The Walking Dead is officially set to return a week from today, although subscribers to AMC Premiere subscribers can watch the midseason premiere a week early and without commercial interruption starting today. The series is coming off of arguably its most tumultuous and precarious period since its opening season. Rick Grimes, the lead character, permanently exited the series (though, he will make a series of movies), one of its most popular and longest-running characters, Maggie Rhee, also left the series, and her return is in doubt. The two-and-a-half year conflict with the Saviors finally came to an end. The show also gained a new showrunner in Angela Kang while its former showrunner, Scott Gimple, has been put in charge of The Walking Dead Universe and figuring out how the flagship show fits into it.
Despite all the changes — and, in part, because of them — The Walking Dead managed to gain back its mojo in the front half of season 9. The ratings for the series, after nine years, aren’t what they once were, but the series still has some zombie magic and what appears to be plenty of gas left in the tank. After two time jumps, the introduction of several more characters, and the death of another major presence (Jesus), The Walking Dead has found a creative resurgence and now, with a new threat looming, it’s looking for some stability.
Granted, no one is safe on The Walking Dead and I expect that will never change, but The Walking Dead needs to get back to what it does best: Emotionally investing in its characters, endangering their lives, and occasionally taking one from us while hopefully maintaining a core set of fan favorites like Daryl, Michonne, Carol, and Negan.
As the series heads into the back half of season nine, however, it’s worth remembering what’s at stake and what’s in store for the series as we piece together where it’s headed.
What’s the deal with Negan?
When last we left off, Negan had managed to escape the prison cell that had held him for the last seven or eight years. Will he walk away? Undoubtedly. The trailer sees him back in the Savior compound donning that familiar jacket. However, this is not the same Negan that brutally murdered Glenn and Abraham and nearly destroyed Alexandria and its alliances. This Negan has been humbled by years in prison; he’s got a friend in Judith Grimes; and he’s been out of the loop for years. There are no Saviors remaining. Can Negan escape and raise another army of loyalists? Or will Negan realize after finding out what’s outside his jail that he prefers the comforts of safety of his Alexandria?
Negan is obviously no longer going to continue to be able to be the main villain of the series, but with Rick Grimes gone, can he figure out a way to become a leader in Alexandria? Will he align with outside threats against his new home, or will he align with Alexandria against outside threats?
What’s the Deal with the Xs?
The biggest outstanding mystery on the series at this point are the identical Xs carved into the backs of Michonne and Daryl. Viewers know almost nothing about those scars, or even if Daryl and Michonne are the only ones with them. All we do know, from showrunner Angela Kang, is that the back half of the season will employ flashbacks in order to fill in the gaps surrounding that mystery (and it may also use those same flashbacks to briefly bring Jesus back onto the show).
Why Is There Bad Blood Between Michonne and The Hilltop?
Answers to this question may fall under the same category as those questions about the X scar. All we know at the moment is that Michonne has been very reluctant to join forces with anyone on The Hilltop, that she’s incredibly wary of outsiders, and that her position on sharing resources with other allied communities has alienated friends. Besides Rick’s death and the run-of-the-mill threats that Alexandria faces on the regular, did whoever gave Michonne those X’s have anything to do with her stubborn isolationism politics?
What’s the Deal with the Whisperers?
Other than knowing they wear zombie skins and walk among the dead, we don’t know much about the new villains, The Whisperers. We know there is an Alpha (Samantha Morton) and a Beta (Ryan Hurst), but we have no idea what their ultimate aims are. We can surmise by their zombie masks, however, that they are at the very least determined threats, and that they belong to the worst cult ever. What kind of danger do they pose, and are these the kind of villains who stick around for only half a season? Or can we expect to see another protracted war?
Will The Kingdom Survive?
When last we left, both The Hilltop and Alexandria — while enacting different styles of government — appeared to be healthy, robust communities. The same could not be said for The Kingdom, which seemed to be falling apart. Hopes for the future of The Kingdom seem to hinge upon their ability to put on a successful festival. The festival’s success also seems to rest upon Alexandria’s decision to join the effort. We do know that they will put on a festival, but we don’t know if it will be successful, although if the series follows the source material, viewers should prepare themselves for the possibility of another upsetting death.
Who Will Fill the Holes Left by Rick, Jesus, and Maggie?
With two of the most popular characters no longer on the show, in Rick and Maggie, who will fill in those leadership gaps? Aaron seems an obvious choice, of course, having gained fighting skills from Jesus (RIP) and a missing arm, much like Rick in the source material. Magnus and Luke also seem like clear-cut choices: Magnus has already established herself as the leader of her group, which is set to join The Hilltop, while Luke is being played by one of the most familiar faces ever to join the series, in Dan Fogler (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them).
Meanwhile, the death of Jesus obviously leaves a leadership role open in that community, one that Tara seems best positioned to assume. However, with the threat of the Whisperers looming, it’s a good bet that Daryl will also stick around and offer added protection for The Hilltop.
Other Storylines to Keep an Eye On
The series seems to be hinting at a possible love triangle between Rosita and her new boyfriend, Gabriel, and the man clearly obsessed with her, Eugene. Can Ezekiel and Carol maintain their romance? Are Enid and Alden in it for the long haul? Will Henry take over Carl’s role from the comics, especially where it concerns Alpha’s daughter, Lydia. Will we get a better explanation for why Maggie left The Hilltop? Will The Walking Dead avoid recycling storylines? Will Scott, the MVP of The Walking Dead, finally get the major storyline that he so richly deserves?
The Walking Dead should start to chip away at some of these questions next Sunday, February 10th, when it returns for the back half of season 9.