The Walking Dead: The Complete Ninth Season (Blu-ray)
Season nine of "The Walking Dead" is now on Blu-ray! Check out our review!
After a costly victory against the “Saviors,” the survivors of the zombie apocalypse suffer a devastating loss - and discover a deadly new human enemy. Stars Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Lauren Cohan, Danai Gurira, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Samantha Morton.
Note: This review reveals plot points and spoilers (including deaths) for season nine.
The episodes included in this season are 901 “A New Beginning,” 902 “The Bridge,” 903 “Warning Signs,” 904 “The Obliged,” 905 “What Comes After,” 906 “Who Are You Now?” 907 “Stradivarius,” 908 “Evolution,” 909 “Adaptation,” 910 “Omega,” 911 “Bounty,” 912 “Guardians,” 913 “Chokepoint,” 914 “Scars,” 915 “The Calm Before,” and 916 “The Storm.”
Ask some fans, and they’ll tell you that “The Walking Dead” has slipped in recent seasons, despite the addition of some great new characters, chief among them Negan, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
As most will admit, however, even “average Walking Dead” is better than most other television, but thankfully, you cannot call season nine a step back by any means. Despite the loss of key cast members Andrew “Rick Grimes” Lincoln and Lauren “Maggie Rhee” Cohan (who both leave after five episodes), season nine successfully resets the tone of the show, even if the locations have not changed.
Like last season, Alexandria, Hilltop, The Kingdom, and The Sanctuary are the settings for season 9. However, this season’s much talked-about “time jump” has evolved the characters. Maggie is less diplomatic and executes a Hilltop resident without hesitation. Jesus is unwilling to take on the mantle of leadership. Father Gabriel is no longer the unreliable rat, and has become the voice of reason at Alexandria. Negan, of course, has a significant character arc, as he seems to regain some measure of humanity.
By upending the familiarity, season nine reintroduces some anxiety and suspense into the storyline, something that the early seasons did so well.
Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of recent years has been the lack of terror coming from the zombies, which had become a bit of an afterthought in the Negan era. In the early seasons, the horde was a menace that made for an uneasy watch. In recent seasons, however, the interactions between the zombies and the survivors often worked out the same way: survivors run up to zombies, hack away, and that was it. Occasionally, someone did something stupid and got bit.
That dynamic changed this season, with the introduction of The Whisperers. Now, a slow moving horde could carry a hidden danger, and that was made clear when Jesus met his demise in a graveyard confrontation. The leaders of The Whisperers, Alpha (played by Oscar nominee Samantha Morton) and Beta (played by Ryan Hurst), are not only great villains, but their ability to guide the undead to their will brings an added sense of unease to the show. It reminds me a lot of the Frank Darabont days of the show, and I like it.
The season finale didn’t quite have the impact I expected it to. Centered around a group from The Kingdom caught in a snowstorm, there’s a lot of focus on character arcs, and The Whisperers are nowhere to be seen. The penultimate episode (915: “The Calm Before”) featured the traditional season-ending “major kill,” in which a large number of characters were killed off in a landmark scene taken from the comic book.
The loss of Rick and Maggie, as well as Jesus, Tara, and Henry, shift the narrative significantly. The show has become much more of a traditional ensemble, and the multiple storylines keep the show feeling fresh.
Many of the newer characters introduced after the time jump haven’t quite meshed well - someone needs to reign in Dan Fogler - although Cailey Fleming as an older Judith is feisty and fantastic. Her interactions with Morgan’s Negan is one of the highlights of the season’s second half. Cassidy McClincy has been effective in a difficult role, but they all need to find their place in this new dynamic.
In the bonus features, you’ll hear talk of season nine being a “reset” of sorts. It absolutely was, and in that sense, season nine was a success, despite the loss of fan favorite characters. It’s a return to form, and set a new, uneasy path for the future.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
When I watched season nine initially during its premiere run on AMC, I was disappointed in the video quality. I assumed it was an issue with watching it via Playstation Vue, as blacks were muddled and the overall image seemed grainy.
I was partially right - the black levels and occasional pixelation are not present on the high definition transfer of the season nine set. However, the grain in the image is still an issue, and it’s a big one.
In watching the special features, it appears the show is shot with digital cameras. That means the grain is introduced in the image is style choice added in post production. Indeed, the behind-the-scenes featurettes feature footage on the set in high definition, and it looks great.
I understand and appreciate the decision to use artificial grain to give the show a post-apocalyptic and cinematic feel. However, the nature of the show’s settings make this an issue.
The indoor scenes are hazy and deliberately low-lit, and the grain is so heavy it is repeatedly distracting. Dimly-lit scenes struggle to show detail. It isn’t just a handful of instances, either; the heavy grain is a persistent and deliberate choice by the cinematographer throughout the season.
The outdoor scenes in daylight fare much better. Colors are natural but often desaturated, so don’t expect them to pop on your screen.
I can’t say the use of grain ruins the image or the viewing experience, as I don’t mind its use generally. Here, however, it seems excessive. Even watching the blu-ray upscaled on my 4K player and TV, the image was sometimes lacking.
The audio is a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix, and it sounds far better than you would expect for a television show. There are some nice instances of bass (some key explosions are punctuated with good rumble) and there is some surround effect to give a sense of atmosphere. Clarity is excellent.
Lionsgate did not disappoint with the extras, as the set’s fifth disc is packed with some well-done featurettes and deleted scenes. My one gripe is that some of the bonus features are episode-specific, but not included with that particular episode.
Perhaps it’s merely a personal preference, but when I watch an episode from a season set, I prefer to see any episode-specific extras included with that episode. The season nine set includes “Inside Episode” and “Making Of” featurettes for each episode, but they are all grouped together on the fifth disc. It may be a minor gripe, but including those featurettes with the episode itself - where you can access it immediately after viewing - would be a nice choice.
The special features included with the set are:
“Season of Change” Featurette. Executive producer Greg Nicotero and members of the cast and crew discuss the role of weather in this season. The raging flood that threatens the bridge is covered, but particular attention is paid to the season finale, where a massive snowstorm threatens the survivors. The massive soundstage where many of the snow scenes were filmed is featured, as well as a look behind the scenes at the “frozen walkers.” Running Time: 8:03
“In Memoriam” Featurette. The characters we lost this season are profiled, and many of them are interviewed as they reminisce about their time on the show. Running Time: 10:36
“The Whisperers: Behind the Mask” Featurette. Cast and crew discuss the introduction of The Whisperers. Ryan Hurst is interviewed, and as you might expect, he’s a riot. Samantha Morton (Alpha) is noticeably absent among the interviewees, but there’s plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and Greg Nicotero discusses how they achieved the “look” of the masks. Pretty good stuff. Running Time: 10:38
“Rick Farewell” Featurette. This promotional featurette includes interviews with most of the major cast members, as they talk about Andrew Lincoln’s role as Rick and his impact on the cast and crew. It’s a nice little tribute. Running Time: 4:14
“Time Jump” Featurette. Cast and crew discuss the “time jump” after the departure of Rick Grimes. Running Time: 3:00
Deleted Scenes. 7 deleted scenes are included, with most coming from a single episode. Running Time: 10:15
“Inside Episode” Featurettes. Each runs between two and four minutes, and appear to be the same featurettes shown on “The Talking Dead” aftershow. There are a total of 16 featurettes, one for each episode, and listed individually.
“Making Of” Featurettes. Sixteen featurettes, one for each episode, are included and listed individually. Each runs two to four minutes each, and focus on a single scene in the episode (usually one involving stunts). Like the “Inside Episode” featurettes, these appear to be the same clips shown on the “Talking Dead” aftershow (I’m going from memory on this, so don’t hold me to it).
Audio Commentaries. Four audio commentaries are included across the five discs. Each is for a key episode, so the discussion is interesting and lively as the major plot twists are discussed. The episodes with commentaries are:
905: “What Comes After.” Participants include Executive Producer Angela Kang, Executive Producer Scott Gimple, and Co-Executive Producer Matt Negrete.
907: “Stradivarius.” Participants include Director Michael Cudlitz and Story Editor/Writer Vivian Tse.
915: “The Calm Before.” Participants include Co-Executive Producer Corey Reed, Writer Geraldine Inoa, and actors Khary Payton and Avi Nash.
916: “The Storm.” Participants include Executive Producer Denise Huth, Writer Matt Negrete, and actors Melissa McBride and Seth Gilliam.
Digital Copy. A code for a digital version of the episodes is included. The code does not redeem in the Movies Anywhere service, but will redeem from services like VUDU.
Release Date: August 20, 2019
Running Time: 751 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English Dolby TrueHD 7.1, French Dolby Surround 2.0, Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0
Subtitles: English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French, Spanish
Special Features: “Seasons of Change” featurette, “In Memoriam” featurette, “The Whisperers: Behind the Mask” featurette, “Rick Farewell” featurette, “Time Jump” featurette, Deleted scenes, “Inside Episode” featurettes, “Making Of” featurettes, Audio Commentaries, Digital Copy.