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Will The Walking Dead End With Season 9?

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It's hard to imagine AMC's The Walking Dead without its steadfast protagonist Rick Grimes, but fans may soon have to get used to the idea, as a new report claims Andrew Lincoln will be leaving the show in season 9. Rick is one of the last few remaining characters from The Walking Dead season 1, and the most recent season of the show dramatically killed off his son, Carl Grimes, who had long been considered "safe." The report also claims that Norman Reedus, who plays Daryl Dixon, will see a pay rise as he take over as the show's lead, so it's pretty safe to assume that AMC has plans for season 10 and beyond... but should the writers be thinking about wrapping things up instead?

Though Rick's departure is not yet official, the original report from Collider was quickly corroborated by Entertainment Weekly, so The Walking Dead fans should start bracing themselves for the big goodbye. The news is also likely to spark discussion about whether The Walking Dead can survive without Rick Grimes or, perhaps more saliently, whether it should continue without him. While the show is certainly an ensemble, Rick has always been there at the heart of the journey, and it's hard to imagine The Walking Dead without him.

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Should Season 9 End The Walking Dead's Story?

The Walking Dead is still one of the most-watched shows on TV, but there's denying the fact that ratings have been on a long, steady decline, and fan dissatisfaction has been on the rise. From the infamous Glenn dumpster-death fake-out to the gimmicky "Who did Negan kill?" season 6 finale cliffhanger, we've been getting the impression for a while that The Walking Dead is running out of places to go.

Fans have pointed at showrunner Scott M. Gimple as the culprit behind The Walking Dead's perceived decline, but the show's loss of momentum was arguably inevitable. You can only draw out the threat of the zombie apocalypse for so long before the living learn to efficiently dispatch the undead and build up fortifications to keep them out - as Rick and co. did with Alexandria, and then with Hilltop. For the past couple of seasons the walkers have barely registered as a threat in the background of the "All Out War" between Rick and Negan, and now that war has come to an end.

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Related: Did The Walking Dead Season 8 Finale Introduce a New Villain?

Season 8 of The Walking Dead saw the show hit its lowest ratings since season 1, and while each new episode still draws million of viewers, it's hard not to see this as a series approaching the end of its life cycle. In many ways, having a definitive end in sight would be an incredible storytelling opportunity; The Walking Dead has always had to maintain the status quo of a core group of characters surviving, but remaining under threat from either the walkers or their fellow humans. This has meant a cycle of the group finding a new safe haven, managing to turn it into a home, and then seeing their safe haven some destroyed or overrun by walkers and being forced to move on - generally via long walks through the woods.

If the show was allowed to end, there's no limit to what season 9 showrunner Angela Kang could do. We could find out that other countries managed to contain the zombie threat with their civilizations still intact. The show could end with a big jump forward in time that finds the United States' infrastructure rebuilt and the zombie virus cured. Or, to go down a less optimistic road, the story could end in disaster - with almost everyone killed off, and just one or two characters left to walk into the sunset. Or maybe we'll find out that the entire series was just a coma dream that Rick was having.

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But while fans may prefer The Walking Dead to go out with a bang instead of a whimper, AMC is unlikely to cancel its most-watched show, and Rick's departure would be a pretty massive shake-up of the status quo in its own right. So, if Andrew Lincoln does leave, what could the future of The Walking Dead look like?

Page 2: Where Can The Walking Dead Go Without Rick?

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