While AMC has remained mum on the question of whether Andrew Lincoln's Rick Grimes will die or simply leave the rest of the cast of The Walking Dead behind, it seems that once the character is gone, he's gone -- at least for the duration of the season.
Lincoln has decided to leave the long-running AMC hit, which is based on Robert Kirkman's long-running zombie comic with artist Charlie Adlard, in the first half of the show's upcoming ninth season. The second half, according to the comic's publisher Skybound, will probably not include any appearances by Lincoln. But "unlikely" is not "impossible."
"Since Andy has mentioned he’s already filmed his last episode, it’s unlikely we’d see him in the second half," The Walking Dead's official fan mail site answers the question. "But never say never! Flashbacks, time jumps, dreams – maybe they filmed some second half scenes early. We’ll find out soon enough."
Lincoln's departure will mark a massive change for the series, which he has headlined since the beginning. Along with co-star Lauren Cohan, who will also depart The Walking Dead this season, Lincoln will leave and cleave in half the already-small number of remaining actors who were on board for the pilot. Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) is expected to step in and fill Rick's shoes to some extent, and Carol Peletier's role will remain significant. While there have been some rumors that Danai Gurira, whose feature film career is taking off, might not be long for the show, there is no evidence to back that up at this point, so as far as we know Michonne will continue to be a major player in the series after Rick's departure.
Rick and Maggie (Cohan)'s departures will also provide a significant difference from the comics, in which those characters continued to be major players long after the stories being currently adapted. The idea of Carol and Daryl as leads is appealing to fans, who have long loved those characters, and would give the writers an opportunity to further distinguish themselves from the comics, where Daryl does not exist and Carol is based loosely on a long-dead character with whom she shares few remaining similarities.
"I don't want to speak on behalf of Andy, but I think Andy leaving was more of his choice because he had to leave his family for seven months," Chandler Riggs, who played Lincoln's onscreen son Carl, recently said. "He had to leave his family for seven months at a time. Having to leave and go to work. He would come over to the states and film for that long, every single year for nine years straight. It’s just insane."
Riggs himself was written off of the show last season -- not at his own request but because the writers thought that killing Carl could provide some interesting stories for the remaining cast, particularly Rick. In the comics, Carl is still alive and has become essentially a co-lead with Rick as both characters age.