Rumors surfaced last week that Jon Bernthal, who played Shane Walsh on the first three seasons of The Walking Dead, might return to the series next season, after he was spotted hanging around the set with Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus. The rumors have now become a reality. Bernthal will not only return in the ninth season, but The Walking Dead will announce that return at next month’s Comic-Con.
Details surrounding Bernthal’s role next season, however, have been kept under wraps, although we do know that he will come back for only one episode (after his brief visit to Georgia, Bernthal has already returned to New York to resume shooting The Punisher). It is expected that Bernthal will reprise his role as part of the exit of the series’ lead, Andrew Lincoln. As the character of Shane is most definitely dead, it will necessarily be in a flashback or a hallucination, but I would not rule out something slightly more substantial than the sort of hallucinations we have seen in the deaths of other characters, like Tyrese. It’s possible, even, that we see an extended flashback sequence that actually plays into the plot of the episode.
We don’t know yet, either, how Andrew Lincoln will exit the series, although it’s expected to be as part of the brewing showdown between Rick Grimes and Maggie Rhee teased in the eighth season finale of the The Walking Dead. Maggie didn’t care for Grimes’ decision to let Negan live; he is the man who killed Maggie’s husband, Glenn, after all. In the final minutes of the season eight finale, Maggie began making plans with Jesus and Daryl to rebuild The Hilltop and take on Rick and Alexandria. Lauren Cohan, who plays Maggie, will also depart the series in the ninth season.