Andrew Lincoln is exiting The Walking Dead in season 9, and early reports indicate Norman Reedus will take over as the show's de facto lead, but it should be Maggie. Reedus' character, Daryl Dixon, is arguably the most popular on the series, so the decision to go with him isn't without merit. But for a show in drastic need of a reinvention, the writers should turn their pens in Maggie's direction.
It's tough to imagine The Walking Dead without Rick. From the very first episode, the narrative has been placed squarely on Rick's shoulders, with each twist and turn seen from his perspective. Rick quickly took charge of the struggling group of survivors, leading them from one potential home to another, and when they were threatened - be it either from walkers or other people - Rick was there to handle it. And sure, over time the strain of leadership began to show and there were moments where Rick wasn't entirely stable, but had it not been for Rick, the survivors wouldn't be where they are now: enjoying the relative safety of the Hilltop and the comforts of a settled life.
Rick may not have been a perfect leader, but he was an effective one, and now that it's come time to choose his successor, there's only one person capable of picking up those reins - Maggie. She may not have joined up with Rick as early on as Daryl or positioned herself as Rick's right hand like he did, but Maggie has repeatedly demonstrated that she has what it takes to lead.
Season 8 was an especially strong season for Maggie, as she took control of the Hilltop and made it the only community to withstand Negan and his Saviors. Maggie defended her people not just with firepower but with smart tactics, ensnaring the attacking Saviors in a trap not once, but twice. She kept her cool throughout the war, never letting her emotions or grief compromise her decisions making. And when you recall that Maggie was forced to watch as Negan brutally bashed her husband's head in, that's remarkable. Most importantly, Maggie displayed a willingness to listen to dissenting opinions, be it Jesus arguing for the Saviors they captured to be kept alive or Alden, himself a captured Savior, urging Maggie to let him and the other prisoners fight for the Hilltop in return for her mercy.
Maggie was groomed to be a leader, shadowing Deanna when they first arrived at Alexandria and acting as a liaison of sorts between Rick's group and the new community. She was already demonstrating the negotiating skills necessary to effectively lead a large group, and it's those qualities the people of the Hilltop recognized when she stood up to Gregory. But perhaps the most telling piece of evidence is that even Rick recognized Maggie should be put in charge, telling her that after the war, "I'm following you."
Sadly, there's more to the decision of who will lead the survivors than just who is best suited for the position. Lauren Cohen, like Lincoln, is appearing in fewer episodes in season 9, potentially hinting at her own exit from the series. She has a new series on ABC, Whisky Cavalier, which is sure to create scheduling conflicts, and she's already had to endure a lengthy fight to receive equal pay alongside her male Walking Dead co-stars. Cohen could very well be over The Walking Dead, which makes it very unlikely her character would be given a larger role on the series.
Season 9 is shaping up to be a transition season for The Walking Dead, with new characters being cast and others promoted to series regulars. Daryl becoming a leader could also be a part of that transition, with the gruff loner potentially taking on more responsibility in the wake of Rick's exit. Either that, or The Walking Dead season 9 is a sleeper reboot of AMC's Ride with Norman Reedus, combining Daryl's love of motorcycles with killing walkers on the open road.
The Walking Dead season 9 returns this fall to AMC.