While recently on a set for The Walking Dead, Screen Rant took part in an interview with actor Norman Reedus in which he described season 9 as being "driven by women," explaining that after seasons of men making all the important decisions, this year it will be women - and in particular, Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Michonne (Danai Gurira), and Carol (Melissa McBride) - calling the shots.
Describing The Walking Dead season 9 as female-driven couldn't be more accurate, with just as many women involved behind-the-scenes as on camera. Angela Kang became the new showrunner for season 9 and she's joined by two more women writers, Vivian Tse and Geraldine Inoa. This first half season 9 also includes two women directors, Daisy Mayer and Rosemary Rodriguez. Then there's the many actresses, led by Cohan, Gurira, and McBride, of course, but also Christian Serratos (Rosita), Alanna Masterson (Tara), and Katelyn Nacon (Enid) - each with different roles to play, representing a diverse mix of women characters.
Reedus remarks on how recent seasons of The Walking Dead have felt hypermasculine, describing it as "two guys, in particular, chest-bumping," before adding that:
"There’s none of that happening right now. The show feels like a western, but at the same time, it’s scarier and it’s more emotional and it’s more heartfelt. There’s no posturing. No one’s posturing. And I will say that the female spirit has put that bad guy in a cage."
By putting that "bad guy in a cage" - both figuratively and literally in the case of Negan - The Walking Dead season 9 is putting more women characters into what Melissa McBride calls "positions of leadership." She explains:
"[The women] are making really, really hard choices. Not backing down, keeping their people safe. That’s exciting to play and I really like Angela’s point of view. It’s fresh and new and different for a myriad of reasons.”
Hiring a women showrunner is a good strategy to bring in a female worldview, but as Danai Gurira points out when we spoke with her: "What’s been great about the show since the beginning is that there’s a fantastic arc for women as a whole." Gurira goes on to say:
"I wasn’t there in the first season, but in the first season there are some very traditional gender roles that were happening when they were at that camp near that quarry or whatever. It was very much like the men were doing that and the women were doing this. Y'know what I mean? And that got broken down over the course of seasons. And I think that’s really kind of fantastic, like the whole idea of there being some kind of division between who does what based on gender got completely decimated in the course of them adapting to and functioning through the threat of a world of the dead.
"And so you see, the arc of Carol in and of itself is a complete arc of what I’m talking about. My character coming in. Maggie, her arc as well, now she’s the leader of a community, making the decisions, calling the shots with a baby on her hip. There’s been an arc of female power, of being, y’know, found anew in the world. Even meeting Deana [Tovah Feldshuh] in season 5. This has been an actually fantastic show in that sort of representation of female strength not being curtailed by any sort of gender norm expectation or the general ways that women can be held back in our current society are sort of stripped away.”
Gurira also believes that the women on The Walking Dead "have been able to develop their strengths and exercise them with power and authority,” adding that season 9 in particular has "women characters engaging each other very deeply and interestingly." This will especially apply to Michonne and Maggie's interactions in season 9, with Gurira teasing that this season sees both women demonstrate the "power that they possess and how they exercise it when they’re in conflict.”
Of course, Maggie's time on The Walking Dead is limited since Lauren Cohan is set to appear in only six episodes of season 9, meaning that any conflict between Michonne and her will be brief. And yet, when speaking with Kang she emphasizes they "still plan to tell more story with Maggie," and that there's "a very strong Maggie arc" to come. Kang says that just how and why Maggie only appears in a select number of episodes this season will be "explained in the story," adding that "what’s happening with Hilltop and how are people dealing with Maggie not being there," is a part of The Walking Dead's story moving forward.
Though Maggie may be stepping away this season, The Walking Dead has plenty more women characters who can - and will - take charge this season. Clearly, leaving so much of the decision-making to the men hasn't always led to the best results, and it's now time the women start calling the shots.
The Walking Dead season 9 premieres Sunday, October 7th at 9pm/8c on AMC.