'Walking Dead': Jon Bernthal to Return in Season 9

The 'Punisher' star will reprise his role as Shane, just in time for Andrew Lincoln's exit.
Gene Page/AMC
Jon Bernthal on 'The Walking Dead'

With the stage set for original star Andrew Lincoln's departure, The Walking Dead has plans to mark the occasion with another familiar face from the past.

Jon Bernthal will return to the AMC zombie drama for an episode in the upcoming ninth season, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed. (AMC declined comment.) The actor played former police officer Shane Walsh in the first two seasons of the show, outlasting the comic book version of his ill-fated character, who didn't survive the first arc of the Robert Kirkman-penned series. In the TV adaptation, Shane died during an altercation with Rick Grimes (Lincoln), his former fellow officer and longtime best friend. Shane returned moments later as a walker, and was swiftly killed permanently by the late Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs).

The exact circumstances of Bernthal's return remain unknown, though the decisiveness of Shane's death rules out a flesh-and-blood return, at least in the present timeline. As The Walking Dead frequently deals in flashbacks (and even the occasional flash-forward), it feels likely that Bernthal will appear in a scene or series of sequences set in the past. However, the drama has also been known to play around with reality, in the form of visions and hallucinatory sequences; it's entirely possible that Shane could return in that context as well.

However it comes about, Shane's return is likely not to last for long. Bernthal's role as a series regular on Netflix's The Punisher, in which he plays Marvel antihero Frank Castle, limits how many episodes he could appear in on Walking Dead, as the standard rule is three.

Shane's return, however brief, is well-timed, given the looming departure of his former best friend. The Walking Dead is eyeing several key creative changes heading into season nine, the biggest one being the exit of Lincoln, who has played the embattled Rick Grimes since the very first episode of the series. Lincoln will be phased out in season nine, with the exact specifics of his departure still unknown. In December, Lincoln told THR that "there needs to be an end game and that is something that is definitely being talked about." In February, the actor said that "there's certainly an endgame in my head. Whether or not that's the same endgame that's in the producers' heads or the people I work with is another matter. That's open for discussion."

In addition to Lincoln's departure, longtime star Lauren Cohan is also primed for a Walking Dead exit in season nine, having booked a lead role on ABC's midseason drama Whiskey Cavalier. Cohan, who has played Maggie Rhee since season two, is expected to return for a handful of episodes in season nine before exiting the series.

Season nine marks a behind-the-scenes sea change as well, as longtime showrunner Scott M. Gimple has taken on a new position overseeing the greater Walking Dead franchise. Showrunner duties now fall to Angela Kang, who has been with the series since season two.

TV Line first reported the news about Bernthal.