As The Walking Dead prepares to unveil its ninth season, there is perhaps more buzz than ever about AMC’s long-running zombie apocalypse series. Unlike in the past, though, the buzz isn’t about what’s playing out on the screen. Instead, it’s the behind-the-scenes departure of star Andrew Lincoln, which the actor officially announced at San Diego Comic-Con, that is on fans’ minds.
During a visit to the Atlanta set of The Walking Dead, the absence of Lincoln loomed large. It’s the first time since the series premiered in 2010 that he’s not number one on the call sheet. However, his departure offers something of a chance for a rebirth for the series–and it’s a rebirth that new showrunner Angela Kang is taking very seriously.
Following the “All Out War” story that unfolded in Season 8, The Walking Dead is facing a short jump forward in time–which the comics also featured after the defeat of Negan–and the creative team behind the show is using that to attempt to take the show back to its Season 1 roots. What, exactly, does that mean? While speaking with GameSpot and a small group of press, Kang likened it to the tone of the comic after its time jump.
“The comic book, for the people who know the comic, there is this time jump,” she said. “And so it kind of takes the show in the books into this sort of interesting, almost western slash agrarian vibe. And so that was something that I really wanted to capture for the show. I also just was such a fan of the pilot, and so I wanted to kind of try to aspire to recapture some of that feeling. Of the silences and just those beautiful wide landscapes and just the loneliness that can be in the world.”
At the same time, Kang realizes the importance of the dynamics between the show’s characters. After so many battles against other communities, zombies themselves, and sometimes each other, these characters have begun creating their own world. “We’re in a part where we really see that the characters have found this group and they’re very tight with each other,” she explained. “And so you get to feel the warmth between them while there’s also conflict.”
And that conflict will bring these characters fans have grown to love into direct opposition with another new threat–the Whisperers. The group, first introduced in the comics, wear zombie skin and speak in whispers, in an attempt to blend in with the walkers. They’ll be introduced later in the season, at which point GameSpot will have plenty more to tell you about them.
In the meantime, fans should hopefully be prepared for something of a simpler The Walking Dead, as everyone–including Rick, for now–makes what they can of life after Negan. Of course, this is The Walking Dead, so there will still be plenty of drama–some of it concerning Negan’s former group, the Saviors.
As for Lincoln’s Rick Grimes, fans don’t know at what point in this season his story will come to an end. For Kang, though, she knows she and her team have a tall order figuring out the conclusion of the show’s leading man since day one.
“I think the big story responsibility that I and the writers felt was how do we write a worthy exit for this person who just as a character has been so fun and compelling to watch as well as write for and brought us into the story?” she said. “And we are also personally fond of Andrew Lincoln, he’s such a rare and amazing human being. So we love working with him and we wanted to give him something that is fun that hopefully, the fans will love as much as he seems to and that we’re hoping is a good story.”
The loss of Lincoln won’t diminish the show, though, Kang claims. “We have this great ensemble,” she said. “And it has been an ensemble show from the start, even though he’s sort of been a character that helped us frame some of the moral questions through the series. But it’s been an exciting opportunity to build up some of those characters and delve into some of those relationships we’ve been following for a long time. As well as introduce new characters and see people that we’ve seen for many years change. So I think that’s really been the approach is to on the one hand tell a great story for Rick, but also not at the expense of all the other characters who are gonna carry on after Rick.”
The Walking Dead Season 9 premieres Sunday, October 7, on AMC.