'Walking Dead': How the Season 9 Trailer Sets Up Andrew Lincoln's Exit

The Comic-Con trailer also sets the stage for Lauren Cohan's departure, while several new actors step into the fray.
Courtesy of AMC
'The Walking Dead'

Andrew Lincoln is leaving The Walking Dead in the upcoming season, but as the actor himself put it at San Diego Comic-Con, his relationship with his character Rick Grimes is far from over.

The man at the heart of the AMC zombie drama since the pilot episode remains right in the center of the action in the first official trailer for season nine. The trailer, released Friday at Comic-Con, clocks in at nearly six minutes, packing a massive amount of information as a result — not the least of which is setting the stage for exactly how Rick will walk away from the walkers for good.

Indeed, even the way Rick is walking is gaining traction from fans online, still reeling from Lincoln confirming his departure from the show. Members of the Walking Dead subreddit have pointed out a quick shot from the trailer featuring blood dripping from a man, walking slowly, visible only by the boots — boots that, according to certain members of the community, are eerily reminiscent of ones worn by Rick. Is it nothing more than rampant speculation, or is this an early sign of Rick's final moments in the world of the dead? At the very least it's an early sign of the level of speculation that's going to flood the Walking Dead fandom now that Rick's days are numbered.

On a grander level, Lincoln's looming exit feels thematically tied into the trailer's narrative about a world that's finally starting to come together. The trailer begins with Rick, visiting Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) in jail, with tales to tell of the way in which civilization is starting to return.

"It wasn't that long ago that we were fighting to stay alive, but it's not like that anymore," Rick says. "We built it. We're growing. We're still ready to deal with this world on its own terms. No matter what happens, it's human nature to come together."

But not everyone seems to agree with Rick's approach. For one, there's Maggie (Lauren Cohan), who we finally seeing holding her child, the unborn son of the late Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun). In the trailer, Maggie approaches Rick and coldly tells him it's time to start following her lead. The Hilltop leader was last seen violently disagreeing with Rick's decision to imprison Negan rather than kill the man outright, and there's little reason to believe she's changed her mind in all of this time. 

With that said, how much will Maggie's disagreement impact Rick's exit? After all, Lincoln isn't the only actor leaving The Walking Dead this season, as Cohan has booked a series regular role on ABC's Whiskey Cavalier (following a salary standoff gone bad with AMC). For what it's worth, new showrunner Angela Kang has been more open about Cohan's future with the show, saying, "[Cohan] has said that she would like to come back to the show and we would love to have her back; we think there's more story with Maggie to tell. We already have some plans brewing that I think are pretty cool."

Taking Kang's comments at face value, it sounds like there's an exit strategy for Cohan's Maggie that might be a bit more open-ended than whatever harsh future awaits Lincoln's Rick — and with that said, the season nine trailer includes one very compelling Maggie moment, in which the Hilltop's commander is seen near a helicopter. Could it be the same helicopter first glimpsed in season eight, in the thick of the war between Rick and Negan? There's still no answer on where the helicopter comes from and what impact it will have on the greater series. Perhaps it's Cohan's way out of The Walking Dead, if only for now. 

(Then again, there's a different shot in the trailer, in which Maggie fights off Xander Berkeley's Gregory — but let's try to stay positive and hope the helicopter is Maggie's temporary ticket off the story.)

Even more important than a brewing feud against Maggie, Rick looks like he's at odds with another one of his old friends: Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus), who makes his displeasure with the new world order known during the trailer. 

"That small group we had back in the beginning, we could do anything," Daryl says at one point. "That was right. This don't feel right, man."

The trailer pits Rick's optimistic view of the future at direct odds with Daryl's longing for the past — a longing that was already evidenced by the fact that Reedus remains the one series regular who has yet to undergo a major makeover, even in the face of a time-jump and Alexandria's working shower situation. Not that anyone's expecting or asking for Daryl to clean up his bad-boy biker aesthetic, but news surrounding Lincoln's departure also posit that Reedus is eyeing a major pay increase as he becomes the new number one on the show's call sheet. If it's true that Daryl is about to become the show's new main character, then doesn't it make sense for Daryl and Rick to be at philosophical odds about the evolution of the post-apocalypse — only for Daryl to accept and embrace Rick's worldview in the wake of his oldest friend and veritable brother's death?

Don't focus so much on Rick's bloodied boots, then, and focus instead on what's at odds within the show thematically as a clue for how the series lead will walk away for good. The trailer reveals that even in the face of a rising civilization, tensions between Alexandria and the Sanctuary have not fully cooled. If the new season of Walking Dead is really about evolution rather than yet another war, as Kang and others on the creative team insist, then it makes sense for Rick to die so that his doubters — Daryl, Maggie, Melissa McBride's Carol, Seth Gilliam's one-eyed Gabriel and Polyanna McIntosh's Jadis (now known as Anne), among others — can pick up the torch and continue his work. Such an arc is the exact kind of thematic toast Walking Dead loves to butter up.

Still, don't expect season nine to be completely devoid of war. Even beyond the new clash between the Alexandrians and Saviors, there's another conflict entirely on the horizon: the Whisperer War, the next violent battle between our heroes and a new set of villains. The final scene of the trailer sees Rosita (Christian Serratos) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt) frantically hiding and covering themselves in mud in order to avoid a herd of walkers — a herd that almost certainly belongs to the Whisperers, the comic book villains who wander the world of the apocalypse wearing human flesh suits in order to blend in with the dead. 

Indeed, it's already been revealed that Samantha Morton is joining the cast of The Walking Dead in the series regular role of Alpha, leader of the Whisperers. Expect some very violent developments as a result (including the severed head of at least one person already mentioned in one of the paragraphs above, if the show sticks to the comic book script).

The Whisperer stinger and Morton's casting aside, the season nine trailer's penultimate sequence sets up even more comic book characters finally making their appearance on the AMC drama: Magna and her group of survivors, the newest members of the Alexandria society, providing unique points of view into the characters fans have already come to know and love. It's a robust roster of actors, so take a breath and get ready to mark down everyone headed your way: Nadia Hilker as Magna, joined by her bow-wielding companion Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura); sisters Kelly (Angel Theory) and Connie (Lauren Ridloff), the latter of whom is deaf; and Dan Fogler as Luke, a fatigued survivor who understands that there's safety in numbers. 

Intriguingly, Fogler is one of two Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them stars who have found their way into the Walking Dead universe this season, alongside Morton as Alpha. As for where to find all of our ongoing season nine coverage, look no further than THR.com/WalkingDead.