Whispers in the dark: 'The Walking Dead' returns with new foes

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Francis Babin / TV Media
Norman Reedus stars in "The Walking Dead"

Norman Reedus stars in "The Walking Dead"

Last month marked an important milestone in the history of entertainment. Twenty years ago, "The Sopranos" debuted on HBO to high praise and instantaneously changed the television landscape forever. In the years since its much-talked-about finale, the Jersey-based mob drama has only become more important. The tracksuit-wearing wiseguys ushered in a new golden age of television, with seemingly every network, including AMC, trying their hand at character-driven dramas regardless of their overarching programming focus.

After the award-winning one-two punch of "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad," AMC -- formerly a movies-only channel -- struck gold once again with "The Walking Dead." For nearly a decade, the post-apocalyptic comic book adaptation has dominated pop culture with its addictive story arcs, over-the-top villains and many memorable moments. On Sunday, Feb. 10, "The Walking Dead" returns for the second half of its thrilling ninth season.  

In the wake of Negan's (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, "Watchmen," 2009) defeat, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln, "Teachers") became the leader of all of the surrounding communities. He worked tirelessly to assure the co-operation between Maggie's (Lauren Cohan, "The Vampire Diaries") Hilltop group, Daryl's (Norman Reedus, "Ride with Norman Reedus") Saviors and Ezekiel's (Khary Payton, "General Hospital") Kingdom in order to build a sustainable future for everyone. Eventually, his vision and leadership were questioned, and amid the rising tensions and infighting within and between the communities, an insurrection took place.   

Unfortunately for Rick, he was not be able to see the communities overcome their differences and live harmoniously with one another. The last time we saw him, he was being whisked away via helicopter piloted by Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh, "Hap and Leonard") and her friends after being severely wounded during a bloody fight with a horde of walkers.

In the six years since Rick's disappearance, much has changed. Yes, there are still walkers aplenty and danger still looms at every turn, but new groups of survivors and new relationships are thriving. What hasn't changed is the post-apocalyptic series' penchant for ending seasons (or half-seasons in this case) with a bang.

The second half of the season picks up immediately after last fall's cliffhanger that saw Jesus (Tom Payne, "Luck") struck down at the hands of a new, more dangerous kind of walker while the surrounded Michonne (Danai Gurira, "Black Panther," 2018), Aaron (Ross Marquand, "Avengers: Infinity War," 2018), Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura, "Wonder Woman," 2017) and Daryl discovered the shocking truth regarding these grotesque monsters.

It was revealed in the last moments of the half-season finale that the walkers that killed Jesus are not evolved zombies like many had speculated, but in fact humans wearing walker skins in order to blend in and easily stalk their victims. Not a lot is known about these mysterious Whisperers, their motivations or desires, but we will soon find out more. In an interview with Insider, showrunner Angela Kang ("Terriers") discussed how these faux-walkers, led by Alpha (Samantha Morton, "Harlots") and her second-in-command, Beta (Ryan Hurst, "Bates Motel"), are unlike anything that our survivors have encountered before. In time, the series will explore their origins, philosophy, way of life and what makes them so different (besides the living-dead mask) from the others.  

Danai Gurira as seen in "The Walking Dead"

Danai Gurira as seen in "The Walking Dead"

With the emergence of a new, deadly group, things can't get worse for our survivors, right? Wrong. To worsen matters, Negan has managed to escape confinement. After more than half a decade locked up, the bat-wielding former tyrannical dictator is now once again on the loose. What kind of sinister plans does he have up his leather jacket sleeves? Furthermore, was his escape a simple mistake of not locking his cell properly, or an inside job that's part of a more elaborate plan? Nobody knows, just like nobody knows how long his cell door had been unlocked. Did the maniacal baddie unknowingly turn himself into a long-term prisoner by never checking the lock? These questions will hopefully be resolved in due time, but what is certain is things are not going to get better anytime soon.

While it might seem like Hollywood's love affair with zombies is a recent phenomenon, this is not the case at all. Ever since the public first laid their eyes on the zombies featured in George A. Romero's film debut "Night of the Living Dead" (1968), they've been infatuated with brain-eating ghouls, and film and television execs have given the people what they want. Since its premiere all the way back in 2010, "The Walking Dead" has continuously differentiated itself from its predecessors by focusing on its characters and their relationships, and exploring questions of power and morals in a post-apocalyptic wasteland rather than gore.  

Over the course of the series, our survivors have faced many obstacles and have always come out on top, but have they finally met their match? On Sunday, Feb. 10, tune in to find out what transpired in the past six years and see who lives and who dies when "The Walking Dead" returns for the second half of its ninth season on AMC.