The Walking Dead: Season Nine: New Showrunner, Same Problems
At the end of last season, you may recall that “The Walking Dead” found itself in the same bind it’s been in for the last several years in that it’s been having an awful lot of trouble getting the story moving and its characters properly developed. Season eight had been a particular disappointment because the section of the story that was supposed to be covered was the “All-Out War” arc of the comics, which had been a rather exciting series of events on the page, but merely a squandered opportunity when it came to adapting it for the show after showrunner Scott Gimple, who had been responsible for the show’s massive decline in quality in the first place, decided to divert from it at just about every turn in favor of one bad decision after another.
However, heading into season nine, there was a slight cause for optimism, for Gimple was being replaced as showrunner by Angela Kang. This was in no way an easy task for Kang, for besides having one hell of a mess to clean up after Gimple (who moved on to "Chief Content Officer" for both "Walking Dead" shows), she was also faced with the problem of having one of the weaker story arcs from the comics to deal with, along with some of the main actors leaving the show, but like a trooper, she forged ahead and tried to get the show back on track. 16 episodes later, it’s time to tell whether her efforts were effective or not.
Following the events of the war with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), life goes on, with the communities working together to rebuild society. While The Sanctuary was defeated, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his allies try to find a way to re-integrate them, despite there still being some support for Negan. Meanwhile, at Hilltop, Maggie (Lauren Cohan) has to deal with an assassination plot by former leader Gregory (Xander Berkeley), forcing her to call for his execution. More problems arise when members of The Saviors start disappearing, causing discontent among them as they help to repair a bridge that links the communities. This eventually causes a riot, which in turn causes a herd of walkers to come down upon them. However, Rick attempts to lure them away, and almost sacrifices himself to protect his people, but things don’t turn out exactly as he expects.
Six years later, we find the communities getting on after the “death” of Rick Grimes. Michonne (Danai Gurira) now leads Alexandria, along with a council, while Maggie has left Hilltop, which now has Jesus (Tom Payne) and Tara (Alanna Masterson) in charge. Life has pretty much gone on as normal, but soon they discover that another enemy is waiting in the shadows, one that disguises themselves as walkers and moves among them. Just when our survivors thought things had returned to normal, they find that another unavoidable fight might be coming their way.
Before we get into it, it really must be said that Kang was rather brave to take on the incredible task of trying to breathe some life back into this show, which has been dead on its feet for the last few seasons. After Gimple steered it straight into the ground, anyone would be hard-pressed to pick up the pieces and try to put it back together, but at the very least, she tried. However, with that being said, it’s unfortunate to have to say that the show still faces the same problems that have been plaguing it for the last few seasons. There is still quite a lot of trouble with getting the story to progress forward and an equal amount in trying to develop the characters to the point of actually caring about what happens to them.
The first half of the season, for example, is mostly about the communities trying to move on after the war with The Saviors, but there’s so little in the way of progression that you can’t help but feel like most of it was shaped around the fact that Andrew Lincoln was leaving the show, forcing them to focus on that, as opposed to actually developing the narrative in a satisfactory manner. This would seem to be the case, but even after the time jump, the same issue remains as the audience patiently waits for “The Whisperers” arc (the next major arc in the comics) to begin properly, forcing them to sit through seemingly endless filler on the way.
The second half of the season continues this bizarre practice, though in multiple instances, this is done through completely pointless “b stories” or side stories that merely waste time. Examples include Negan escaping and wondering around The Sanctuary before coming back to his cell, King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and co. attempting to find a projector bulb in order to show a movie at the community fair, and flashbacks that serve little to no purpose. It’s no secret that the show hasn’t been able to fill its 16-episode seasons, and yet, for some reason, AMC continues to insist upon just as many episodes. As has been suggested, simply cutting down the number of episodes to, say, ten, would be a big improvement, forcing the writers to progress the stories and characters faster, and subsequently allowing them to get rid of the needless filler.
Now this is not to say that the entire season has been bad. A couple of episodes stand out as having been pretty good, including Rick Grimes’ grand send-off (“What Comes After”). The episode, which has to do with Rick trying to lead the walker herd away from everyone, includes some fun cameos from past characters, one of which was particularly touching under the circumstances. Overall it was a decent finale for a character that has been a staple of the show from the beginning… and whose time in this world is obviously not quite done (a fact you know if you’ve been keeping up with the announcements). The second-to-last episode (“The Calm Before”) was also a fine addition, showing us the communities coming together for their big trade fair, while also featuring some shocking departures from the comics (readers thought it was going one way, but ended up being surprised with everyone else).
Obviously two pretty good episodes out of a total of 16 is a pretty poor ratio, but that’s what happens when the over-arching issues are allowed to persist. Until those are fixed, the results will merely be the same. It’s shocking enough that, with its low quality and the continually plummeting ratings (now at their lowest ever), the show was picked up for a tenth season. Will Kang allow things to continue as they are and let it slip even further or will she buckle down and actually do something about it in an effort to return the show to its heyday (seasons two and three)? As usual, all we can do is hope, for without drastic change, the show will only continue to aptly fit its title. 2/4 stars.
Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.