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The Biggest Questions About Rick's Walking Dead Departure

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After 8 and a bit seasons, Andrew Lincoln is leaving his role as Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead and there are some biggest question marks hanging over his impending departure. Season 9 of The Walking Dead has been pretty eventful thus far and, after a 18-month time skip, sees Alexandria working hand-in-hand with Hilltop, the Kingdom, Oceanside and the Sanctuary to create a brighter and more civilized future - all thanks to Rick.

However, it was reported prior to the season 9 premiere that Lincoln, who has portrayed Rick since 2010, would be departing before the season's conclusion. Around that time, it was also confirmed that Lauren Cohan, who plays Maggie, would be taking some time away from her character. Having killed off Rick's son Carl back in season 8, The Walking Dead is effectively losing three major protagonists within a season's worth of episodes.

Related: The Walking Dead's Helicopter & 'A' Theory Confirmed

After the third episode of The Walking Dead season 9 aired, AMC confirmed that only two episodes remained until the show went Rick-free but many questions still remain over the character's exit. With time rapidly running out for the gravel-voiced former sheriff, we take a look at the most pressing questions regarding Rick's approaching departure.

Is Andrew Lincoln Really Leaving?

Almost certainly. Since rumors of Lincoln's departure first surfaced, the news has been confirmed by several of The Walking Dead's cast and crew including Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon) and franchise creator Robert Kirkman. Most importantly, Lincoln himself addressed the reports at this year's San Diego Comic Con, citing a desire to spend more time with his family as the motivation behind the decision.

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Rick fans may still be holding onto the ever-fading hope that this is all a monumentally misguided publicity stunt to drum up ratings. Alas, announcing the departure of your lead actor is hardly a surefire way to draw in more viewers and even if this was the intention, viewing figures are continuing to decline regardless. In short, Rick's going.

Will Rick Die?

While Lincoln's departure is a near-certainty, whether or not his character will survive is still very much up for debate. The nature of The Walking Dead's zombie apocalypse setting means that any figure confirmed to leave is usually expected to die, and this has largely proved true over the course of the show's history. Only in rare cases has a major character walked out in one piece, with Morgan (Lennie James) being a recent example - and he only went as far as Fear the Walking Dead.

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Related: The Walking Dead Season 9: New Cast & Characters Guide

Despite this trend, Lincoln and others have suggested in several interviews that his character may buck tradition and not be killed off. It has also been confirmed by Lauren Cohan that while Maggie will leave the show, the Hilltop leader will not meet her demise yet. Logically speaking, if The Walking Dead can find a way to keep Maggie off-screen but still alive, it's possible that the same can be done for Rick.

Possible, but unlikely. In contrast to Cohan who is leaving for career-related reasons, there have been no suggestions from producers that Lincoln is expected to return to the role of Rick and his reasons for departing seem definitive. Keeping Rick alive 'just in case' also makes little sense from the show's perspective. The loss will inevitably have a huge impact on The Walking Dead and major adjustments will need to be made, but neither the series nor the viewers could truly 'move on' if the prospect of Rick returning still existed. After such a significant loss, a clean break is needed.

The Walking Dead will also surely seek to use Rick's departure for the benefit of the story and there are far more plots that can be set into motion by his death than his survival. Rick's departure could help introduce a new enemy for example, but it's difficult to see how the loss could propel The Walking Dead into the future if Rick simply rides into the sunset unharmed.

Related: The Walking Dead TV Show Doesn't Have A Definitive Ending Yet

Can The Walking Dead Continue Without Rick?

Whether or not The Walking Dead can continue without the man who has been its focal point since day one is a question likely keeping the AMC bosses up at night. Rick remains the central protagonist in the show's comic book source material and even though his departure is supposedly imminent, Rick has remained The Walking Dead's central focus in the first three episodes of season 9.

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Without doubt, The Walking Dead is losing its most vital character and they don't appear to have an obvious replacement lined up. Maggie and Carl both could've been contenders to take over as lead if they'd stuck around, Daryl has the popularity with fans but Norman Reedus himself has admitted that his character isn't a natural leader and although Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Negan has the star-power and charisma required, he'd need more time to pull off an effective transition to being one of the good guys.

On the other hand, it's impossible to ignore the fact that The Walking Dead has been on a ratings slide over the past few seasons and this trend only continues to become more apparent. Losing your main protagonist does at least offer a chance to implement wholesale change and while Rick's absence could definitely worsen The Walking Dead's viewership problems, it could also provide an opportunity to give the series a makeover.

Exactly what a Rick-less zombie apocalypse looks like probably won't start to become clear until the end of The Walking Dead's current season but, without a doubt, it's a make-or-break period for the show.

Page 2: Who Will Be The New Rick?

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