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If events feel faster in The Walking Dead season nine, that’s very much by design.
The second episode of the season, “The Bridge,” takes place more than a month following the season premiere, “A New Beginning.” It’s a radical shift for the way in which Walking Dead stories are often told. While time jumps frequently occur between seasons (including the one between seasons eight and nine), the story tends to crawl within the context of the season itself — or, even more granularly, within an eight-episode half-season.
Look no further than the first nine episodes of The Walking Dead season six, which exist across little more than 24 hours, giving Jack Bauer a run for his money in the worst-day-ever department. Even seasons seven and eight, which introduced Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) into the action, spanned only a few weeks of real time. Specifically, season eight’s “All-Out War” arc played out over the course of a couple of days, with the conflict between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Negan resolved almost before it really began.
“It was generally two stories the last three seasons,” says Norman Reedus, speaking with The Hollywood Reporter about the pacing of the AMC drama. “You were either in team A or team B, and it was just [about tracking Rick and Negan’s armies] for three seasons. It was a good idea, and I think it really worked, but you couldn’t do that a fourth season.”
Enter: “A New Beginning,” which launched season nine with the most dramatic Walking Dead time jump in the show’s history — followed immediately by “The Bridge,” in which Rick’s mission to restore a bridge has already been under way for more than 30 days. In the space of the season’s first two episodes, more time has passed than passed in the span of the previous three seasons. It’s an idea that new showrunner Angela Kang was very eager to explore, both for practical and thematic reasons.
“The Walking Dead in general often deals with the idea of time, and losing the time we have,” she tells THR. “Particularly this season, there are stories we’re playing with about the ways in which time heals wounds, or makes them worse; the ways in which as time moves on, the world becomes harder to navigate. We really wanted to play with the expected storytelling structure we have. We’re usually tied into a pretty tight timeline. A lot of times, eight episodes will span what feels like half a day. That’s definitely one of the things we’ll see throughout the season, the idea of how time passage affects the story.”
One key way in which time passage may have a massive impact on The Walking Dead moving forward comes down to the biggest story surrounding season nine: the looming end of Rick Grimes. Andrew Lincoln’s time leading the series is almost at an end, though there’s no current indication as to when his character will reach his final destination. Whenever and however Rick leaves, might The Walking Dead fast-forward through the aftermath, and catch back up with the surviving characters weeks, months or even years following his tragic departure?
In that regard, it would be wise to heed Kang’s ominous words: “That’s definitely a possibility.”
Follow THR.com/WalkingDead for more coverage of season nine.
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