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October 04, 2018 at 10:00 AM EDT

“This is gonna be one of our best seasons of all-time,” says Norman Reedus about the upcoming season 9 of The Walking Dead. And he’s not alone. While there is a definite sadness among the cast and crew over the departure of series star Andrew Lincoln, they also can’t contain their excitement about what is about to unspool on screen, an arc that even has the exiting Lincoln excited. We spoke to Reedus to get the scoop on all the big changes both in front of and behind the camera, and to find out what’s in store for Daryl in season 9, which kicks off Oct. 7 on AMC.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This is the first time you all have entered a season with such a hard end to a story before and picking things up in such an abruptly different fashion. What did that feel like?
NORMAN REEDUS: It’s exciting for us. I mean, we’ve been there a little while, so it’s exciting to have this new, fresh take on things. In some ways, it defines the future more. There are a lot of times when we only knew what was happening episode-to-episode, so we’d hear rumors on set where we’re headed and so forth. But to have a defined horizon view kind of helps us to make our characters and the storylines more defined. There’s no patchwork trying to connect the dots when we can see the next dot in the future.

It kind of helps us, to be honest. It’s been exciting for us to tell different types of stories and merge the characters into different directions, whether it be allies or enemies. So, it’s been very beneficial to us, but also very helpful and a lot of fun. It keeps it exciting on this end, so I’m sure it keeps it exciting on both ends, you know?

What’s the show feel like tonally in season 9?
It feels very much like a western this year, the best parts of a western. In a good western, you’ll see Clint Eastwood have to deal with something and then you see everything rest on Clint Eastwood’s face. You get involved with the character on that western like you can get involved off of the characters on this show. We have that heavy impact weight upon us right now. There are some big deaths and some big things happening, and some super big things on the horizon as well, so it feels very much like the best parts of a western to me. I’ve always wanted this show to go in that direction, and it’s definitely headed in that direction right now. And it’s heavy. There’s a very heavy weight in the air while we’re filming. With the announcement of the Whisperers in the future there’s a lot of weight on our shoulders, and you feel it.

You mentioned The Whisperers, and those of us that read the comics know about Alpha and that group. What’s that been like?
It’s big. Given the certain thing that happens in the comics where we don’t get hit with one thing, we get hit with multiple things at once. And everybody knows that’s coming, and everybody can feel that coming. And that actress [Samantha Morton, playing Alpha] is such a good actress, and we’re so excited to have her on the show. And I can’t wait to do scenes with her, but she’s bringing a heavy army behind her. We’re excited to work with her. It’s a lot to live up to, and everyone’s excited for the challenge. So the stories this year are great, the scripts this year are better than they’ve ever been. And we’re excited to see it through, and we’re having a good time doing it.

This is gonna be one of our best seasons of all-time, without a doubt. I mean Andy said the same thing, he’s like, “This season feels like season 1 right now.” And I understand the reasons that he left, and it makes complete sense to me, but this is the show he liked being a part of, the one we’re shooting right now. So it’s exciting.

So clearly Daryl wasn’t too thrilled at the end of last season about the decision to keep Negan alive. How is he feeling about that decision when we pick things up after the time jump?
So many things happen right off the bat. There are so many things to deal with. That happens, and then another thing happens immediately after it, and then another thing happens immediately after that. He’s dealing with a whole bunch of stuff right now, and I’m loving where my character’s going this year. He’s been given a lot to do this season, and I like the challenge, and I’m up for it. But as far as Daryl, he’s family first always with that guy. And he’ll do anything and everything it takes. He’s been given a lot to do. His battles are being thrown at him left and right in all directions. So it’s not just where we left off last year, there are a dozen more things that are happening that he’s having to deal with all at once. So you’re gonna see many faces of Daryl for sure.

How is he feeling about the Saviors?
He’s definitely not welcomed there. And to be honest, he doesn’t even give a s—. He’s got other fish to fry.

Gene Page/AMC

How’s his relationship with Rick? Rick made that decision that Daryl wasn’t on board with, so how are those two getting along?
They go through so much this season. I love the episodes where those two characters go at it. Because they don’t just go at it with their fists, they really get real with each other. And it’s the first time we’ve seen those characters really talk it out, you know? Fight it out we’ve seen, and you’re gonna see some more fighting it out. But those two characters mean so much to each other, and they really are brothers. I know everybody knows that. But there becomes a real heart-to-heart couple moments this season that I just love those episodes. They’re great.

Scott Gimple is still around, but Angela Kang is the new showrunner. Have you noticed any differences just in terms of your day-to-day work environment there?
As far as keeping things close to the chest with us actors on the show, and as far as scripts and things like that, we still have that to a certain degree. But then there’s also a lot of freedom with explaining what’s happening on the show, not just to us, but to the media, to the press. There’s sort of an open dialogue this year, I’ve noticed. And it’s not anything I’ve spoken with anyone about, but I just kind of noticed as a fan. I noticed on Talking Dead there were a lot of story points being talked about on the show, which is something we didn’t really do before. There used to a lot of questions asked, and then, “Well, you’ll just have to tune in and see.” Now I know they talked about Ezekiel and Carol having a relationship, and a time jump, and certain things like that. So I think the set demeanor is a little less heavy, and it’s a little more directed towards fun.

It’s such a weird thing with the media, and with spoiler websites and so forth like that. Because you may get a picture of something, and you’re not allowed to talk about it, or whatever. But then there’s also that point of view that if there’s a picture, and it’s talked about, I personally don’t think it’s gonna stop people from watching if they happen to see a picture from some fan they took in the woods on an iPhone. Which we really do have a problem with that down here, I won’t lie. There really are people in the bushes with cameras, it’s really kind of annoying.

But is that gonna stop people from watching the show because they found out that there’s a this or a that on the episode? I don’t think so, to be honest. Everyone’s having fun, and everyone’s being given hard work to do. And Scott still is very much a presence here. So it’s not 100 percent different, but you have a different quarterback to this team this year, so there’s a different flavor to it. And that flavor is really, really working, I have to say. She was my favorite writer on the show when she first came here, and I’ve said it every single year. So as far as stories go, she’s headlining a really good group of writers, and we’re getting really great scripts. So you know, let’s see how they turn out, ’cause I’m excited.

Make sure to read our collection of cast tributes to Andrew Lincoln, and for more Walking Dead intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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