new enemy to deal with and two young kids in tow—besides Judith, she has a son as well, RJ (Rick Jr?)—Michonne might need to change her tune soon. Not to mention Alexandria’s one and only prisoner is now on the loose…
5. Daryl and His New “Bro”
Who needs Rick Grimes when you can have “dog”? It is good to see Daryl going rogue again, living and hunting in the wilds with just his new canine friend, yet always willing to help his old pals when the need arises. With soulmate Carol prodding him to look after her son Henry (Matt Lintz), Daryl may soon end up more often at the Hilltop. From the midseason trailer however, the Whisperers appear to be enticing Daryl to join them. Let’s hope that won’t happen!
6. The Scars On Michonne And Daryl’s Backs
The similar X scars on Daryl and Michonne’s backs—are they the result of a nasty branding incident or are they organ transplant scars? They could be the reason why Michonne is so antagonistic against other communities and why Daryl branched out on his own. In an interview with EW, Abraham actor Michael Cudlitz who directed Episode 6, explains that “It is a big, really f***ed up story” that happened during the time jump and which will be revealed later in the season. Can’t wait!
7. Hilltop needs a new leader.
Hate to say it but Maggie is hardly missed, is she? We knew Lauren Cohen left to star in a new series but to have Maggie written off simply as “she’s with Georgie” seems iffy. Why did she leave exactly? And with Maggie gone and Jesus dead, who will run Hilltop? Tara? New lovebirds, Enid and Alden? Or dare we hope, Daryl? Hilltop runs a democracy so maybe we will see an election there when the season returns.
8. New survivors need a home.
The feisty new survivors—namely Magna, Luke, Connie, Kelly and Yumiko—are decent folks who just want a place to lay their heads and survive another day. After arriving to help Michonne at the graveyard to “earn their keep,” the group may have done enough to impress Hilltop to take them in. If not, Michonne may feel obliged to bring them back to Alexandria (where they reside in the comics.) Either way, the new group is a breath of fresh air on the show.
9. The kingdom's falling apart.
That the kingdom is despairing while Alexandria and Hilltop are thriving seems to indicate bad management on the part of King Ezekiel and Queen Carol. Their only hopes of recovery is having their not-very-bright son Henry trained as a blacksmith at Hilltop and organizing a “fair” that have Carol at odds with Michonne as the latter refuses to send a delegation. A showdown between the two is very likely as Michonne clearly tells Siddiq in the midseason trailer that she rather the Kingdom falls if it means Alexandria’s survival. Meow.
10. Negan’s free.
He was a great scary character who long overstayed his welcome really, yet Negan’s signature whistling still sent chills down one’s spine. After keeping him in a prison cell for seven and a half years, the show better have a good storyline for releasing him now. Whether Negan will rebuild the Sanctuary or just overtake Alexandria remains to be seen. If they follow the comics, he and the Whisperers may just intertwine. Whatever it may be, a Negan on the loose is not good news.
The Walking Dead Season 9 returns to AMC on Sunday February 10, 2019.