'Walking Dead's Michael Cudlitz Says Andrew Lincoln's Exit Cleans the Slate for 'Frustrated' Fans (Exclusive)

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Michael Cudlitz knows fans were a little skeptical about Andrew Lincoln's exit. 

The Walking Dead star had been playing Rick Grimes for over eight seasons, but made his departure from the AMC series last week, just five episodes into season nine. Fans of the show were confused as to how the series planned to continue without its main character, seeing as Rick is still alive and well in the comics -- but according to Cudlitz, it sets the stage for a "totally new show." 

Cudlitz's own character, Abraham, was brutally killed by Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) in the season seven premiere. However, he's returning to TWD to direct the Nov. 18 episode, "Stradivarius," and told ET's Lauren Zima on Friday that Lincoln was still very much a part of the series. 

"He was still around when I came back out. I went back out to direct, two episodes after he left the show, and he was still poking around and sorting his stuff out," he revealed of Lincoln, before dishing on the actor's big exit. "I think it's great for the show, honestly. I think the show has, in some ways, veered so far away from the comics that the comic book fans were getting very frustrated. Now they've sort of cleaned the slate."

"They've gotten rid of anyone's ability to say, 'Well, this isn't right, that's not right.' Guess what? It's a totally new show now," he noted. 

Carl's (Chandler Riggs) unexpected death last season seemed to serve as a major signal to fans that the show was going in a different direction. "Angela Kang came in as a showrunner, and she's done a bunch of wonderful changes. We always had strong women on this show. Now we have strong women who are in conflict with each other on the show, coming up, and I think the audience is going to really, really respond to that," Cudlitz offered. 

As for the way fans said goodbye to Grimes -- clinging to life after sacrificing himself for the group, he was mysteriously taken away in a helicopter -- Cudlitz is a fan. "I like it. I do think it keeps the door open," he said, seemingly commenting on the three upcomingTWD movies Lincoln will star in for AMC. 

"It keeps the door open for telling other stories with that character, very much in line with all these sort of other comic franchises where you have sort of alternate universes and concurrent universes and characters mingling that typically wouldn't," he explained. "It's a world that they've created, and I think to keep that character alive was a very, very smart choice because I think if they killed him, that's when you really cross the line, that you can't come back from."

For now, Cudlitz is focused on his new ABC comedy, The Kids Are Alright, which was just picked up for season two. "We're excited," he said. "We finish up this week with our 12th episosde, and then we'll come back around the holidays and finish up [filming]."  

The show is set around a family with eight sons in the 1970s, but the actor has a simple explanation for why audiences find it so relatable today. "I think mostly because the dynamics between families don't change over time... The great thing about our show is we're able to push back in time, so we're able to see the kids without the parents," he said, noting that unsupervised kids in the past got into some pretty hilarious situations. 

The Kids Are Alright airs Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. 

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