It’s no secret that the ratings for The Walking Dead have been slipping, although there is no reason to freak out: Relative to most everything else on cable, they are still very strong. All the same, perhaps one of the reasons that ratings have sagged is because the series has been mired in a war with Negan and the Saviors for 37 episodes now. In real-time, the conflict has been going on for an interminable two-and-a-half years.
Does The Walking Dead really want to jump back into another “All Out War” with a different foe?
That is essentially what is lined up for Rick and Co. in the comics. After a time jump, Alexandria wages The Whisperer War, which continues for about 43 issues, which is roughly as long as the conflict with Negan and the Saviors. Does The Walking Dead TV series want to jump right back into a conflict like that? Because it could cost them even more viewers, who are hoping for something different and new in the series’ future.
There is an increasing amount of evidence suggesting that maybe the series is looking to skip ahead to the next major storyline from Robert Kirkman’s source material. The biggest red flag was the death of Carl, who plays an important role in The Whisperer War. His character arc could be handed off to someone else (say, Enid), but it wouldn’t have the same impact — in the comics, Carl develops a romantic relationship with the daughter of one of the Whisperers, which matters more because he’s the son of Alexandria’s leader.
Moreover, the time jump that allows Alexandrians to rebuild their community also seems to have been disposed of in flash-forward visions, and The Walking Dead may have little interest in jumping ahead in time if it wants to stay in the same timeline as Fear the Walking Dead, which is jumping forward to match the same timeline as its parent series. So, why not just abandon Alexandria and take the show back on the road?
There’s also the fact that The Whisperer War may have been handed off to sister series, Fear the Walking Dead.
Besides the absence of Carl and the need for The Walking Dead to avoid getting mired in another seasons-long war, there is also a desire on the part of the show to get back to the more successful, earlier seasons of The Walking Dead. With Angela King, a new showrunner with a “clear vision” and a “great voice,” coming aboard, executive producer Greg Nicotero suggests that the ninth season will throwback to an earlier season vibe, according to an interview with Fandom:
“Especially looking back at where our show succeeds the most — in terms of the characters that have the best chemistry together and the locations that [worked well]. It’s always kind of nice to be on the road a little bit. Any time we’re sort of situated in one place for too long… I feel like the show is kind of morphing back into a Season 4, Season 5 kind of vibe.”
The key phrase in that quote is “It’s always kind of nice to be on the road a little bit” because The Whisperer Wars is not exactly a conflict that sees the characters traveling a lot. It’s set in an around Alexandria and The Hilltop, while seasons four and five were seasons that spent more time traveling, in between Woodbury and Terminus and Terminus and Alexandria, as well as temporary locations in between.
Indeed, and the sporadic appearances of a helicopter this season also seems to be setting up not another War in the same general vicinity, but a future where the characters on The Walking Dead travel to new locations, including Houston and — potentially — The Commonwealth.