'Walking Dead' Enlists Tony Nominee Lauren Ridloff for Season 9

Lauren Ridloff - Getty - H 2018
Walter McBride/Getty

The Walking Dead is adding a new survivor to the mix.

Lauren Ridloff is joining the cast of AMC's flagship zombie drama for its upcoming ninth season, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed. Ridloff, who is deaf, and is best known for her Tony-nominated work as Sarah in the 2018 revival of Mark Medoff's play Children of a Lesser God, will step into the Walking Dead universe for a multi-episode arc as Connie, a survivor who is deaf and uses American Sign Language to communicate. EW was first to report the news.

Heading into its ninth season, The Walking Dead stands at the edge of significant changes both in front of and behind the camera, beginning with the promotion of new showrunner Angela Kang. The story looks set to follow the arc of the comics from Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard, in which a significant leap forward in time occurs after the fallout from "All-Out War." 

"We're seeing the world start to break down around our characters a bit more," Kang recently told THR about the new direction for Walking Dead under her supervision, and given the time jump. "They run into challenges, with things like the infrastructure breaking down around them and things that they used to scavenge being in much shorter supply. We get to see a world where they're not relying on unstable gas that's hard to find; they're taming horses; they're pulling wagons; they're fashioning more hand weapons so they don't have to rely on bullets as much. That's been really fun. We get to play while staying true to the principles of The Walking Dead that people love. It's a new era in terms of where our characters are at and the challenges they're facing."

[Spoilers from the comics are ahead.]

In the first issue of the comics set during the post-war status quo, a brand-new group of survivors arrives upon the Alexandria Safe-Zone scene, including a woman named Connie. She is in a relationship with a man named Kelly, another survivor who could wind up debuting in season nine. 

Connie is a player during the Whisperer War, one of the likeliest comic book conflicts to emerge in the season ahead. (Regarding the Whisperers, a group of survivors who wear flesh suits in order to blend in with the dead, Kang remains vague: "I don't want to spoil what exactly is going to happen in the future. What I can say is that there will be some really fun stuff from the comics that our viewers will hopefully enjoy.") At one point in the arc, Connie sustains a zombie bite, necessitating an impromptu amputation. She is one of few Walking Dead survivors to live through a zombie bite.

It's unclear whether the TV series will takes its cues from the comics when it comes to Ridloff's role, or if her version of Connie will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the other breakout characters who are only loosely based on their comic book counterparts — like Melissa McBride's Carol, as the best example. If nothing else, Walking Dead is already making a significant change to Connie by having her portrayed as deaf, which is both a leap from the source material, as well as an important stride toward inclusion.

Ridloff's casting follows the promotion of season-eight recurring players Avi Nash ("Siddiq") and Callan McAuliffe ("Alden") to series regulars for season nine, while two of the most enduring characters are poised to exit the series in the season ahead: Lauren Cohan ("Maggie") and Andrew Lincoln ("Rick"). Meanwhile, actor Jon Bernthal, who played Shane and was killed off in season two, is slated to briefly return in season nine, just in time for Lincoln's exit.

Follow THR.com/WalkingDead for more coverage of season nine and beyond.