The ninth season of The Walking Dead, an American post-apocalyptic horror television series on AMC premiered on October 7, 2018, and will consist of 16 episodes, split into two parts, each consisting of eight episodes. The second part of the season premiered on February 10, 2019. Developed for television by Frank Darabont, the series is based on the eponymous series of comic books by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard. The executive producers are Kirkman, David Alpert, Scott M. Gimple, Angela Kang, Greg Nicotero, Tom Luse, Denise Huth, and Gale Anne Hurd, with Kang taking over the role of showrunner from Gimple.
Eighteen months after the defeat of Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) under an alliance of communities spearheaded by Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), the season focuses on the united communities as they face obstacles and dangers both outside and inside their alliance, with the threat of the mysterious Whisperers looming.
The ninth season is the final season for lead actor Andrew Lincoln, who has portrayed Rick Grimes since the series’ first season. Lauren Cohan, who portrayed Maggie Greene since the second season, only appeared in the first five episodes of this season due to other commitments.
The ninth season features nineteen series regulars overall. For this season, Katelyn Nacon and Tom Payne were added to the opening credits, along with Khary Payton as of the season’s sixth episode, after previously being credited as “also starring”. Callan McAuliffe and Avi Nash were promoted to series regular status, after previously having recurring roles. Samantha Morton enters the secondary cast as Alpha, the leader of the Whisperers, who will be the main antagonist of this season. This will be the first season not to include Chandler Riggs and Steven Ogg (since their first appearance on the series), and the first not to include Lennie James since he was promoted to a series regular in the sixth season (James did not make any appearance on the series second and fourth seasons), all were credited as either a series regular, guest or a main cast member in previous seasons.
The series was renewed for a ninth season in January 2018. Along with the renewal, it was announced that showrunner Scott M. Gimple would be promoted to chief content officer for both The Walking Dead and its spin-off show Fear the Walking Dead, while writer and co-executive producer Angela Kang would take Gimple’s role for The Walking Dead.
Filming for the ninth season began on April 30, 2018, with Greg Nicotero directing the first episode of the season. Michael Cudlitz, who played Abraham Ford, directed the seventh episode of the season.
The ninth season features a redesigned opening credits sequence. The animated title sequence, which is graphic novel inspired, features familiar imagery such as Daryl’s motorcycle and crossbow, and Michonne’s katana. Kang spoke of the inspiration for the new sequence, “The feel of the season has elements of the Western genre. We’re paying homage to some of the iconic moments from the graphic novel. Life is coming out of death. Nature’s taking over, while other things are crumbling.”
Most of the cast’s contracts had to be renewed for the ninth season and beyond, and most of the cast did re-sign; the notable exception was Lauren Cohan who plays Maggie Greene. Cohan had sought a pay increase from AMC given her high demand from other networks; while she had signed on to star in a new series, Whiskey Cavalier, for the ABC network, this contract would still enable her to participate on The Walking Dead in a limited role. In April, Cohan confirmed she signed on for the ninth season but only for six episodes.
At the end of the eighth season, former regular Lennie James (as Morgan Jones) was moved to The Walking Dead’s companion series, Fear the Walking Dead, as showrunner Scott M. Gimple felt there were more stories about Morgan to tell that would be more effective with Fear the Walking Dead’s smaller cast and narrative approach. In May 2018, it was announced that Avi Nash and Callan McAuliffe, who joined the series in the eighth season as the recurring roles of Siddiq and Alden, respectively, were promoted to series regulars.
In late May, it was reported that the ninth season would be the final season for Andrew Lincoln, who plays lead character Rick Grimes. Lincoln said that as he lives in England and shooting a season takes six months or more, he believed it was time to leave the series to be able to spend more time with his growing children. However, he has expressed desire to direct an episode in future seasons for the series, and will shadow a director during the ninth season. Following the broadcast of Lincoln’s last episode, AMC announced their plans to create three films to explore events related to Rick’s character in the future, starring Lincoln, and with the first expected to begin production in 2019. Besides Lincoln, Pollyanna McIntosh (Jadis / Anne) will also star in these films.
Lauren Cohan also announced that this would be her last season on the series, appearing in the first six episodes as Maggie Greene before her departure. Alongside other acting commitments, Cohan felt she had become too comfortable in the role, and it was time to move on. She appreciated the opportunity to explore Maggie in her last few episodes, and has not ruled out returning for future seasons based on her future commitments.
In June 2018, it was reported that Jon Bernthal would reprise his role as Shane Walsh for one episode in the ninth season. In July 2018, it was reported that Lauren Ridloff, a deaf actress, would join the series in the ninth season playing Connie, a deaf survivor who communicates through sign language. Also in July 2018, during San Diego Comic-Con, it was announced that Samantha Morton was cast in the series regular role of Alpha, the leader of the Whisperers, a villain from the comic book series. Several other recurring roles were announced as well, played by Brett Butler, John Finn, Rhys Coiro, Dan Fogler, and Zach McGowan.
On October 6, 2018, the day before the season premiere, the showrunners affirmed Bernthal’s return as Shane, as well as Sonequa Martin-Green and Scott Wilson returning to reprise their roles as Sasha Williams and Hershel Greene, respectively, at the New York Comic Con. Wilson died later that day due to leukemia; however, according to Comic Book, Wilson had filmed his scenes previously to be broadcast during the first half of the season.
The ninth season also features the departures of series regulars Xander Berkeley and Tom Payne, who played Gregory and Paul “Jesus” Rovia, respectively. Berkeley’s character is killed off in the first episode of the season, which was adapted from the comic book. Payne’s character is killed off in the mid-season finale, which introduces the Whisperers. This was a major departure from the original graphic novel, where Jesus is still alive, and the actor explained, “It’s an amazing show and I was so honored to be a part of it, but at the same time, being the same character without anything fun to do is a bit frustrating.”
Angela Kang stated that the season would include a timeskip, which coincides with the comic’s narrative after the “All Out War” arc. She stated that they were aiming to give the series a “fresh look and feel”, and “focusing a lot on the core character relationships in the show that have kind of been long-lasting, as well as all of our wonderful series regulars”. Kang said that the season would “explore what happened as man made objects and structures break down” and “what happens as resources are getting low”, giving the season a Western feel. Actor Tom Payne, who portrays Paul “Jesus” Rovia, said the timejump is about a year and a half from the end of the eighth season, giving enough time for survivors to re-establish farming and livestock raising.
A second timeskip occurs towards the end of episode 5, after a helicopter whisks a wounded Rick to safety. The next scene takes place six years later, when a now much older Judith saves a group of survivors from a ring of walkers.
This season introduces the Whisperers, a group of human survivors that have created skins and masks out of walkers that allows them to move among and manipulate walker hordes. For these masks, director Greg Nicotero wanted to change the appearance as they are shown in the comic, which gave the masks a type of melting look. Nicotero also did not want to give these masks a look similar to Leatherface’s from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Instead, they opted to make the Whisperers masks immovable similar to Michael Myers’ from the Halloween series, which according to Nicotero, “you cannot judge any kind of emotion”.
The teaser for the season was released on July 19, 2018, the first day of the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con. The trailer was released on July 20, 2018. The ninth season premiered on October 7, 2018, and the episode was made available a day early via AMC Premiere, the network’s on-demand service. The mid-season premiere was made available a week earlier, on February 3, 2019, via AMC Premiere.
Critical reception for the ninth season of The Walking Dead has been positive, with critics noting its improvement over the two previous seasons, but remain cautious if the series can maintain its improved quality for the entire season. On Rotten Tomatoes, the season holds a score of 93% with an average rating of 7.03 out of 10, based on 14 reviews. The site’s critical consensus reads, “Nine seasons in, The Walking Dead feels more alive than ever, with heightened tension and a refreshed pace that rejuvenates this long-running franchise.” On Metacritic, the season has a score of 72 out of 100 based on 4 critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews”. Reviewing the season premiere, Sarah Moran of Screen Rant wrote the episode “feels like the fresh start the series so desperately needs, trading grim wartime for a more peaceful period of growth and reflection” and praised the changes made by new showrunner Angela Kang. Erik Kain of Forbes called the first episode “the best episode since season 6 and better than many in that season as well.”
Brandon Davis of Comicbook.com wrote a highly positive review based on the first three episodes, praising the more character-driven narrative. In another review from Comicbook.com, Cameron Bonomolo also praised the first three episodes of the season, writing, “The Walking Dead is now a political drama viewed through the lens of a zombie apocalypse, turning greater focus to more complex character-driven conflict that is at its strongest since the Frank Darabont-led first season.” Bonomolo also called the third episode “jaw-dropping” and that it “delivers some of the finest mystery and drama the show has ever seen in its eight-year run.” Jeff Stone of IndieWire wrote a positive review based on the first three episodes and gave them an “A-” grade. He called the ninth season a “huge step up for the show” and that the episodes “are as strong as anything the show’s done since the heyday of Season 4.”
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The Walking Dead (season 9) – Wikipedia
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