“Warning Signs,” the third episode of The Walking Dead Season 9, aired this past weekend on AMC. On the surface, the episode was entertaining and suspenseful, perhaps one of The Walking Dead’s best in a while. Beneath the surface, however, “Warning Signs” stands as a statement that the show is entering a new era in its storytelling.
In the Season 6 finale, The Walking Dead introduced Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), its all-time big bad best known for making his entrance by beating two main characters to death with a baseball bat. The previous two seasons have told the story of the war among Rick Grimes’ Alexandrians, Negan’s Saviors, and numerous other survivor communities. This war culminated in last season’s finale, in which Rick defeated Negan, locking him away in prison and declaring that the communities would now all live in peace as one society.
So far Season 9 has told the story of the new world Rick is trying to build among five communities: Alexandria, the Saviors, Hilltop, Oceanside, and The Kingdom. At some points it seems like Rick may be close to finally repairing society in this zombie apocalypse—Episode 3 even featured a heartwarming moment in which Rick asked his lover Michonne to have a baby with him. This being a zombie drama, however, we know that trouble is always on the horizon. The alliance between these communities is fragile at best, as evidenced by Episode 3, where members of the Oceanside community started killing Saviors as revenge for their war crimes. The vengeance helped “Warning Signs” stand out among the show’s best episodes ever, as even the audience has to admit that they are likely not over the atrocities committed by the Saviors. As Rick struggles to maintain the fragile peace, dissent starts to form among his ranks, most notably in Maggie (Lauren Cohan), who is appalled by Rick’s decision to put Negan in prison rather than kill him. Maggie supports Oceanside’s murder of the Saviors despite Rick’s orders and seems to have her heart set on killing Negan. Maggie and Daryl (Norman Reedus) are undergoing deep character changes, as these two have been some of Rick’s closest allies for many seasons, but now cannot stand idly by and follow orders they do not believe in.
News broke over the summer that actor Andrew Lincoln will be hanging up his revolver and no longer playing the lead role of Rick Grimes after this season. Audiences have always viewed Rick, the center of the storytelling since the very first episode, as untouchable. Lincoln’s run as the zombie-slaying ex-sheriff has certainly been memorable, and his departure raises the question: What will happen now without him?
The answer, hopefully, is a rebirth of the show’s high quality storytelling about a world in chaos. If viewers are lucky, The Walking Dead will take a hint from Game of Thrones, a show that used the loss of a crucial character early in its run as an opportunity to tell an incredible tale of the chaos that ensued and allowed other characters to step forward into larger roles.
While The Walking Dead is in its ninth season, AMC plans to have the show continue for many years to come, so there is plenty of time for more storytelling. The Walking Dead has the perfect chance to use Lincoln’s departure to allow for other characters to move into lead roles and tell a fantastic story of what the survivor communities will do without their leader. Do the Saviors move back to their stealing and murdering ways? How does Michonne handle the death of her lover? Does Maggie mourn Rick and return to Alexandria, or continue her rise to power and quest for vengeance?
The next few episodes are going to be very crucial for The Walking Dead’s future. The show’s quality and ratings have plummeted in its last two seasons, and while Season 9 seems to have it back on track, Rick’s departure is something that must be handled well. “Warning Signs” laid the groundwork for the rebellion that will end Rick’s rule and delivered some of the show’s most compelling character development since its early days. While the jury is still out on how the show will do after Rick’s departure, “Warning Signs” has proven that The Walking Dead is still more than capable of delivering quality drama, which, coupled with some awesome zombie fighting, has all the makings to help the iconic AMC show make a comeback.
Featured Image by AMC