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It’s no coincidence The Walking Dead launched its ninth season with a sojourn into the heart of American politics: Washington, D.C.
As part of the AMC drama’s overhaul under the new leadership of showrunner Angela Kang, Walking Dead and the characters that inhabit its universe stand at the cusp of major political upheaval. For the first time in several seasons, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his allies aren’t running away from some form of storm, whether it’s a swarm of zombies or a swarm of murderous humans. There is no war, at least not yet.
In fact, the series is very much focused on the aftermath of war — the one with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), still rotting away in an Alexandria prison cell — as Rick and the members of the Hilltop, Kingdom, Oceanside and Sanctuary communities come together to build a new world together … or “A New Beginning,” as per the season nine premiere’s episode title.
The episode’s first few acts focus on Rick leading a veritable who’s who of post-apocalyptic warriors into the American capital with an eye toward recovering artifacts that may prove useful in rebuilding civilization. For some members of the group, such as Michonne (Danai Gurira), that recovery effort includes preserving historical documents, or at least creating new ones in their image; late in the episode, she declares her intention to craft a charter under which the various communities can live, so everyone is on the same page about the rule of law.
With politics more firmly at the heart of the Walking Dead conversation than ever before, it’s hard to watch the zombie drama without thinking about current political struggles. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Kang downplays any intentional connection between Trump’s America and Rick’s Alexandria (with some room for concession): “It’s not political in terms of a direct allegory with anything that’s happening right now. Of course, all of us live in the now, so there may be things that drift in.”
Still, Kang says describes the current Walking Dead season as more politically-minded than usual, “in that there are a lot of characters who are trying to deal with each other and rebuild civilization. For them, that does mean trying to grapple with, ‘What is the constitution? What’s the rule of law? What does it take for a civilization to exist? What are the things we owe to each other?'”
As Kang and her writing staff started digging into crafting the season, they made a concerted effort into researching how societies responded in the aftermath of war.
“World War II is something the writers room talked about a lot, and even Andrew Lincoln talked about a lot,” she says. “He had been reading a lot about rebuilding after the world war. We looked at how things happened in Europe and what happens when you’ve come into a war-torn society. What tensions can that cause in the communities that have to give more, when they feel stressed, too?”
Already, season nine is putting that idea of stressed communities tasked with overextension in play. In the premiere, Rick puts a plan to repair a bridge into action, as a means of strengthening ties between communities. As part of the effort, he asks Maggie (Lauren Cohan) if the Hilltop can help provide food for the Sanctuary, which will provide most of the physical labor. Rick’s request isn’t met with the desired response, as Maggie would rather take a harder stance against the people she once fought against — the people who fought under Negan’s leadership. It’s a quiet scene that speaks volumes about Kang’s approach to the story of season nine.
“Each of these communities develops a very clear set of philosophies and ways of interacting with each other over time,” she says. “That’s been one of the rich areas to mine in season nine, as we see different characters rise to leadership — or reject it.”
Follow THR.com/WalkingDead for more coverage of season nine.
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