It feels like it was just yesterday we were introduced to the AMC adaption of Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s tale of zombies and humanity after an Apocalypse. Since 2010, The Walking Dead has turned into one of the premiere dramas on television; and eight seasons later, it’s one of the best (S9) thus far. Over the years, there have been highs and lows when it comes to the 16-episode seasons. Showrunner Scott Gimple was the leading force behind some of the best seasons (5 and 6) and some of the worst (7 and 8), with the two most recent seasons encompassing the anticipated storyline “All Out War.” However, all of the hype that went into the televised war between factions of humanity (sometimes featuring the dead) was met with dread and came across as less than eventful.
Most fans argue that the nail in the coffin for the show was the Season 7 opener. For one, it was an agonizing wait after Season 6 ended with someone getting hit with “Lucille”, Negan’s baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. Leading up to this point, the teases of Negan’s arrival was a storm cloud that was slowly covering the entire back half of the 6th season. The confidence of Rick’s group throughout their battles with Negan’s people, the Saviors, provided all of the context we needed to know: the big bad of the Sanctuary would crash down to Earth for the Alexandrians. The stage was set for Negan to put absolute fear into the hearts of our main cast, and that he did…for the last twenty minutes of the finale. Not only that, audiences had to wait for the Season 7 premiere to see what actually happened- only to be jerked around a bit more before finally getting to what we were promised. The deaths of Abraham and Glenn were a sign-off for most fans of The Walking Dead, and who could blame them? Glenn was a mainstay since Season 1, and Abraham was always a welcomed presence with his jokes and go-getting attitude. With their deaths, it signified a shift in the direction that was felt for a long time after the dust settled into the emotionally-draining Season 7 opener.
With Negan’s arrival, the show’s dive into this new threat made for a lopsided season, with half of the episodes dedicated to the scene-chewing Negan and his establishing dominance over everyone we know and love to dark and depressing episodes that bashed our heads in with the notion that our heroes are defeated. That is Season 7’s major misstep: the tonal shifts that have to happen because it needs story beats to reach a certain point for the next domino to fall. Characters fill time by having conversations that seek to have emotional weight about the state of their affairs, but it doesn’t translate well when their actions get others killed when they understand the Negan-sized status quo.
The season is filled with scenes that focus on nothing, with and an unbalanced return to plot lines that began episodes prior. What followed was a season that was not only drowning in the darkness of Rick all-but-accepting his fate for 8 episodes before changing his tune through a rousing speech from Michonne, but it also had to lay the pieces for the various Communities introduced to unite or add something new that, for better or worse, could deviate from the source material. The introduction of Oceanside and The Scavengers gave the world-building growth and uniqueness that the Zombie Apocalypse can create, but what followed with their debuts were questionable choices. The episodes, while having entertaining moments, were mostly filling time to hit the next major move because of the show’s overall setup. The structure of the show held the season back from digging into what disparity in the face of a threat looks like.
Just as Season 7 began to give a sense of hope to the war in its ending, Season 8 became a desperate, dire, and questionable journey across a 16-episode war story. Season 8 is one big game of cat and mouse with infighting and shocking twists that deviate from its source material. It was the epitome of everything wrong with TWD with its human-based melodrama, endless games of sabotage, poetic moments trying to garner meaning through wartime, and the dead trying to eat them in the meantime. Creatively, the season was boring with its ever-growing number of characters all finding room to have a moment in this war, but they repeat the same arguments and character match-ups we’ve come to know. The big focus was struggling with the decision to kill in wartime, and it’s an interesting topic to focus on. However, the morality debacle is a tired song and dance, and it diluted the already-boring episodes through shootouts and instances that hold no danger. These, among many other controversial decisions throughout the season, led to most audiences giving up on the show entirely. To make matters worse, the season finale actually come together well, putting The Walking Dead at its darkest before the dawn.
Luckily for The Walking Dead, Season 9 welcomed new show-runner Angela Kang in the driver seat who has revitalized AMC’s show for a bold new era. The latest season marks a turning point for a few things for the long-running series. In the shadow of the finale to “All Out War,” audiences have witnessed a declaration for a new world where people are learning to work together because it’s either us or the dead, and someone’s got to rebuild the world. The season, thus far, explores a cast of characters that has reinvigorated purposes, not just thinking of themselves but how their actions look to those around them and what they mean for the future. There’s tension that hasn’t been this serious since Season 6. With the world of TWD now, can the present peace be maintained with past grievances threatening the stability?
The show has turned into a forward-thinking look at how people can bounce back from the grief and down-trodden events of yesterday and grow into something better instead. Swapping the morally gray environments and darkness of the last two seasons for new and varied locations all over the established Communities gives the show a visual makeover that tells a story all on its own. Greenery and construction inhabit the now-desolate and populated sections of the world that Communities have set up for themselves, and an evolving world means complications. Unlike previous seasons, Season 9 has a better direction that leaves the story to bounce around with the cast to see how the 18-month time-skip has treated them, and a political edge does well for the relationships all across the board. The connecting of the Communities serves to tell us that time and relationships have changed, with our characters speaking about trading and commerce because they truly are trying to unite in this new world that Rick is spearheading.
The first five episodes could be billed as “Rick Grimes Epilogue” because they are all about the pains of holding onto a dream, and the lengths he goes to make it work even though those closest to him may have other ideas. The big crux of his dream is the construction of a bridge that would reconnect the main road to The Hilltop. There’s trouble along the way, of course, from the herds of walkers and internal sabotage due to resentment and missing of the old ways. Rick’s at the center of these conflicts because it was him that proclaimed that the old ways of doing things are done. It’s a new world, but the past has a way of coming back around.
Rick exits the show as he entered: on a horse trying to get away from the dead at the cost of his dream project, but with many people still carrying on his ideas for the future. One would almost think he died, but the highly publicized Rick Grimes’ exit was an exit from this iteration of TWD and into a trilogy of films! As the leading man for 9 seasons and with a large cast of characters that all circled his journey, his impact on the show couldn’t help but to be felt. The Walking Dead has always been one to incorporate an emotional pin into the proceedings to hook viewers, and with Rick’s exit, we get an emotional goodbye that almost sticks the landing. In a surprise twist, the show closed Rick’s journey and does the biggest jump in time to date in the same episode! Six years later, it’s truly a brave new(er) world. Now, our cast is older, more world-weary, and the threats don’t yell but whisper.
In a post, time-skip era, The Walking Dead has really hit its strides with balancing the interwoven character drama concerning the different Communities, how they continue to survive with each other, and with the Walkers who are beginning to talk. No, the show hasn’t jumped the shark and gone into a deeper science-fiction well. The latest enemy is a group called The Whispers, and their quiet introduction gave the show its needed horror movie boost. The show plays with this premise of people walking among the dead in unnerving ways: the Walkers are acting differently, and their patterns of movement and attitudes aren’t abiding by the rules that we’ve seen the show establish before. And in the mid-season finale “Evolution,” the show takes the Walkers strange behavior and delivers on gut-wrenching feelings of worry and mystery, giving fans more mysterious and stranger threats than we’ve ever seen before. Not to discount previous “big bads,” but The Whispers have changed the approach to even the most basic Walker encounters, and the show is all the better for it.
With the 9th Season of The Walking Dead, the show has effectively minded the gap between losing mainstays and leaning towards fresh and older cast members to strike the chord of bouncing around enticing plotlines across different Communities. Simultaneously, the show manages to maintain the growing threat of The Whispers. After seasons of grim and dreary war, returning the show to its human vs. human days, Season 9 of The Walking Dead has more than enough bite to get fans back into the show.