The Walking Dead season 9 is shaping up to be a major turning point for the massively popular zombie drama. Andrew Lincoln is out at the end of the season as Rick Grimes, the series’ heart, soul, and beard for the past eight years. Lauren Cohan is only onboard for six episodes before she departs for CBS’ Whiskey Cavalier. First-look images revealed that the crew is going to be dragging around this, like, old-timey Wild West wagon, which is a whole thing. And with Jeffrey Dean Morgan‘s Negan presumably locked away in a cell, AMC has announced a new force for our survivors to reckon with: Ryan Hurst has officially been cast as Beta, a spine-tingling baddie familiar to anyone who keeps up with Robert Kirkman‘s source material. He’ll serve as second-in-command to Alpha, played by the recently-cast Samantha Morton.
Hurst is probably most recognizable as the bearded, beanie-wearing biker Harry “Opie” Winston on FX’s Sons of Anarchy. The actor also portrayed doomed high school football player Gerry Bertier in Remember the Titans and notched a few military roles in both Saving Private Ryan and We Were Soldiers early in his career. Recently, he spent two seasons living in the woods alongside David Morse in WGN America’s short-lived Outsiders.
His Walking Dead role, Beta, is probably most recognizable as the guy who wears a gosh darn skin mask over his own face. In Kirkman’s comics, the character serves as lieutenant of the Whisperers, a crew of post-apocalyptic hoodlums who survive among the living dead by donning suits made of human flesh. Season 9 gonna’ be gross, y’all!
It’s also—at least according to new showrunner Angela Kang and longtime executive-producer Greg Nicotero—going to be a return to form. Talking to FANDOM, the EP said that the upcoming season would “morph back into a season 4, season 5 vibe.”
Loosely translated, Nicotero is trying to say the show will once again be watchable on a week-to-week basis. Many were hopeful that Negan’s arrival would bring The Walking Dead back to its former heights, but even the arrival of a goddamn CGI tiger—my usual go-to fix for any and all creative problems—couldn’t save that arc from being a bloated, boring mess. Hopefully, Hurst showing up in such a gruesome role is a sign this horror series might—gasp!—trying and be horrifying again.