Lincoln told Entertainment Weekly the series could “absolutely” shift focus from Rick Grimes to son Carl (Chandler Riggs), who would later be killed off in Season Eight episode “Honor” in February 2018.
“It’s beautifully set up for that — for the camera to be certainly his story, and then it just shifts off. If ever there was a landscape or an environment to do that, it’s our show,” Lincoln said.
Added Gimple, showrunner on Season Eight, “We’ve just scratched the surface of this world. We don’t want to go on without Rick Grimes, but again, in year 20, in year 30, who knows?”
The Walking Dead has since sent off Lincoln’s Rick — he’ll instead headline a trilogy of television movies for AMC, and will not be returning to the mothership series — and shifted focus to left-behind lover Michonne (Danai Gurira), distant woodsman Daryl (Norman Reedus) and new Kingdom queen Carol (Melissa McBride).
Such losses and shifts, Gimple explained, are the nature of The Walking Dead.
“We lose terrific actors and terrific characters because that’s part of the narrative and we’re always forced to go on and figure out a way to make the narrative work and to make it the best show possible after losing people,” Gimple said.
“So I don’t think any show is more prepared, sadly, to lose people than The Walking Dead is. As the show goes on and on and on, who knows? But I’m also certain that we will do it in a way that only adds to the narrative and only makes the story richer for losing these incredible people.”
Kirkman argued both his comic book series and the show could navigate the loss of Rick Grimes because The Walking Dead possesses “a very strong ensemble” and there are “a lot of characters that could carry the show,” which is “a story very much about a world and a bunch of people inhabiting that world.”
Lincoln and Gimple have since revealed the star’s exit was considered as far back as Season Four and nearly played out in Season Eight.
“It was a possibility that we talked about. There were things that you build things into the story, maybe it’ll go this direction, maybe it’ll go that direction,” Gimple said of Rick’s departure during New York Comic Con ahead of Season Nine.
“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.”
The world learned of Lincoln’s plans to exit the series after eight-and-a-half seasons in late May this year. Lauren Cohan, who plays Hilltop leader Maggie Rhee, also quietly exited in Lincoln’s sendoff episode earlier this season but is expected to return for Season Ten.
The Walking Dead Season Nine returns with new episodes Sunday, February 10 on AMC.