Fans may be saddened about Andrew Lincoln's exit from The Walking Dead in season 9, but it turns out the actor almost left during season 8. With the long "All-Out War" arc between Rick and Negan having finally concluded, season 9 represents a time of change for AMC's hit drama, both in front of and behind the camera. Longtime showrunner Scott Gimple is vacating his post in charge of the show - after being kicked upstairs to a role overseeing the Walking Dead franchise as a whole - and is being replaced by Angela Kang.
Additionally, The Walking Dead is set to lose two important pieces of its ensemble in season 9, with series lead Rick Grimes (Lincoln) and fan-favorite co-leader Maggie Rhee (Lauren Cohan) set to end their tenures as regular cast members. At this juncture, it seems likely that Maggie's departure might not be permanent, as Cohan has said her character won't die, and Kang recently made it known that she'd like Maggie to play a part in season 10. Lincoln has also hinted Rick won't die, but for now, it looks like he might only return for season 10 as a director.
Those still tuning in each week to The Walking Dead at this late point in its run are understandably not too pleased that Lincoln is leaving, as despite the various memes tied to Rick Grimes, the actor's performance has often been hailed as one of the best parts of the series. It turns out though that fans would already be mourning the loss of Rick had Gimple and Lincoln's original plan for him to exit during season 8 come to fruition. During a recent interview with EW, Lincoln revealed what almost happened.
We spoke about it and said, ‘There’s got to be a shape. We need a shape to work out if we get to season 5 then maybe we’ve got a couple more.’ There were all these ifs and buts and strategies. And I said, eight sounds like a good number.’ Eight seasons was certainly something. Last season was a shape that I had in my head and it was certainly something that Scott was possibly thinking about as well that was a completion of a certain chapter which could be called Rick’s falling. Season 8 came and it got more complicated. I realized that rather than have the funeral, I had to prepare for the funeral and I had to make sure everybody was comfortable with the funeral arrangements.
As Lincoln's comments to EW reveal, he and Gimple first started seriously dicussing Rick's eventual exit from The Walking Dead back in season 4, and came to the conclusion that season 8 would be a good time to have the character say his goodbyes. However, once production on season 8 began, it became apparent to Lincoln that instead of his final outing as Alexandria's leader, that batch of episodes would instead serve to lay the groundwork for Rick's departure, and serve as a prelude to a proper conclusion of the character's story.
Now that the foundation is laid and the march to Rick's final episode will soon begin, two big questions still remain, those being: How will Rick be written out, and who will step up to take his place as lead protagonist? As mentioned above, Lincoln hinted at the possibility Rick might survive season 9, but if he does, one wonders how he can logically be removed from the show's overall story while still remaining alive. Rick has a daughter to raise, and a girlfriend - Michonne - who loves him. It would make no sense for him to leave them behind. However it happens, prior rumors suggested Daryl (Norman Reedus) would take over as the series' focal character, but recent statements suggesting season 9 will focus heavily on The Walking Dead's female characters make that seem unlikely. For now, all fans can do is watch, wait, and brace for the impact of Rick Grimes' exit.
The Walking Dead season 9 premieres October 7 on AMC.