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The Walking Dead went through some major changes in the eighth season, the most significant of which was undoubtedly the departure of Chandler Riggs as Carl Grimes, who died after being bitten by a walker. Now, it seems that another member of the Grimes family will depart the series sooner rather than later, although the manner of his departure remains to be seen. The Walking Dead star Andrew Lincoln is reportedly leaving the show in Season 9.
The reason for Andrew Lincoln's (and/or Rick's) apparent departure is currently unclear, but Collider reports that fans should only count on seeing him in six or so episodes of the ninth season, which is set to premiere in the fall. His absence would leave a vacuum in the series, as he has been the center of the story from the very beginning, and Carl was arguably the character most poised to take Rick's place in the zombie apocalypse prior to his death.
The good news for fans already mourning Rick's absence from The Walking Dead is that the second-billed actor is reportedly sticking around. Norman Reedus, who of course plays everybody's favorite zombie apocalypse redneck Daryl Dixon, will apparently stay on the series and get a big bump in his salary as he takes over the role of leading man.
It's difficult to say what may have motivated the departure of Andrew Lincoln. If it was an executive decision by the show to kill off Rick, it could be a sign that the show is both changing course from the comics more than ever and perhaps giving a soft reboot to that shifts the focus of the narrative from Rick Grimes. As Andrew Lincoln has been the face of the series from the very beginning, writing him out (and potentially killing Rick off) would be a huge gamble for AMC, so it may be more likely that Lincoln decided to end his time on the show.
If Andrew Lincoln has made the decision to leave, it's possible that the show's move to kill off Carl played a part. Lincoln was open about how sad he was when Carl was killed off in Season 8, and although his song in Riggs' honor was altogether silly, he was clearly (and understandably) upset that the young man who had played his TV son for eight years would no longer be a part of the show. With Lauren Cohan possibly playing a smaller part in the series moving forward due to her new project, maybe Lincoln is simply ready to move on. The Walking Dead must feel like a very different show now than it did when he signed on, and not just because Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride are the only other two characters still around from the first season.
We'll have to wait and see what happens next. Neither AMC nor Andrew Lincoln himself have yet confirmed reports of his departure, but all signs currently point towards fans needing to say goodbye to Rick in Season 9. Only time will tell how and when the big goodbye may have to happen. For what you can watch while we wait for The Walking Dead to return to the airwaves in the fall, swing by our summer TV premiere guide and our 2018 Netflix premiere schedule. Fear the Walking Dead's fourth season is currently airing new episodes on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC, if you're in the mood for a zombie apocalypse fix sooner than the fall.