We're still months away from what will presumably be one of the most jarring TV moments of 2018, but The Walking Dead fans cannot stop thinking and talking about Andrew Lincoln's impending exit in Season 9. To be expected, it was a big topic at this year's San Diego Comic-Con, and during the AMC drama's press conference, Lincoln was asked when he first started thinking about Rick bowing out, and the actor said it's actually something that he and former showrunner Scott Gimple have been discussing for years now. In Lincoln's words:

Well, nine years I was thinking about it, because that's where we live. [laughs] But I suppose it was a lot to do with a conversation Scott and I had a few years ago, maybe in Season 4, about a shape, and finding some way to complete something that was never going to be completed. And then not, obviously, disturbing the mothership. There was a certain sense that the story has been a man waking up, and you experience this world through one man's eyes, and it opens up into the extended family. Now, what's exciting for me is that the narrative is being freed up, and it's already being freed up from the beginning of this season. You'll see from the trailer it's a different tone. It feels like the show I always felt like we would head toward when we wrapped the pilot. And so yeah, in short, it was something that I started to think about as my children got older and less portable.

Many Walking Dead fans may have assumed that the decision to take Rick out of the zombie apocalypse was one born of rash thinking and a self-imposed need to shock viewers. But that's not the case at all, as the plan originated quite a few years back, possibly around the time Team Family was dealing with the Governor's group or the Claimers, two villainous factions that came very close to pulling Rick's plug in brutal ways. Because after all, there are only so many dangerous predicaments that one man can live through before luck and talent run out. I believe Carl knew that more than most in his final minutes.

The thought process behind potentially killing Rick off (or, alternately, letting him ride a horse off into the sunset) is multi-fold. The TV show is almost always in need of differentiating itself from Robert Kirkman's comic source material, and what better way to do that than to subvert the entire hero's arc by taking out said hero? And in that same vein, The Walking Dead features several different leads that are equally deserving of taking a main-character spot in his absence, so it's also about creating opportunities for others to take over the spotlight. Even if no one officially "replaces" Rick outright.

On the other side of the coin, Andrew Lincoln also had his own personal life to think about, since his family remains stationed in the U.K., as opposed to having moved out to the U.S. to be around for each season's production. With each year that passes, the actor loses that much more time with his wife and growing children, which starts to take a major toll after a while. And once those children get beyond the toddler stages and are making legit imprints in the world, staying away from them for months on end likely becomes harder to deal with than saying goodbye to a job, even one as beloved as this career-maker.

One thing is for sure, though. Andrew Lincoln will absolutely miss the fans, his co-stars and The Walking Dead crew just as much as everyone will be missing him. He sounds as sincere in his words about his final days as Norman Reedus was in his comments about Daryl and Carol. So be sure to bid Andrew Lincoln farewell in an honorable way by tuning into Season 9 on AMC starting Sunday, October 7, at 9:00 p.m. ET. Rewatch that excellent first trailer, and to see what other new and returning shows will be hitting before then, head to our summer premiere schedule.

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