How Season 9 Fixed The Walking Dead's Problems
Season 9 is a fresh start for The Walking Dead. Angela Kang has since taken over as showrunner from Scott Gimple, and the story has undergone a two-year time jump following the conclusion of the war with the Saviors. This has allowed The Walking Dead the perfect opportunity to reinvent itself, returning to and embracing what made audiences fall in love with the show in the first place.
The constant misery and dread which hung over The Walking Dead seasons 7 and 8 has been lifted, replaced with a cautious optimism for the future that gives the survivors something to work towards. This renewed sense of hope comes with a clear, more straightforward narrative goal: rebuild civilization. The conflict stems from that, too, because while everyone agrees they don’t want things to go back to how they were, they also can’t agree on the best path forward. And each episode of season 9 (so far) has addressed these growing tensions, and in doing so, the story has (so far) avoided the pacing issues which plagued its previous seasons.
Most of all, The Walking Dead season 9’s biggest improvement is a stronger focus on the main characters and their relationships. With the war over, the series can spend time on scenes of characters just talking, sharing their feelings in honest and open conversations. These scenes are reminders of who these characters are and what they mean to each other - and by extension, what they mean to viewers. Without them, the series devolves into one ill-defined group of characters trying to kill another, which as past seasons have shown, becomes repetitive and dull real quick.
How Walking Dead Season 9 Can Continue To Improve
The Walking Dead season 9 isn't just a season of renewed hope and reaffirmed relationships, it is also a season of change. Both Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Maggie (Lauren Cohen) are leaving the show, and though one character's exit is thought to be more permanent than the other's, both are major characters with important roles in the ensemble. Losing them is going to change the dynamic of The Walking Dead, and if the series wants to continue to improve, it'll need to carry these lessons of season 9 forward.
For starters, rebuilding civilization should continue to be the endgame, because without it, The Walking Dead could slip back into old habits of the survivors moving from one place to the next, fighting one evil after the next. Figuring out how to live together peacefully is enough of a challenge, and while threats will continue to come from without and within, keeping the focus on achieving that goal keeps the series from becoming directionless. This dream of building a better future needs to outlive Rick, that way it can fuel The Walking Dead for seasons to come.
More importantly, The Walking Dead needs to further develop its other characters to fill the void Rick and Maggie's departures will create. Already, characters like Daryl, Carol, and Michonne are poised to become the new leads, but they will also need to be given interesting and important things to do. Michonne's research into establishing a charter, for example, gives her the opportunity to be more than just a sharp sword, and though Daryl balked at being leader at the Sanctuary, he'll need to step up in some capacity this season. Along with the main characters, those in smaller roles also need to be more fully developed. Audiences need reasons to care about Jesus, Aaron, Tara and others if they are to become bigger players in future seasons. Giving them interesting arcs as well as deepening their relationships to the main characters will go a long way in doing that.
In just a few episodes, The Walking Dead season 9 has already made big improvements with its story, pacing, and characters. There's a way forward now, and if the show can just keep to that path, there's no reason The Walking Dead couldn't last for however many seasons AMC wishes.
The Walking Dead season 9 continues with "What Comes After" this Sunday, November 4th at 9:00 pm/8c on AMC.