The AMC zombie drama has lost plenty of original characters over the years (RIP Lori, Glenn and Carrrrrrrlllll!), but we never thought we'd see the day the show continued on without its face, Rick Grimes. The British actor was never supposed to lead the show forever, however, as it was revealed last month that Lincoln had been planning for his exit as early as season four.
Here's everything we know about his final episode:
Andrew Lincoln Was Supposed to Leave in Season 8
Lincoln's TV son, Chandler Riggs, recently told ET that he knew Lincoln's departure was coming for "a while" -- and it turns out it really was. In an Entertainment Weekly interview released the same day, Lincoln revealed that he and executive producer Scott Gimple had been crafting his departure since season four. Everything was set for Rick's swan song in season eight, until Lincoln attended Comic-Con in 2017, and decided he wasn't quite ready to say goodbye.
"It was an impossible decision, and I think because the season was going so well, I was enjoying it, we had just been at Comic-Con, I just wasn’t ready," Lincoln told ET's Leanne Aguilera at the show's season nine premiere last week. "You have to get people ready for it and I realized very quickly that I wasn’t. So yeah, I went for one more."
But His Departure May Be Coming Sooner Than Expected
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'The Walking Dead': Andrew Lincoln Talks Season 8 Time Jump, Reflects on 100 Episodes (Exclusive)
Despite early reports that Rick would make his exit midseason, fans are speculating that the character will say his goodbyes in the fifth episode of season nine. Why then? Because it's titled "What Comes After," and Greg Nicotero directed it. The Walking Dead executive producer tends to direct the series' bigger episodes, and it's the only one in season 9A that he's listed for.
And while speaking with ET at the season nine premiere, Lincoln confirmed Nicotero was the one shooting his final scene as Rick Grimes. "I think it was about day two of filming and I asked Greg Nicotero who was shooting the episode, 'How many pints of blood does a human actually hold?' because I’m not sure I’m going to make it through the credits sequence," he teased.
He Had a Say in How Rick Would Leave the Show
Showrunner Angela Kang confirmed to ET that the adjusted timeline of Lincoln's departure meant that he had some input on how he'd say goodbye.
"You know, we start with the writers' room and try to figure out the story, thinking about the themes, but of course we had so many great conversations with Andrew," she said at the season nine premiere. "He’s been amazing this season as he has been this entire journey on the show. I can say that I think that the send-off is incredibly emotional. It’s filled with twists and turns, it's epic and so I’m really excited to share that with the fans even though we will miss Andrew and Rick. I hope that we’ve done service to that story."
Less Rick Might Mean More Daryl
Lincoln's exit has had quite the effect on Norman Reedus, who reportedly received a large pay bump after last season and will take over as the face of the show. "I knew before everyone else knew, to be honest. We kind of had a little pact that if one of us would leave the other one would lead, so I knew way in advance," he told ET, seemingly confirming fans' suspicions.
That warning hasn't made the news easier to swallow, however. "That rat bastard!" Reedus joked. "I was really bummed, and I tried to talk him out of it, but I get it. He’s got two little kids and he lives way over in England, so I understand I can't be mad at him. And I talk to him all the time, but still, what a bastard."
Rick's Final Episode Will Feel 'Real'
"I think they’re going to be very surprised. They’re going to be proud of him," co-star Melissa McBride teased to ET of how fans will react to Lincoln's last episode, as Reedus called the script "really well-written."
"This show has a way of throwing you a curve ball at the last minute, I’m just going to say that... and I remember that day, it was real-real," Reedus confessed. "The tears were real, the sadness was real, the loss was real."
"You know, [Lincoln] set a real precedence on this show, and it’s easy to make this show look corny, because you have zombies and samurai swords and rednecks with crossbows and all this stuff, and if you don’t play it honestly, everyone will see that stuff right away," he explained. "And he set a real precedence on this show to do everything as honest as possible, so his spirit is still on set for sure."
The Cast and Crew Gave Him a Big Send-Off
While we're still uncertain of how Rick will exit the show, Lincoln was celebrated with quite the send-off from his cast and crew.
"We had a nice, little celebration for him, sort of like a roast. [It was] 'Roasting Andy Lincoln Day,'" McBride said. "It was very fun, it was filled with a lot of love, a lot of laughs, a lot of good stories, a heartfelt goodbye and a really good final episode."
"I was a part of it!" Jeffrey Dean Morgan admitted, revealing he took the opportunity to poke fun at Lincoln's iconic scene in Love Actually. "I did a whole thing as Negan, but as his character in Love Actually, with the poster boards and how much I love him and all the sh*t."
"Yeah, it was great," he continued. "I mean, we all love him and we’re going to miss him. He means a great deal to the show. That was a hard day but at the same time he gets to be with his family and you certainly can’t be mad at that."
The Series Will Continue Without Rick
"I know the fans have a lot of trepidation about it, but the story continues and it continues in such a powerful way," Nicotero promised at the premiere. "The show has really got so much more story to tell."
"I think the way he leaves the show is going to be interesting for the fans and I think it’s going to propel the story in a way that it never would have been able to go before," Morgan added. "I think that the fans are going to dig it, but it sucks not having him. I personally can attest that I hate it. I hate it. I hate that he’s not there. It makes me crazy. I love the guy. He’s a great person to have around, he’s a hell of a friend and he’s missed."
The Walking Dead season nine premieres Sunday, Oct. 7 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC. See more on the series in the video below.