It looks as though Rick Grimes' fate in The Walking Dead season 9 has been confirmed by none other than the series creator himself, Robert Kirkman. Check out Kirkman discussing his feelings on Andrew Lincoln's departure in the video above.
Rumors have been swirling of Lincoln's planned exit for quite some time now. Lincoln is reportedly only set to appear in 6 episodes of the upcoming season, far fewer than his normal workload as the focal character of the series. Lending credence to the rumors were follow-up posts by Norman Reedus and Chandler Riggs commenting on Lincoln leaving the show as if it were already confirmed. Riggs admitted that watching his onscreen father leave the show was a bit of a shock, though he pledged his support for Lincoln. Reedus wore his heart on his sleeve, sharing a photo of Daryl Dixon and his "brother" Rick Grimes hugging. He captioned the photo with a simple heart emoji.
During an IMDB interview conducted by Kevin Smith at San Diego Comic-Con today, Kirkman seemed to directly confirm that Lincoln's days on The Walking Dead were numbered. Kirkman was vague at first, merely hinting that it was "looking that way" when Smith inquired about the rumors. But he later added more details, admitting that Lincoln "wants to do something special on the way out" and promised the crew has "something amazing planned." Kirkman ended things by urging fans to tune in and see what the writers have in store for Rick's last hurrah.
Like Riggs and Reedus, Kirkman showed his support for Lincoln's decision to exit the series. The creator pointed out the years of hard work that Lincoln has dedicated to the role of Rick Grimes, and the difficulties of spending so much time away from his family. Smith joked that simply covering up Lincoln's British accent is probably difficult enough, without adding the unusual Atlanta weather and unique Walking Dead shooting conditions into the mix.
Viewers have been turning away from TWD steadily, with a large ratings drop following the death of Riggs's Carl Grimes in season 8. The seemingly impending loss of Lauran Cohan's Maggie Rhee isn't likely to do the ratings any favors either. Cohan has also taken a reduced episode count for season 9, in order to focus on her upcoming Whiskey Cavalier pilot. However, it's possible to imagine that Rick being on his way out might provide both a positive and negative effect when it comes to viewership. While some might be so turned off by the knowledge that Lincoln is leaving that they quit watching the show, prior fans who tuned out might feel compelled to come back and see just how Alexandria's leader meets his end.