As The Walking Dead premieres the penultimate episode for Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes Sunday night, viewers aren’t ready to say goodbye.
Lincoln officially announced his exit at San Diego Comic-Con in July after weeks of rumors said the longtime Walking Dead star would be exiting in its ninth season.
AMC then began advertising Season Nine as “Rick Grimes’ final episodes,” later confirming episode 905 would be Lincoln’s last with an advertisement aired immediately following The Walking Dead 903, “Warning Signs,” aired Oct. 21.
When speaking to EW at Comic-Con, Lincoln admitted he felt “a certain sense of relief” after officially confirming he would be leaving, but said he regretted word of his exit leaked.
“It’s gonna be a great season,” he said in July, “but it would have been greater if it was not spoiled to a degree.”
Showrunner Angela Kang has since confirmed Season Nine will be Lincoln’s last, but hinted he could return as Rick Grimes.
“He is definitely out of the show this season. The intention is, this is his exit from the show,” Kang told the BBC. “But who knows what time may bring. We always love our Andrew, so since we’ve got some time jumps you never know what might happen.”
“This is a show with dead in the title. There are going to be losses,” King added. “Not all of them are deaths, sometimes there are departures of different kinds, but this is really a show about how people survive.”
Signs point to Rick’s fate possibly being tied to the developing helicopter mystery, which has been quietly unfolding for years.
Former showrunner Scott Gimple, who ran The Walking Dead seasons Four through Eight, began prepping Lincoln’s exit years before the public became aware he intended to leave in favor of spending more time with his young family.
“It was a possibility that we talked about,” Gimple said of Lincoln’s exit at New York Comic Con.
“There were things that you build things into the story, maybe it’ll go this direction, maybe it’ll go that direction. Things started moving in that way and we followed the story threads that were laid out. We were able to fulfill it this season. There was a plan. There were little turns here and there but it generally stayed with the plan.”
Lincoln’s final episode, “What Comes After,” airs Sunday, November 4 at 9/8c on AMC.
Dude, I’m not ready for Rick Grimes to die.— JamesFamous (@FamousFBreezy) October 28, 2018
Two episodes of #TheWalkingDead with Rick Grimes left.
I’m not emotionally prepared for this. pic.twitter.com/TlOAtGn4cx— Chris Dixon (@cdixon25) October 28, 2018
@ChrisHardwickk @WalkingDead_AMC why in God’s name did you tell us we only have two more episodes with @AndrewLincolnFP #RickGrimes, why would you do that??? We know it’s going to happen but we didn’t need to know when!!!!— Caroline Swords (@cazooma69) October 28, 2018
Feeling really nervous to watch episode 4 of #TheWalkingDead ! The closer we come to Rick Grime’s departure, the more real and scary it becomes. I know Andrew Lincoln is going to own his final 2 episodes and I know that I will always enjoy rewatching Rick’s arc. #TWD #TWDFamily pic.twitter.com/0yadbl7Z2A— TWD fanboy (@fanboy_twd) October 28, 2018
Well, I still cannot believe this will be @AndrewLincolnFP last season with @WalkingDead_AMC! Better figure out a good way to bring my #RickGrimes back! #RickGrimesIsTheWalkingDead. Please do something @AMCTalkingDead! #LoveRickGrimes #HeIsTheReasonWhyIwatchTWD— Nidia Olivas (@NidiaOlivas2) October 28, 2018
rick grimes really gonna die huh pic.twitter.com/bkmFo4UWVY— gen // caos spoilers (@gvdofmischief) October 25, 2018
i can’t explain how grateful i am to andrew lincoln for bringing him to life and its been such a privilege to watch rick’s journey. he IS the walking dead and in my eyes the show ends with his journey. the thought of losing him hurts so much but i’m so grateful to have had him.— kayleigh (@grimesbuckys) October 28, 2018
I'm just gonna call it and say Rick's demise starts tonight. Either he starts dying tonight and it finishes next week or he's outright done ? this hashtag and Andrew Lincoln's letter gives it away #twd pic.twitter.com/PbWVi7rQYx— I am Tamara (@SoulMemos) October 28, 2018