New Season of ‘Serial’: Former Taliban Prisoner Bowe Bergdahl Talks Publicly For The First Time

The new season of Serial began Thursday, putting an end to months of waiting for millions of fans around the world. Journalist Sarah Koenig’s first season of the podcast ended just under a year ago and was hailed as a record-breaker with more than five million iTunes downloads, as reported by the Guardian.

So big was the success of the first season of Serial that it led to some progress in Adnan Syed’s case, the man whose 1999 conviction for the murder of his high school girlfriend caught the attention of millions across the globe. In November, a Baltimore Judge granted a motion to reopen post-conviction proceedings and allow evidence related to Syed’s alibi to be introduced at a hearing.

Considering all this, it’s no surprise that fans had been speculating for months about the content of the new season of Serial. But to fans’ surprise, the focus of the new season of Serial isn’t as unknown and low-profile a case as Syed’s. Rather the opposite, in fact.

Koenig is looking into U.S. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s story, who was held prisoner by a Taliban-allied guerilla group in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2014. Traded back after five years in captivity, Bergdahl’s return was initially that of a hero, but things quickly changed in his hometown and in the media when the soldier was exposed as a deserter.

In the first episode of the new season of Serial, Koenig explains that people in Bergdahl’s hometown of Hailey, Idaho, had been planning a big celebration for his return.

“But then so suddenly, the whole story flipped,” she explains. “Within days — within hours of his rescue, in fact — people began saying that we shouldn’t be celebrating him, because Bowe Bergdahl deliberately walked off his post into hostile territory.”

The new season of Serial gives Bergdahl a voice for the first time since his return from Afghanistan. The soldier claims he was abducted after intentionally walking off his post, which he says he did to raise awareness on the poor conditions his unit was living in.

Other stories have emerged, and now Bergdahl is waiting to see if he will be court-martialed on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy for leaving his post.

Critics are asking how the new season of Serial could affect court proceedings, and Koenig released a statement about the podcast’s second series as it came out on Thursday.

“Our first season was about a murder case few people had heard about,” she wrote. “Season Two is a story a gazillion people have heard about: the story of Bowe Bergdahl. It’s been in the newspapers and on TV; it’s been the subject of congressional investigations (in fact, this very day, the House Armed Services Committee is releasing a report on the Bergdahl trade) – and it’s an active case in military court.”

The first episode of the new season of Serial sets out a collaboration with journalist and screenwriter Mark Boal, who produced The Hurt Locker and who had been talking to Bergdahl over the phone since 2014 as research for a film he planned to make about him.

For the first time since his release, Bergdahl recounts his experience publicly in those interviews with Boal, which he has agreed to share for the podcast.

Although this case has been national and international news, the first episode of Koenig’s new season of Serial quickly demonstrates that Bergdahl’s story is full of ambiguities and mysteries. The biggest point of conflict in this story is that of the soldier’s motives for leaving his post. He’s always claimed he wanted to highlight the failures of the situations around him. Bergdahl says he wanted to create a “dustwun” — the signal sent when a soldier goes missing or is made captive, which stands for “duty status – whereabouts unknown.”

The first episode of the new season of Serial was released Thursday morning to the delight of fans who expressed their delight and surprise on Twitter.

A video by the Taliban was released of the soldier’s release in May 2014.

The 50-minutes long first episode of the second season of Serial ends with a preview of Koenig calling the Taliban, so stay tuned for next week’s installment of the podcast, as it may surprise you!

You can listen to the new season of Serial here.

[Image via the U.S. Army]