While some cast members of The Walking Dead may have nervously started packing their bags when they heard Andrew Lincoln was leaving the show, others were more optimistic about how Rick Grimes' absence may affect the long-running drama. Jesus portrayer Tom Payne is one of those actors, and recently stated he thinks Rick's exit won't hurt the series, and may even help it in the long run:
[It gives the show] another place to put [a] story in. With Rick leaving, how does that mess with the power structure? I think there's always stories to tell, and I think, you know, there are soap operas that have been on television for 30 years -- not that we're going to be Coronation Street. But I think it will carry on for as long as people will keep tuning in.
Tom Payne is banking on the mystery of how a Rick-less society survives to keep viewers invested in The Walking Dead throughout Season 9 and thereafter. He's right that there will undoubtedly be some novelty in seeing how the show carries on without the beard-boasting character who has been the heart of the show and comic books. One could also argue audiences have already see a bunch of survivors finding their way in the world without Rick Grimes on Fear The Walking Dead.
Of course, it's not as though Rick is the only member of the series fans care about, so there's no denying there will be an appeal to see what other fan-favorite characters will get more screentime with Rick gone. Not to mention the kinds of storylines that will come involving power struggles for leadership, and seeing how those comic-specific narratives get adapted for TV without Lincoln around.
Tom Payne explained to Digital Spy that Rick's leaving shakes things up in a good way, as Season 9 turns the traditional structure of the typical season of The Walking Dead on its head. Payne laid out the usual story structure of the average season, and then explained how Season 9 will do things differently:
I think it's still coming up with great storylines, and this season moves the story into a different direction. Because it used to be like: Rick's the great hero, and then bad stuff happens, and then they leave and go here, and bad stuff happens.Now it's like: everyone is settled in their communities, so now they have something to protect in a different way, and they're really trying to build a society.
As far as how long The Walking Dead will survive on AMC without Rick Grimes, Tom Payne isn't all that concerned. Payne said he sees the show lasting at least as long as the comics keep coming, and mentioned that creator Robert Kirkman has stated he's not stopping anytime soon, possibly for another 100 issues at the least. That could ensure the show still has plenty of content and characters to continue to build its on-going story for the next decade, if not longer, provided fans are still tuning in. Who knows, maybe The Walking Dead is really on its way to becoming the next Coronation Street? At least in terms of employing British stars.
The Walking Dead returns to AMC for Season 9 on Sunday, October 7, at 9:00 p.m. ET. Keep tabs on all television shows premiering or returning over the next couple of months with our fall premiere guide.