‘The Walking Dead’ Star Hints at Andrew Lincoln’s Possible Return as Rick Grimes

The Walking Dead star Khary Payton says “nothing’s set in stone” when it comes to the looming departure of longtime Rick Grimes actor and series lead Andrew Lincoln.

“It was an amazing and surreal moment to be there and to be a part of seeing not just Rick kind of walk away — I’m not sure how you want to say that he leaves the show — but the way Andy left as well,” the King Ezekiel star told Express.co.uk.

“When I look back and think about it I think it was an amazing event, and I just got this feeling that nothing’s set in stone, I’ll just leave it at that.”

Because exits from The Walking Dead typically end one of two ways for its ever-dwindling pack of survivors — who are often torn apart by teeth or bullets — fans have long suspected Lincoln’s Rick will meet his end in Season Nine after it was learned over the summer Lincoln will exit the zombie drama after eight years in favor of spending more time with his young family, who live overseas.

Lincoln himself cryptically hinted at Rick’s survival when he said at San Diego Comic-Con, where he officially announced his departure, that his relationship with Mr. Grimes is “far from over.”

He then echoed those comments to ComicBook.com, telling us, “My relationship with this part is far from over. I’m not gonna say anything more than that, but I will say, ‘Watch this season.’”

After word of Lincoln’s rumored exit became widely spread in late May, The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman later confirmed in an interview with IMDb Lincoln would be leaving. That pushed Lincoln to officially announce his departure at Comic-Con, later adding he wished his exit was kept secret.

“I still regret that the story broke, because I believe in story and I think it would have been... it’s gonna be a great season but it would have been greater if it was not spoiled to a degree,” he told EW.

AMC has since dubbed this front half of Season Nine “Rick Grimes’ final episodes.”

Despite Lincoln later teasing a bloody sendoff in his final episode, cast and crew have noticeably refrained from confirming Rick’s death.

“I think that it’s a good exit,” Negan star Jeffrey Dean Morgan told Access. “Look, it’s a hard deal, Rick leaving the world of The Walking Dead. So I think his exit... is an okay exit, all things considered. It’s befitting of Rick Grimes.”

Co-star Seth Gilliam, who plays Father Gabriel, told Vanity Fair Rick’s exit is “really cool” and “trippy,” while longtime producer Greg Nicotero, who directs the episode, said Rick is written off with “a sendoff that paid tribute to his entire journey on the show, and in a way that was worthy of his character.”

After wrapping on his iconic role over the summer, Lincoln has since returned to set to shadow a director and is eyeing a behind-the-camera position in Season Ten.

Pending a return to The Walking Dead as Rick Grimes, Rick could resurface elsewhere in the budding Walking Dead universe: AMC and Chief Content Officer Scott Gimple are planning a bright future for the franchise, which is expected to develop further with new television series and movies.

Because Gimple had quietly planned Lincoln’s exit for years, there have long been suspicions the recurring mysterious helicopter — which has ties to Anne (Pollyanna McIntosh) and can be seen conspicuously placed near Rick in promotional materials — could have something to do with the manner in which Rick exits the show.

For now, whether or not Lincoln returns, Payton told Express his attitude and spirit still lives on in his cast mates and on the set.

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“I’m sitting here thinking about and I just and I smile on my face because he’s just such an incredible guy. He’s such an incredible guy, and such a wonderful leader. Such an incredible actor,” Payton said. “But his energy still permeates this place, this production, and I hope we’ll always have this feeling.”

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC. Lincoln’s final episode airs November 4.