8:15am PT by Josh Wigler
Did 'The Walking Dead' Just Introduce the Season 9 Villain?
[This story contains spoilers from the season eight finale of AMC's The Walking Dead, "Wrath," as well as the comics on which the show is based.]
The battle against Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is over, but that doesn't mean The Walking Dead is walking away from war.
If the series follows the comic books from Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard in its upcoming ninth season, then a vicious new enemy isn't far off from revealing itself: the Whisperer army. What's more, some readers believe these villains have already been revealed, during a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment in the season eight finale.
For those who wish to know nothing further about this deadly group of antagonists, read no further: full blown Whisperers spoilers from the comics are ahead.
In the comics, following the war against Negan, the action leaps forward years in time: Rick Grimes' (Andrew Lincoln) vision of Alexandria as a flourishing community has been realized, with the Hilltop, the Kingdom and even the Sanctuary all participating in a mutually beneficial barter system. People are learning how to live again, with something as whimsical as a carnival looming in the near future.
It's a perfect time for all hell to break loose again, in the form of the Whisperers, a group of men, women and children who stalk the land of the dead wearing the flesh of the dead. Led by a woman named Alpha, the Whisperers wear flesh suits in order to blend in with the zombies; what's more, they believe that the apocalypse has shown humanity a new, more feral way forward.
Given the group's culture, it's no surprise that they don't get along well with Rick and the other members of the Alexandria Safe-Zone. Indeed, tensions reach such a fever pitch that on the eve of the community's fair, several people are abducted and beheaded, their zombified heads mounted on spikes to act as a boundary between Whisperer and Alexandrian territory. Observe:
No further spoilers about who's heads are on those spikes, except that Walking Dead viewers are currently well-versed in the identities of two of those characters. Their deaths lead Rick and the others into full-blown war with the Whisperers, with even Negan joining the fight in an important and shocking way.
For their part, eagle-eyed viewers with knowledge of the comics looked at the season eight finale and saw a big tease of the comics' Whisperer conflict: Rick and his allies standing in the middle of an open field marked by a great fence, with a huge gathering of walkers in the distance. In the comics, the Whispeers have an even bigger group of penned-up zombies at their disposal, a veritable nuclear bomb of sorts in the post-apocalypse world.
For his part, however, outgoing showrunner Scott M. Gimple — who is moving to a larger role overseeing the entire franchise at AMC — is quick to dismiss the theories about the finale deliberately setting up a new conflict with the Whisperers. "I would be a liar if I said those fence posts were an intentional nod," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "It's a location where we even talked about pulling them down. But it's a real field with a real fence. I would love to say we're geniuses in that regard, but it was reality that did the foreshadowing there."
Intentional or not, there's a feeling of inevitability surrounding the Whisperers' Walking Dead arrival, whether it comes early in season nine or much later down the line. Due to how surprised he was upon discovering the Whisperers for the first time in the comics, Gimple is cautious to say too much about the characters as they relate to the show: "I could ply [Robert Kirkman] for spoilers and he would have spilled, but I was so happy to neither ask nor let him spoil, either by accident or on purpose, which he has before! So I dare not do that to potential viewers of that tale — if, in fact, we do it."
"But," he adds, "it's a big story from the comics." And with that said, Gimple believes the Whisperers represent a very different threat to Rick than the other villains he's squared off against in the past: the Governor and Woodbury, the man-eating Hunters (who were presented as the cannibals of Teminus in the show), and Negan's Saviors.
"They were a very unique style of survivors that felt that the world had told them the way, and that they listened," says Gimple. "There was a great deal to do with nature, and even the nature of man as an animal. That sort of hard philosophy they bought so hard into was incredible to see our people come up against."
Will we see our people come up against the Whisperers' way of life in season nine? Again, Gimple won't budge, but ahead of the Talking Dead, comic book creator Kirkman offered a line that should encourage fans of the source material: "The people who have read the comics know the road map to a certain extent. They can feel some of the excitement we feel, knowing things behind the scenes and knowing how different the show is about to be."
What are your hopes for the Whisperer War? When do you expect to see the new villains arrive on the show? Sound off in the comments below, and keep following THR.com/WalkingDead for more coverage.