‘The Walking Dead’ Already Set Up Michonne as New Leader After Andrew Lincoln Exit

A key scene from The Walking Dead Season Seven could prove prophetic following news Rick Grimes actor Andrew Lincoln will be exiting the series in Season Nine.

The Walking Dead 7x12, "Say Yes," finds lovers Rick and Michonne out on the road on a multi-day scavenging trip. Coming across an overrun carnival grounds, Rick and Michonne are besieged by walkers when Rick falls off a Ferris wheel and is seemingly eaten alive, to Michonne’s horror.

Heading home in their van after escaping unscathed, Rick pulls over to confess to Michonne his guilt over his inability to save Glenn from being murdered by Negan just days prior.vHe pulls her close, telling her they’re going to take a stand against Negan and the Saviors.

“We’re gonna fight them. That’s what happens next. And we’re gonna lose people. Maybe a lot of them. Maybe even each other,” he tells her.

She pulls away.

“Even then,” he says, “it’d be worth it.”

“When I thought...” she stops. Tearfully, she tells him, “I can’t lose you.”

“You asked me what kind of life we had just surrendering. But it wasn’t a life. What we did back there, what we’re doing now, making a future for Judith, for Glenn and Maggie’s baby, fighting the fight... that’s living. You showed me that. You can lose me.”

She turns away again. “No.”

“Yes you can. I can lose you. We can lose our friends. People we love. It’s not about us anymore. It’s about a future,” Rick tells her. “And if it’s me who doesn’t make it, you’re gonna have to lead the others forward. Because you’re the one who can.”

“How do you know?”

“Because,” he tells her softly, “you led me here.”

Standing united with the Hilltop and the Kingdom, Rick and the Alexandrians ultimately proved victorious in the war against Negan and the Saviors.

Rick then called for peace among both sides, choosing instead to work together in taking steps towards the new world — a world in line with the hopeful future envisioned by his dying son, Carl, who succumbed to a walker bite in the back half of Season Eight.

Rick and Michonne served as constables of Alexandria shortly after integrating into their new home, and Rick’s lover has always been poised to assume an even bigger leadership role in the community as its second-in-command.

While Daryl Dixon actor Norman Reedus looks to land a $20 million payday to take over as lead following Lincoln’s departure in Season Nine, the only rightful heir to the actual role of Rick Grimes would be Michonne, who, unlike Daryl, is a better fit for leader.

AMC might be looking to hand the keys to Reedus as lead of The Walking Dead, but it's likely Michonne who would assume leadership of the community should the position become available, even if Michonne actress Danai Gurira isn't first billed on the show.

This being The Walking Dead, an exit from the show tends to come in the form of death, but there are multiple ways the series could move on from Rick Grimes without killing off the longtime leader — a move that could prove fatal as the show took a hit in the ratings the last time it killed off a Grimes.

Such a situation assumes Gurira wants to stick around The Walking Dead following the loss of both Chandler Riggs and Andrew Lincoln, who have long been anchors of Michonne’s journey on the series.

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The Black Panther breakout has since gone on to find even more success in Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe, where she now stars as fierce Wakandan general Okoye. Gurira will next star in Avengers 4 and will likely participate in future Black Panther sequels, with the possibility of involvement in other Marvel Cinematic Universe installments or spinoffs.

The Walking Dead returns this October on AMC.