REVIEWED: SEASON 9 (ALL EPISODES) | WHERE TO WATCH: APPLE, AMAZON PRIME VIDEO, MICROSOFT STORE, SKY GO, NOWTV
While every recent news story on the show has described how The Walking Dead franchise will be expanding into fresh new formats and spin-offs, as series nine began, the original TV show appeared to be in trouble. Many fans, already irritated by the disappointments of series seven and eight (widely seen as depressing, misjudged, or both), reacted to the news of the departure of Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), the character at the heart of the programme since the very beginning, with disbelief. As other leading actors announced they would be leaving the show, and others were dropped (against their wishes) or ported across to Fear the Walking Dead, things began to look parlous for the show.
But The Walking Dead’s writers and producers held their nerve, delivering a superbly crafted first-half-of-the-season exit for Rick (who is rescued by helicopter and now able to live to fight another day), and then introduced a six-year time shift that saw how the communities of Hilltop, Alexandria, Oceanside and The Kingdom had been impacted by the loss of Rick’s drive and passion, and the repercussions of the fall of Negan’s fiefdom.
The long-anticipated arrival of The Whisperers gave the show a terrifying new threat from the mythos of the original comic, immediately brought to life by the shocking killing of Jesus. As Alpha, Samantha Morton’s performance was riveting, bringing a sense of malevolence and a barely contained rage to the role, capturing Alpha’s utter conviction alongside her cruelty. Together with second-in-command man-mountain Beta, the pair lead a terrifying new army of hidden killers.
Following Rick’s disappearance, later episodes in the season became more of an ensemble affair, with the focus moving between separate but intertwined character arcs. While that might have been frustrating for many of the established (and now somewhat underused) cast, paring back the screen time of Negan, amongst others, proved to be the right call.
The season’s end was packed with shocking revelations: including the truth of the appalling action Michonne was forced to take to save a kidnapped Judith; and the unanticipated outcome of Ezekiel’s efforts to forge a new community amongst distrustful neighbours.
Penultimate episode The Calm Before delivered one of the boldest, most brutal and heart-rending denouements seen in this season or any other, and in the process reaffirmed the provocative sense of self-confidence of the showrunners. Closing story The Storm pushed more emotional buttons, as the onset of brutal wintry conditions took its toll on communities and relationships. The reverberations of personal loss pushed some towards redemption and drove others into self-doubt, while hinting at the unavoidable showdowns now looming.
As this season started, The Walking Dead looked scarily like a dead man walking. By the close, the series stood reinvigorated, revived and bursting with new life. The Walking Dead reborn, you might say.