Season 9 of The Walking Dead will kick off with a super-sized premiere that runs for 30 minutes longer than a typical episode. After the pivotal events of season 8, including the death of Carl and the capture of Negan, season 9 will both jump forward in time and introduce a bevy of new characters, highlighted by popular comic book heavies the Whisperers and their mysterious leader Alpha (Samantha Morton).
In addition to the arrival of the Whisperers, season 9 will also feature a lot of tension between Rick and Maggie, who are still at odds over how best to lead – and what to do with a still-imprisoned Negan. Of course, both Rick and Maggie are set to depart the series, as actors Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan move on to the next phases of their careers. It remains to be seen how the series will handle the exits of two of its most important characters, but fans already know that Rick’s resolution somehow involves a return appearance by his long-dead frenemy Shane (Jon Bernthal).
There’s no question big changes are ahead for The Walking Dead, and with that in mind, season 9 is set to kick off with an extra-long episode. The Wrap reports that the season premiere will run from 9 PM ET until 10:26 PM, almost 30 minutes longer than a normal Walking Dead episode. No official title has been released for the episode, but it was directed by veteran helmer and VFX artist Greg Nicotero, who has directed every TWDseason premiere episode going back to season 4.
Over the past two seasons, The Walking Dead has seen a slip in ratings, with average viewership dropping from 12+ million in season 6 to less than 7 million for the back half of season 8. Will The Walking Dead be able to draw back all those lost viewers, or will the show continue to see ratings declines? Introducing The Whisperers will certainly please fans of the comic books, but it remains to be seen if the new villains will hold any interest for casual viewers who were turned off by two seasons of Negan and his endless one-liners. A shift away from the relentless action of season 8 and back to more character-oriented stories may also help the series bring back some disgruntled viewers.
Whatever happens, there’s no question season 9 will mark a huge change for the long-running AMC series. Rick and Maggie both departing is of course the biggest shake-up, but that’s only the beginning of what the show will have in store for viewers. Loads of new characters are set to come aboard, adding to a cast that already was arguably too swollen. As for the familiar characters, expect Michonne to take on more of a leadership role with Rick departing. Fans also have an Ezekiel/Carol love story to look forward to. Generally, season 9 of The Walking Dead is expected to center more on classic survival challenges than warfare.