I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that The Walking Dead season 8 felt like the final, gasping breath of a show on its last legs. Season 9, however, isn’t too far away. With all that went down in the finale, there’s plenty of scope for change and – more importantly – improvement. While improvement is subjective, change is definitely a-coming. Outgoing showrunner Scott Gimple has talked openly about season 9 being a “new show” with a “new narrative”. A clean slate may be the best thing for the show, and there are plenty of ways to move forward from there. Here are some of them: 8 ways The Walking Dead season 9 can fix the show.
Ditch the comic book storylines
If you knew exactly how The Walking Dead season 8 finale would play out, then there’s a good chance you’ve read the comics. Taking and adapting the source material can work (see Game of Thrones), but mixing it up a little can work even better (see, uhh, Game of Thrones again).
Being a slave to the comics won’t help anyone at this stage. It’ll make things too predictable and give us a paint-by-numbers version of the comic book, with fans just waiting around to see when the next plot point will be dredged up from the pages of Robert Kirkman’s work
So, how does the show move away from the comics? Daryl Dixon of course! He’s a wild card, a completely original character with a cult following, and he needs to get involved much more in season 9. No one quite knows what to expect from him – and that’s why he makes for arguably the show’s most compelling character. The show moving further and further away from the comics is the best thing it can do at this stage.
A shorter season
16 episodes per season is a bit much, isn’t it? TV rules should dictate that anything more than 13 episodes is in danger of stretching things a little too thin. One of the only other shows currently airing which does the 16-episode format is Suits, and even that goes for a 10/6 split to make for rollercoaster ride of a final stretch to a season.
I’d personally go down the Game of Thrones route and just clip things completely. Give us 8 (or 10, max) episodes, so every minute can mean something. Failing that, they need to get rid of the whole season A and B schtick.
The entire television year gets dominated by The Walking Dead, making for an incessant inclusion in the schedules rather than something you genuinely look forward to. Heck, an 18-month break might even work wonders for both the cast and crew, who look to be going through the motions thanks to the hectic workload.
Don’t pretend to be a prestige drama
The Walking Dead season 8 has been plagued by arthouse-style montages, strangely-formatted episodes that mess with chronology, and other weird filmmaking choices to try and make it into something it’s not. Let’s be clear: we don’t watch The Walking Dead for compelling character studies and David Lynch-style twists. We’re here for characters we’ve come to know and love fighting back against Big Bads amid a backdrop of zombies with plenty of twists and turns along the way. Keep it simple, and we’ll come flooding back in droves.
Give Maggie a bigger role – but not as a villain
Maggie, Jesus, and Daryl seem to be beginning to formulate a coup against Rick. That’s interesting. That’s new. That’s fresh. What doesn’t need to happen, though, is for 1) It to be dropped completely in the opening minutes The Walking Dead season 9 or 2) Maggie turning into a moustache-twirling melodramatic villain. The Walking Dead has always been at its best when big personalities collide over big decisions (Shane and Rick’s showdowns were legendary), and we can get more of the same here, if it’s played correctly.
Maggie entering the second trimester of her pregnancy (I think, just how long has it been?!), it remains to be seen whether she’ll have a massive role to play – but she’s too engaging to be left in the shadows while the men do all the heavy lifting. Having her and Rick properly face-off in a battle of egos and philosophies would make for some genuinely engaging television.
More one-off episodes
The best The Walking Dead episode? For my money, season 4’s The Grove featuring Carol, Tyreese and those two extremely creepy children who (spoiler) end up dead is about as good as the show gets. It’s a great template to use, too, for future episodes with its considered pacing, mini-horror movie vibe and a killer, creepy hook.
Forget about serialising everything; there’s definitely more room to explore these characters. Carol has barely done anything in two years, Michonne and Daryl, too. Why don’t we take a breather and spend some time with them to watch them - shock, horror - develop as characters, rather than being flaccid caricatures of their former selves? The ensemble cast was one of The Walking Dead’s biggest strengths – so use them.
For too long, secondary characters have faded into the background to grimace and growl every time Rick and Negan lock horns – so why should we care about them? The Walking Dead season 9 needs to make us feel something for these characters again.
No more psycho children
Seriously. It’s a tired trope now. The Grove’s pair of sisters were a high point, but then we had that Alexandria child who did his level best to get half the town (and his family) killed with incessant wailing, and now we have the wannabe-killer kid who is carrying around the same old baggage we’ve already seen a thousand times on this show. If you’re going to go down the route of dealing with adolescence in a scary new world, you could do it with Enid or, better yet, skip ahead a few years and start moulding Judith into an actual character. Psycho children are old hat now, and often lead to some of the slower, more stuttering moments in the show’s history.
Introduce the Whisperers
Yes, I’m contradicting myself slightly, but following the comics in this instance (by simply introducing the Whisperers, but not copying their entire arc) would only help the show. One of the more popular set of villains from the comics, The Whisperers, led by Alpha and Beta, are a group of Walker-like savages whose infamous calling cards include a hushed whisper and killing off several of Rick’s group and placing their heads on a stick.
Effectively degenerating into animals who wear the skins of the undead, a battle between Rick’s group and a truly terrifying enemy (zombies with actual brains? Sign me up) would be something that straddles the line perfectly between evil-doers and straight-up evil. I’m fed up of Governor and Negan-types strutting around with their boundless charisma; let’s go for something unknowable and unthinkable to truly give us an insight into how society has collapsed - and just how far Rick and the gang are willing to go.
Kill off Rick (no, seriously)
You want a new story with a brand-new narrative, as Scott Gimple described it? What better way to do that than to go in a completely different direction? With Carl’s death and Negan’s defeat, it seems that Rick’s story has run its course. It’s time for someone else to step up and send us into a brand-new era for the show. Sure, we could be edging into spin-off territory if we kill off the lead but, at the very least, it’ll inject some much-needed terror into the mix. If Rick can be bumped off, then so could anyone else, at any time.
With that, and the seven other changes that I hope could happen, maybe, just maybe, the show will turn itself around. Please?
And while you ponder the possibilities of all that, check out our breakdown of The Walking Dead season 8 ending, where we question yet more mysteries and possibilities.