How Lincoln exits the series in unknown but it is expected to be gone before Season Nine's finale. The actor, however, has spent years dedicating the majority of his life to a Georgia production and will be returning to his U.K. home to spend more time with his family.
With such news sending shockwaves through The Walking Dead family, there are several options for how Lincoln can exit the AMC series which are a mixture of both expected and surprising.
The Walking Dead has thoroughly developed its reputation for killing main characters. Several stars of the series who have been with it for years have been shockingly sent off of the series, such as Steven Yeun and Chandler Riggs who were around for the earliest episodes.
With Lincoln exiting, the assumption is that Rick will die. Less than one full season ago, Riggs' Carl Grimes who was thought to be the future of the AMC series exited the series after the character was bitten by a walker. Killing the show's protagonist by walker bite, therefore, would not be the most bizarre conclusion to a main character's journey the show has offered.
One way or another, the Rick Grimes dying seems to be upon us, and it might not take very long into Season Nine for it to become a reality.
With The Walking Dead charging toward its post-All Out War storyline, comic book readers know that the Whisperers are expected to be the next villains.
While the AMC show has not officially confirmed the group's arrival (though the Season Eight finale may have teased it), the Whisperers are best known for a devastating couple of pages in the comics which saw several main characters having been killed off-panel. Among them were Rosita and King Ezekiel, however, Rick Grimes could be added to the mix if the AMC series wants to truly stir up a fear of the next villainous group.
In the comics, the group is best known for their savage way of life and walking among the dead while wearing their skin. They never talk above a whisper and walk among the dead to blend in. Whether or not they will be involved with The Walking Dead in Season Nine or ever is unclear.
Taking a more optimistic perspective, Rick Grimes could stay behind in Alexandria when the group elects to migrate or move to the Hilltop community. After all, his son is buried here and he has a firm connection to the community.
If other characters were to rally and move to a community like the Commonwealth, a 50,000 strong survivor civilization, Rick might stay behind in an effort to keep his community growing. The Walking Dead could move its focus from Alexandria to the Ohio community with most of its current characters and leave the door open for Rick Grimes to return in the future.
There is no doubt Lincoln's Rick Grimes has been one of the biggest points of investment for fans of the AMC show so leaving the door open for his return would be a strong move for the show which will continue beyond Season Nine.
Opposite the previous scenario, Rick could take the Morgan Jones approach and go off on his own journey.
This does not mean that Rick Grimes would be appearing on Fear the Walking Dead or any of the other potential spinoffs coming from the Dead universe in the future. However, it could offer the same hope for fans who are invested in the show's main protagonist. Like Grey's Anatomy sending Christina Yang off to another hospital, many could stick around in hopes of seeing Andrew Lincoln one day return to the show he helped build.
After all, the Dead universe is sprawling and has so much uncharted territory that Rick taking the devastating losses of his entire family could be enough to wish for something brand new outside of the current community. What it would mean for his and Michonne's relationship, however, would be more interesting.
This might be a long shot but Rick has a brother by the name of Jeff in Robert Kirkman's comic book source material.
In a one-shot issue called The Walking Dead: The Alien followed Rick's brothers across Barcelona as the zombie apocalypse began to run its course. Its final pages, however, seemed to imply that Jeff did not survive the early days. He had set sail for the United States with what looked like a walker bite on his ankle and told his friend to look for his brother Rick. By the time he arrived, he was probably dead.
Whether or not Rick's brother Jeff exists in The Walking Dead TV series' universe is unknown but he has never made previous mention of him. Perhaps, being optimistic about Rick's survival, he will set sail for Europe in hopes of finding his last remaining blood relative?