The Walking Dead will return for its ninth season in the fall, but the zombie apocalypse won't be all business as usual in the next batch of episodes. News broke earlier in the summer that series star Andrew Lincoln will depart The Walking Dead at some point in the first half of the season, with reports indicating that he could be gone as early as six episodes in. Rick may have killed his last zombie before the midseason finale even airs! Unsurprisingly, details are scarce about how and why Rick will depart, and theories range from basic to wildly fantastical. While we wait for more news of what's in store for the longtime leading man, we've put together a list of some of the most awesome theories about Rick's final episodes, ranging from fan ideas to some of our own favorites. Take a look!

Rick Loses A Hand And Can't Recover

The Walking Dead has adapted many of the biggest plot points from Robert Kirkman's comic series, but it left out the big scene in which Rick gets his hand chopped off by the Governor. Andrew Lincoln was on board with Rick losing a hand, and viewers have speculated that Rick would someday need an amputation after being infected by the zombie virus due to an open wound. The show did introduce the idea that walker blood and viscera is enough to infect humans, and Rick has come very close to exposing his own open wounds to zombie gore on two separate occasions. Could the rule of three come into play in Season 9 and he has to get his hand chopped off?

Now, in the comics, Rick goes on with his life without a hand, and he's currently still alive on the page. On the show, losing the hand could be enough to kill him. If his hand is chopped off too late or not far enough from the wound, he could be infected and need to be killed before zombification. Alternately, he could have his stump infected by a plain old non-zombie virus. Rick being Rick, he might keep such an infection secret until it's too late, not wanting to use any valuable medications that could be saved for others. It could also allow him to lose a hand early in the season and manage to survive with a hidden infection for a few more episodes.

Rick And Daryl Reenact Rick Vs. Shane

The Season 8 finale ended on the reveal that Rick's decision to keep Negan alive caused some of his longtime allies to turn against him and plot to bide their time, wait for the right moment, and "show him" that he was wrong to do what he did. Maggie, Jesus, and Daryl were all part of the group that were ready to plot against him; while all three of those betrayals will hurt Rick, Daryl's will likely hurt the worst, and the falling out between the two former brothers could result in a Rick vs. Shane 2.0. This time, however, Rick would be Shane and Daryl would be Rick.

Admittedly, we normally wouldn't want to decide which character would fill the Shane role before even a single episode of Season 9 has aired, but the reality is that Daryl is going to live and Rick is going to be gone. Rick lived and Shane died in their big showdown; isn't it possible that Rick, sensing Daryl turning against him, felt driven to try and lure Daryl out to kill him? Given that Daryl will have been planning on moving against Rick since before the time jump, he would probably be more prepared for a showdown/throwdown with Rick, and having a cooler head could allow him to kill Rick before Rick can kill him, a la Rick and Shane in Season 2. Maybe Rick could even be infected at the time of the final conflict to soften the blow that Daryl kills his former BFF.

Rick Was Shane All Along

Remember how both Rick and Shane were knocked off their respective rockers at various points throughout the series to date? Well, one Reddit user has come up with the idea that The Walking Dead's leading man has been much further off his rocker than we knew since all the way back in Season 2, and it has everything to do with the news that Jon Bernthal will be back as Shane in Season 9. According to this theory, Rick is delusional after the end of his civil war with Maggie and becomes confused that everybody is suddenly calling him Shane.

The theory goes on to suggest that Rick ultimately realizes that he's not Rick at all. Instead, Rick was killed by Shane in the field at the end of Season 2, but Shane was so overwhelmed by guilt that his mind twisted to convince him that he's actually Rick. Yes, the past 6+ seasons have actually starred Shane who saw himself as Rick to cope with what he did. The realization frees him from his delusion and "Rick" becomes Shane again, allowing Andrew Lincoln to leave and Jon Bernthal to take over.

The Whisperers Strike

Many fans of the Walking Dead comic series have been anticipating the Whisperers as the next villains after the All-Out War story with the Saviors came to an end. Well, the Season 8 finale took care of the Saviors, and hints were seemingly dropped in Season 8 pointing toward the Whisperers' arrival. Assuming they arise as the next big threat, they could be responsible for Rick's death, and it could actually be pretty awesome. Tragic and heartbreaking, but also awesome.

Spoilers ahead for the Walking Dead comics. In the comics, the Whisperers use stakes in the ground to mark the borders between their community and others, including Rick's. After clashes that saw some of Rick's people cross into Whisperer territory, the Whisperers kill a number of the good guys, including Ezekiel and Rosita, decapitate them, and leave their heads on pikes for Rick and Co. to find. The show has taken Ezekiel and Rosita in some very different directions from the comics, so they may not die as they did in the comics. Perhaps Rick will be the one to have his head lopped off and mounted on a pike. It would spare viewers another episode of a Grimes man delivering heartfelt goodbyes, make for a killer cliffhanger, and guarantee a death that will never be forgotten.

Rick Pulls A Morgan

Who says Rick has to die for Andrew Lincoln to leave? Having lost Carl, the loyalties of some of his most trusted former friends, and perhaps floundering in his position as leader, maybe Rick could simply decide that he needs to take off from Alexandria. Perhaps he comes to the conclusion that temporary exile or a permanent move on from his loved ones is the most logical course of action, especially if he starts to lose grip on reality again. Michonne and Judith are the biggest sticking points in this theory; maybe Rick could reconcile himself to leaving them knowing that Michonne will take care of Judith as if she was her own daughter.

Is Rick bailing on the other survivors on a zombie apocalypse journey likely? Probably not. Still, it would allow The Walking Dead to write out Rick to accommodate Andrew Lincoln without killing him off and therefore ruling out Andrew Lincoln returning someday.

Rick And Co. Never Left Negan's Lineup

One of the most game-changing sequences in the entire series to date came in the final scene of Season 6 and carried over into the Season 7 premiere with Negan's lineup of most of the series' main characters. Negan proceeded to beat Abraham and Glenn to death with Lucille in front of their friends and loved-ones. According to a fan theory, everything that has happened since Negan's lineup was actually a panic-induced hallucination of Rick's. The theory posits that Rick will be consumed by that herd from the Season 8 finale, then opens his eyes to find himself back in the lineup, where Daryl gets murdered in Glenn's place, Glenn, Eric, and Carl are all alive, and Jesus will get screentime.

Are there holes in this theory? Sure. But Rick does have a history of hallucination, and the Season 7 finale did show that he wasn't exactly in his best state of mind. We don't necessarily need to rule this out at this point.

Rick Sticks Around

Neither AMC nor Andrew Lincoln have officially confirmed that Lincoln really is leaving The Walking Dead, so there's technically still some wiggle room for fans who don't want to believe that Rick will die or be written out in some other way. Yes, Norman Reedus posted a heart-wrenching tribute to his pal and another former Walking Dead actor shared his thoughts on Lincoln leaving. Nevertheless, nothing has been confirmed. While evidence points to the contrary, Rick might stick around and fans have been speculating for nothing. It has given us something to talk about during the hiatus dry spell!

Only time will tell if any of these theories will prove accurate. The Walking Dead will return to AMC this fall. Stay tuned to CinemaBlend for the latest in Walking Dead news, and check out Fear the Walking Dead's midseason premiere on Sunday, August 12 at 9 p.m. ET for some zombie apocalypse action. For more viewing options, swing by our summer TV schedule.

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