Season 9 is off to a strong start, but the show has yet to solidify its main villain this time around. Let’s take a look at some of the most likely candidates.
Warning: Spoilers will follow for season 9, episode 2 of The Walking Dead.
Fans of The Walking Dead have long wanted to see the Whisperers incorporated into the show. The group known for wearing the skin of zombies and their leader Alpha were confirmed to be joining the show before season 9 began. Beyond becoming the eventual main villains of season 9, it is possible that they have already begun their schemes in these first episodes.
Currently, one of the season’s biggest mysteries is the gradual disappearance of many Saviors. It is possible that the Whisperers are behind these disappearances and this is the show’s way of slowly and mysteriously introducing this new group of villains.
Those that thought Negan’s villainous days were over may reconsider this idea after his conversation with Rick. He’s been a captive since the end of season 8, but Negan isn’t subtle about the fact that he believes Rick is failing as a leader and his actions are just paving the way for Negan’s eventual return. Why keep a major villain like Negan around if he won’t be used in that capacity?
He would have some support, too, given the writing on the wall about the Saviors wanting Negan back and some of their growing discontent with how Rick and his allies are running things.
The problem with Negan becoming the show’s big bad again is that he was already played out in that role. Season 8 finally wrapped up the All Out War storyline, opening the door for brand new stories in season 9. It would destroy all those efforts to simply yet again make Negan the main antagonist.
Season 9 has already departed from many tropes and expectations of the show’s past. The question of the primary villain will likely follow this trend and move away from what fans are familiar with and expect.
Rick and company have already dealt with a number of issues this season. The walkers feel like more of a legitimate threat than they have in recent seasons, leading to actual consequences with the death of Ken in the premiere and Aaron losing most of his arm in the following episode.
On the human front, there’s been Gregory and his attempted coup at the Hilltop, along with the unruly and now missing Saviors. The characters are also wrestling with a great deal of inner conflict. Rick’s conversation with Negan leads him to question the purpose of everything he’s built, whether it really is to build a better future or a desperate attempt to keep Carl’s memory alive. Maggie deals with questions of how to lead the Hilltop and Michonne with how to bind the communities together through consistent rules and laws.
Past villains like Negan and the Governor were effective but over time lost that which made them so formidable. Their stories began to drag and what made them so compelling faded.
The show is realizing it’s better to deal with numerous adversaries rather than just honing in on one. Zombies, the Whisperers, the characters’ inner conflicts, unrest growing between the communities, and possibly whatever the helicopter is connected to will all be threats in their own ways over the course of the season.