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.

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