Photograph courtesy of AMC
Spoilers for all seasons of The Walking Dead ahead.
Whatever your opinions on this season of The Walking Dead, the AMC zombie drama is still a juggernaut hit for the cable network, so this weekend’s announcement that the show had been renewed for a ninth season was hardly a surprise. More interesting is the fact that Scott Gimple will be stepping down as showrunner, with writer and co-executive producer Angela Kang taking the helm.
Gimple isn’t going far, nor will his voice be completely devoid from the show. The network announced he’ll be the chief content officer for both TWD and spin-off Fear the Walking Dead. Kang, meanwhile, has been with the show as a writer since 2011 and co-executive producer since 2013. She co-wrote season eight’s midseason finale, along with co-writing “The King, the Widow, and Rick,” (aka the season eight episode that set up Carl’s dismal fate) and season seven’s “Sing Me a Song,” where Carl spends time with Negan at the Sanctuary. Other major noteworthy episodes she either wrote or co-wrote: season four’s “Still,” where Beth and Daryl form a bond after the fall of the prison; season five’s “Coda,” where that relationship meets its untimely end thanks to Beth’s murder; “A,” the season four finale, and season six’s “The Same Boat,” where Maggie and Carol break out of a Savior compound.
How much of a big deal is a showrunner shift? It depends on the series—sometimes the change results in a clear shift in tone or quality, while others continue to flow like nothing happened or even improve. The Walking Dead went through a high-profile shake-up when original showrunner Frank Darabont stepped down in July 2011, the summer before season two premiered. The series felt noticeably different under his replacement, Glen Mazzara, who stepped down at the end of season three, when Scott Gimple took the job.
Meanwhile, many Walking Dead fans have been frustrated with the current progression of the show. The show’s ratings have faltered since the season seven finale, but it’s still the No. 1 show on TV for the 18-49 demo, according to AMC. Rotten Tomatoes currently has the eighth season set at a 69 percent approval rating, with some episodes dipping as low as 33 percent approval (“The King, the Window, and Rick”) and as high as 88 percent (the premiere, “Mercy,” and Ezekiel-centric episode “Some Guy“). Here’s hoping that Kang’s promotion is a chance to breathe some fresh life into the series. Carl’s impending death proves the television team still isn’t afraid to risk huge departures from Robert Kirkman’s comic book source material, so the show could literally go anywhere at this point. Keep Negan alive? Kill him? Make him Rick’s long-lost second cousin? The world is their oyster.