Big changes await The Walking Dead as the AMC drama returns for season nine.
For one, the zombie drama starring Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes will only be played by Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes for so much longer. There is no bigger headline when it comes to The Walking Dead than the news of the captain's upcoming departure, even though the exact circumstances surrounding Rick's exit strategy are a mystery. But even with these details hidden away, there's a lot to know about what we can expect from the zombie apocalypse, thanks to a wave of casting announcements as well as information from the cast of comic-con and executive producer Robert Kirkman's Walking Dead Comic Books on which the show is based.
Keep reading for everything we know about season nine, and bookmark this page as THR will continue to do so before its premiere on October 7th.
• Andrew Lincoln leaves The Walking Dead in Season 9. His departure was first announced in May, along with news that Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon) will see a bigger salary increase as he becomes the new number one on the call sheet. Kirkman confirmed news of Lincoln's departure, and the actor himself addressed the elephant in the room during a Friday show at San Diego Comic-Con: "This will be my last season playing Rick Grimes." An emotional Lincoln added that in ninth season, two of his favorite episodes have been seen since the pilot, though that should not dampen the bump for onlookers who love The Walking Dead for the experience of Rick Grimes. The actor has already returned to London shaving Rick's signature beard, so await the beloved character's exit in the first half of the season, which is still being produced in Atlanta.
• When Lincoln leaves, an old face returns, if only for a moment: Jon Bernthal will play his role as Shane Walsh in season nine. It's unclear how or how long Shane will come back, given that Rick's former BFF died in season two, though Walking Dead flashbacks, dream sequences and hallucinations are not alien.
• Lincoln is not the only longtime star to leave The Walking Dead in Season 9, as Lauren Cohan will be starting ABC's payroll on ABC's Whiskey Cavalier, ending her run as Maggie Greene Rhee. Cohan, however, announced a return to The Walking Dead shortly after the season eight finale, and she is prominently represented in promotional material for the new season. Sources say Cohan – like Lincoln – will appear in six of the first eight episodes of the season, with an exit that leaves at least room for Maggie's return across the board.
• While Lincoln and Cohan watch their exit, two actors have intensified their ties to The Walking Dead. Eight returning players Avi Nash and Callan McAuliffe were promoted to series cast in Season 9, guaranteeing more time for Siddiq and Alden in the Zombie Apocalypse. Siddiq, if you will remember, was the former doctor that Carl (Chandler Riggs) rescued.
• Behind the camera, The Walking Dead makes the biggest creative transition in several seasons. Long-time producer and writer Angela Kang was promoted to showrunner in Season 9, replacing Scott M. Gimple, who has taken on a new role as Chief Content Officer of the Walking Dead franchise, a move that follows Robert Kirkman's Amazon deal.
• Season 9, like the comics of Kirkman and Charlie Adlard, will advance in time after the end of "All-Out War" season eight. Kang says, "We are moving forward with time, so we can play with the look and feel of the show, both on a technical level – we've checked the style of shooting and continue to film – but also in terms of stories and Things on the screen look, and what we see is a bit different, we see that the world is starting to break our characters a little bit more, they are encountering challenges, with things like infrastructure around them and around things, they used to be much shorter, we see a world where they do not rely on unstable gas, which is hard to find, they tame horses, they pull cars, we've developed more hand weapons to handle them It was really fun to play, and we remain true to the principles of The Walking Dead that people love, it's a new era in terms of our characters we are up and the challenges they face. "
• Season 9 will also play a stronger role for Michai than for Danai Gurira, which is great news for fans of the Black Panther star: "Michonne definitely has a big bow this season, so I hope it does Danai and I had a great time discussing her character in this season, trying to see what other shades we can bring into this character and role, because she has depth as an actor and "me I'm such a smart actor. We love to write for Michonne and there will be some cool stuff for the fans that will hopefully surprise. "If Gurira, like Lincoln and Cohan, could see an exit from The Walking Dead in the near future, Kang would only offer: "It's definitely a series that's regular this season, and beyond – that's out of my realm. We only know that we have a lot of stories that we want to tell with Michonne. "
• The ninth season theme, Kang says, is a new focus on civilization as Rick and his company try to rebuild the world as they connect multiple communities – many of which may not be on par. "We spent a lot of time tearing apart the world, the loss of institutions and bourgeois norms," said producer Dave Alpert. "We're starting to see society back now, it's not a smooth process, and seeing it coming back is the most exciting this season, and Cohan has added the tension that comes with the idea:" There are many conflicts between people who love each other. What Carl talked about – the "something after the war," is different for everyone, "Cohan said at the Comic-Con." Maggie really wants a peaceful and positive time, but humans are human. My child does not have a father and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is responsible. Your relationship is interesting. Gurira added: "There is a moment in episode 12 of Season 7 when Rick and Michonne talked about seeing the end of the reign of terror and coming to a place where we could bring civilization back. This moment is finally here and Carl has really solidified it. Of course, having a vision has consequences. Maybe people are not ready for it. We will see the complications, and if people are not on the same side, there are serious conflicts. Angela did a great job. A constitution and laws design. "
• Speaking of Negan, the villain will be watching the source story Rick keeps him locked in – as shown in the trailer of the new season. "I do not know if Negan knows he's not the leader," Morgan said. "We've seen hints on different sides of Negan, he personally faces what he has never seen before, and he's interacting with more of the cast in an interesting way. The Negan thing is that he likes to talk It's important that people visit him in prison. "
• Reedus will be busy. "This season, Daryl has a lot to say, he's a character who always felt like his back was against the wall, and this year he has a smarter voice," said Reedus. "Daryl and Rick's relationship this year is great, Angela is my favorite pastime since she's on the show."
• Time has begun to burden the world itself. "It's been a while since the war is over, you see, they're building for the future: [there are] many horses and hand weapons. They are rebuilding. The streets collapsed. Nature takes over again, "Kang said.
• With the time jump comes the arrival of several new characters in The Walking Dead. In season ninth, the new Samantha Morton joins Alpha, the leader of the Whisperers, a group of survivors walking through the dead with human suits of skin color. Morton's casting was announced at Comic-Con, where Kirkman briefly mentioned the "whispering zombies" appearing briefly in the Season Nine Trailer.
• Another group of comic survivors will join the action in season nine, including Nadia Hilker as Magna, Angel Theory as Kelly and Lauren Ridloff as her sister Connie (the first deaf character in the series), Eleanor Matsura as Yumiko and Dan Fogler as Luke. In the comics, Magna is the leader of the group, and Yumiko is her bow-wielding girlfriend, although her relationship in the TV series is unconfirmed at the time. Kelly is a new character who was just invented for the show and is Connie's attentive and protective sister. In the comics Connie arrives with her boyfriend in Alexandria, who apparently has not made the leap to adaptation. Like Luke, a fatigued survivor, Fogler's character is an immediately unfortunate character judged purely by the comics – but the comics are not always the most reliable roadmap for what to expect in the TV adaptation. Just ask Chandler Riggs. Other new faces that take over recurring pieces from the comics are Brett Butler as Tammy Rose, described by AMC as a down-to-earth hilltop resident. (In the comics she meets Carl and Maggie). John Finn will assume the role of Earl, Hilltop Smith and Tammy's devoted husband. (In the comics he ends and takes Carl under his wing.) Rhys Coiro as Jed, a seemingly new character of suffrage, described as a rebellious savior who refuses to stand in line; and Zach McGowen as Justin, a hostile rescuer who is not interested in working with other communities.
The Walking Dead returns on October 7th. Check out the Comic-Con trailer below and follow THR.com/WalkingDead for more coverage.
Byron Burton contributed to this story.