The end is nigh for Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead, and fans are facing the final stretch of episodes before he's gone for good (barring any flashbacks or hallucinations). While the news that he was leaving in Season 9 came as a shock to many, it turns out that Lincoln originally intended to leave the zombie apocalypse behind in Season 8. Here's what he had to say:

Yes, Andrew Lincoln was planning on leaving The Walking Dead in the eighth season as far back as Season 4, when he had a conversation to that effect with then-showrunner Scott Gimple. Despite the fact that he had plenty of time between Season 4 and Season 8 to prepare for the final goodbye, Lincoln's comments to EW reveal that he simply wasn't ready by the time Season 8 rolled around. Interestingly, Lincoln realized that he wanted to stick around into another season relatively late in the game. Apparently, his change of heart happened halfway through filming Season 8 at San Diego Comic-Con.

I had a conversation during season 4 with Scott Gimple about this. We spoke about it and I said, 'Eight sounds like a good number.' Season 8 came, and I realized that rather than have the funeral, I had to prepare for the funeral, and I had to make sure everybody was comfortable with the funeral arrangements. And I don't think I was ready for the funeral! I was like, 'I don't think I'm ready to go yet!' I said to my wife, 'I feel overwhelmed. I can't do it!'

I have to wonder if Andrew Lincoln's change of heart contributed to the decision to kill off Carl, whose imminent death was revealed in the form of a zombie bite in Season 8's midseason finale and ultimate demise took place in the midseason premiere. Statements from Chandler Riggs (and his dad) after Carl's death hit the airwaves (without having been spoiled due to Riggs' intervention) indicate that he learned that he would be out of a job very suddenly. Perhaps the need to keep Rick around but a desire to kill off a major character resulted in Carl's death. We can only speculate at this point.

Now, we shouldn't take Andrew Lincoln's references to"the funeral" so literally as to mean that Rick is definitely going to bite the dust in Season 9. He's definitely on the top of our list of characters most likely to die and we've come up with some morbidly fun theories about how it could happen, but there's no 100% guarantee that Rick is going to die. Besides, there's no way Andrew Lincoln would spoil Rick's death months ahead of it taking place on the small screen. The metaphorical funeral is the one that takes Lincoln away from the show that turned him into a household name and the friends he made during his time in the zombie apocalypse.

The good news is that we don't have too much longer to wait before Andrew Lincoln begins his swan song as Rick Grimes in Season 9. The Walking Dead returns on Sunday, October 7 at 9 p.m. ET on AMC. There are plenty of other options on the small screen as well.

Watch: The Walking Dead Season 9 Trailer

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