Andrew Lincoln Opens Up About Leaving ‘The Walking Dead’ for Family

Family man Andrew Lincoln is leaving The Walking Dead to be more present in his children’s lives — but he isn’t quitting the show entirely just yet.

“I mean, there’s only so many sports days you can miss and really call yourself a father, so I think it was time for me to get back for some important days and just be around and have some continuity back home,” the Rick Grimes actor told Access during the Season Nine premiere party in Los Angeles.

Lincoln will be returning to the set to shadow a director with an eye towards making his first directorial effort on the series in Season Ten — with a little prompting from wife Gael.

“I will be shadowing. I can’t wait, actually,” Lincoln said. “I think my wife’s been keen to kick me out of the house. She says, ‘Go back and see them. Stop moping around and making chutney.’”

Lincoln’s tight-knit pack of co-stars sent him off with an unconventional “death dinner” — a tradition long held by the show that sees its stars gather for a meal in honor of exiting members — by way of a pool bash at Carol actress Melissa McBride’s house.

“It was the opposite of what I thought it was going to be,” Lincoln said. “Everybody was magnificent and it was very funny, and at the end of it I got thrown into a swimming pool.”

The star previously told EW he left only because he spends much of the year in Atlanta, where The Walking Dead is filmed, away from his growing family.

“I have two young children, and I live in a different country, and they become less portable as they get older,” Lincoln explained. “It was that simple. It was time for me to come home.”

But when painfully taking his leave as the sheriff’s deputy-turned-zombie slayer, Lincoln admitted it was too painful to leave the series behind entirely.

“I can’t be that far away because I can’t bear it,” Lincoln said. “That’s how much I am invested in the show and the continuation of the story.”

Lincoln’s co-star and real-life best bud, Daryl Dixon star Norman Reedus, said you have to empathize with his decision for leaving.

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“I have a son myself, and I’m constantly going back and forth to go see him, and it’s hard to do that,” Reedus told Vanity Fair. “He’s got a beautiful family, and he needs to be with them. Family is the most important thing in life, so you can’t be mad at him for leaving.”

The Walking Dead returns to AMC with its extended Season Nine premiere Sunday, October 7.