The Walking Dead star Andrew Lincoln will be leaving the show during its upcoming ninth season, which means the story is losing its protagonist. The Walking Dead has grown into an ensemble show, but at its core the story has always been told from Rick Grimes' perspective and he's been the (relatively) undisputed leader.
Without him, it will be a different show. And rather than soldiering on without him to rapidly diminishing returns, like The Office after Steve Carrell left, The Walking Dead should lean into becoming a different show. It should do a full creative reset where it becomes The New Adventures of Daryl Dixon with potential $20 million man Norman Reedus as the sole star, according to a very smart Reddit post by a fan who goes by arr-au.
The Walking Dead doesn't even have to look far for proof that this kind of thing can be done. Its spin-off Fear the Walking Dead is in the midst of a totally rebooted, creatively successful fourth season. On that show, new showrunners changed the look and feel of the show, ditched a bunch of old characters, added some better new ones and found new life in Morgan (Lennie James), a character that had run its course on The Walking Dead.
arr-au suggests that The Walking Dead — which has a new showrunner in Season 9 in Angela Kang — do something similar. "Honestly - at this point, they need something monumental. And what I really think that is is a total essential reboot of the show," they write. "Everyone dies. Except Daryl. It's in Beth's words. 'You're gonna be the last man standing. You are. And you're gonna miss me when I'm gone.'" (Maggie's [Lauren Cohan] late sister Beth [Emily Kinney] said this to Daryl during one of the show's great one-off episodes, Season 4's "Still," while she was imagining what the future would be like.)
"Ironically enough, he couldn't carry the show as a leader," arr-au continues, "but I think he could carry the show as a lone protagonist." This is a great point. Daryl has never been a leader, and it would ring false to suddenly make him one. He's always been Rick's right-hand man, and he spends a lot of time alone, hunting and scouting and growling and glowering. He could pull a Morgan and ride his motorcycle away from his past and head out on a new adventure.
"All of Daryl's failure, him dealing with that, leaving Alexandria and migrating somewhere... then slowly introduce new characters. Well-written ones," arr-au writes. "The writing could get better now, but honestly, it's easier to make new lovable characters than turn boring ones lovable. Throw an imagined Merle [Daryl's deceased brother] (Michael Rooker) back in the mix, and focus on Daryl's declining mind. Eventually, we have a group again. One we love."
Basically, start the show over as a vehicle for its most popular character. AMC would get its money's worth with what it's reportedly in negotiations to pay Reedus to take over as lead, and the show could cut the creative dead weight of characters that don't work, go-nowhere plots and overwrought dialogue. Like Fear the Walking Dead, it could turn into a Western, with Daryl as a Clint Eastwood type, a lone gunslinger traveling from place to place. It would have a smaller cast, which would make it a lot cheaper, too.
A reboot would deviate from Robert Kirkman's comics, but AMC could create a new spin-off that picks up with the New World Order storyline if they want to stick to adaptation.
Putting this into effect would probably have to wait until Season 10, but the groundwork could start getting laid in the second half of Season 9, by which point Lincoln and Lauren Cohan are expected to have left. The show changes every half-season anyway, both visually and tonally, so this would start as a slightly larger-than-usual midseason adjustment. Then in Season 10 it goes full Daryl.
I mean, why not? The show is running out of stories to tell in its current incarnation, and this would give it a new lease on life.
The Walking Dead returns for Season 9 in the fall.