The Walking Dead season 9 premiere is a return to form for the post-apocalyptic zombie show, managing to recapture the eerie atmosphere of its earlier seasons and bring a stronger focus back to its core characters. It's a much-needed change for a series, which used to dominate the airwaves but has seen its ratings dip in recent years, allowing The Walking Dead to feel rejuvenated as it embarks on this new era of the show.
Season 9 also benefits from a time jump that allows for some distance between the immediate aftermath of Rick's war with Negan and where the survivors now find themselves. This helps to create a sense that the times are different, but it doesn't necessarily absolve the characters of all their problems. There's still conflict, but the ways in which season 9 will see characters work through that conflict is a departure from the fighting and bloodshed that really dominated the last couple of seasons.
Earlier this month, Screen Rant visited the set of The Walking Dead and spoke with newly appointed showrunner Angela Kang and director Greg Nicotero about how they approached this new season and what they did to bring that back-to-basics feeling to the show. For Kang, it all starts by looking back at episodes like the pilot (of which she's a huge fan) and trying to replicate that episode's mood:
"I wanted to kind of try to aspire to recapture some of that feeling of the silences and just like those beautiful, wide landscapes and just the loneliness that can be in the world. Except, now we’re in a part where we really - that the characters have found this group and they are very tight with each other. And so, you get to feel that, the warmth between them while there’s also conflicts."
Kang also shares that she and Nicotero (who directs the season 9 premiere) had many "deep conversations about everything from the way things would sound to the way things would look and be framed" as they began planning out the season. For his part, Nicotero also believes season 9 is "about going back to what made The Walking Dead great, when we first started watching the show." A key part of accomplishing that was spending more time with the characters, as Nicotero elaborates:
"The first episode, all the scenes that I shot that it’s like Daryl and Carol, and Daryl and Maggie, they’re all isolated. There’s nobody else in those frames. I wanted you to be leaning in and listening to everything that they’re saying because they say more than two, three f--king things. They have real conversations - conversations that you give a shit about and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s what Rick is feeling. That’s what Daryl’s feeling. They’re actually talking.’ And it’s the first time we’ve done that in a long time. There’s not those little ellipses, like dot-dot-dot, and you leave it hanging out there."
Watching characters share meaningful conversations is certainly a change of pace from recent seasons where waging war was the driving force of most episodes. In fact, slowing things down and taking the time to really get to know the characters again is very reminiscent of season 2 - a season which often gets a lot of criticism from fans, but Nicotero won't stand for any of that.
"Now we’re getting the chance to see these people really interact with each other. And they care about each other. I loved it, it reminded me of season 2. Everybody always says, ‘Oh, season 2, it was really boring. Hershel’s farm.’ And I’m like f--k you guys. Season 2, that’s when we fell in love with Daryl, that’s when we fell in love with Carol, that’s when - because we took the time.”
The Walking Dead season 9 is certainly taking its time, allowing tension to slowly build between characters and then letting those characters actually talk to each other about what they're feeling. These meaningful conversations coupled with that sense of loneliness and isolation makes season 9 feel very much like The Walking Dead of seasons ago, where all these survivors had was each other and it was only by relying on one another that they survived. All in all, it's a real return to form when The Walking Dead season 9 premieres.
The Walking Dead season 9 premieres Sunday, October 7th at 9pm/8c on AMC.