Ever since Carl Grimes passed from this life in Season 8, fans of The Walking Dead have been watching the cavalcade of inevitable changes coming to AMC’s hit series shambling toward them at a zombie’s pace.
For months, we’ve known that Rick Grimes will follow Carl into the afterlife sometime during Season 9, diverging dramatically from Robert Kirkman’s comic series, where Rick’s still a central figure. But Kirkman himself assures longtime fans that, despite its many changes, the upcoming season of The Walking Dead won’t miss out on preserving the story beats he’s written into his graphic novels, while hitting some major high points along the way.
In a far-ranging interview with the show’s creative team ahead of this weekend’s season premiere, Kirkman told The Hollywood Reporter that fans of the comics will still find an abundance of recognizable story beats to appreciate in the new episodes’ time-jumping narrative.
“[T]here's a lot for comic fans this season,” he said. “I know that's something that comic fans are worried about, because of the various different things you're hearing about the show in general, but there are some really great moments from the comics getting adapted this year. And the core story of the comics is very much intact as much as it's ever been in the series. You don't have to worry about that.”
Of course no one would spill any details on how the show will manage to part ways with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) while simultaneously emulating the feel of a comic series in which his character lives on. But showrunner Angela Kang suggested that other mainstay characters, including Daryl (Norman Reedus), Carol (Melissa McBride), and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) will be doing a ton of the heavy lifting in Rick’s absence.
“They're all finding that it's no longer a world where Rick is just the leader and they all do what he says,” Kang explained. “…Once Rick is gone, the world changes again for them. A lot of those stories are very rich. What those actors are bringing to those roles is so incredible. We're getting to dive into some of the other things happening. As our characters navigate 'a Rick-less world,' we get to see who they become in the aftermath of that.”
With Kirkman fully behind the effort to reconcile the new-look version of the TV show with the familiar look of the comics, it’ll be interesting to see whether Season 9 is able to pull off the tall task of making fans feel at home in that "Rick-less world" in a way that'll leave them craving more of The Walking Dead by the time the whole season’s run its course.
In the meantime, the wait’s almost over: The 90-minute season premiere of The Walking Dead finally lands at AMC this Sunday, Oct. 7.