Last week, The Walking Dead did something bold, unexpected and downright unimaginable. And even though we were secretly anticipating and preparing for it, never did we expect the zombie apocalypse show to pull something like this off this early into a season. In as soon as Episode 5 (of Season 9 nonetheless), The Walking Dead shook its show dynamics heavily as it wrote off its lead character Rick Grimes, played dedicatedly for nine years by Andrew Lincoln while ending the episode with a six-year time jump. And while the character’s perceived death was essentially a cop-out in that he was shown alive, that still doesn’t take away from the bravery of the act.
Agreed it took the show nine seasons and two showrunner changes to reach a point where it could pull this off. And it’s also a given that plenty of fans have been recently flustered with the pace of storytelling on the show and the nature of plot developments, which are a far cry from Frank Darabont’s early episodes which gripped viewers in a strange eerie way. It’s still commendable for something like this to happen and for those looking for context, it’s almost akin to Frank Underwood’s ouster from House of Cards Season 6 or The Big Bang Theory deciding to run a season without Sheldon Cooper. Or Dexter without Dexter, Breaking Bad without Walter White, you get the drift.
However, the plans in place for what lies ahead are both simultaneously baffling and courageous and could breathe fresh life into a show that’s growing stale. And that’s kind of what I intend to discuss through this editorial piece so let’s get on it.
Showrunner Angela Kang announced after Rick’s departure that they have plans to make three TV movies featuring Andrew Lincoln and Polyanna McIntosh reprising their roles as Rick Grimes and Anne respectively. The movies will explore a whole new side of the zombie infested world set in a completely different part and introducing new plot points, while also expanding upon the mystery of the helicopter and the extraction of people who are tagged as either A’s or B’s.
First, let that sink in for a moment. Three movies. Three. And we’re talking TV Movies here, most likely at the production levels of BBC’s Sherlock, which is a lot given the kind of setup The Walking Dead has. Clearly, the gameplan here is to expand the universe of the show to include spin-offs, TV movies and possibly moving forward, even short films, comics and tie-in graphic novels. We already have Fear the Walking Dead running so it’ll be interesting to see if that ties in somehow as well; Lennie James who played Morgan is already appearing on the show’s recent episodes.
The reason this is a great idea is because of the innumerable possibilities of a potentially interconnected world that can spawn out of this arrangement. This is Television’s Marvel Cinematic Universe with their hands in a multitude of media, spawning a universe exploring all types of storytelling that bounce off each other. Thus Rick’s story may continue in the TV Movie and characters from Fear the Walking Dead may end up meeting Rick who can then return back to the core cast of The Walking Dead, all while having one-short comics and short 15-minute stories to accompany their storytelling. The possibilities are endless and assuming the creators don’t hammer down their same old repetitive ethics lessons across all these new avenues, it should make for compelling viewing.
That last line is also why there’s a potential downside to this plan. This could mean too much of The Walking Dead in a show that people are already starting to want to end. Sure, it still pulls in viewers to the tune of 5-6 million per episode, numbers that would make plenty of other shows squirm and seeth with anger but that’s a sharp drop from the 9-10 million viewers it used to command during its haydays. That plus incessant cliffhangers, dragged episodes and recycled plot points involving frequent ethical debates seen a countless times before have made the show tiring in the eyes of viewers. If the new properties continue to tread a similar path, it could spell the end of the path before the plan comes to fruition.
Fortunately for now, things look more bright than bleak. Under new showrunner Angela Kang, The Walking Dead has received a fresh lease of life with some sharp writing and the results are visible. Already, Season 9 is being hailed as a return to form for the show and the aforementioned previous episode has only managed to raise the stakes even before the mid-season finale hit us. If the show could keep this level of engagement up while continuing to add new developments and dimensions to the story, it could go a long way in solidifying its status as the next big universe to watch out for after Game of Thrones.
What do you think though? Are you tired of the show already? Or do you feel you could use the change of pace and added new ways of telling this zombie story? Sound off with your thoughts in the comments below.
The Walking Dead will air its sixth episode tomorrow on AMC. Stay tuned for our review and do read our review of the pulsating fifth episode here.