The revelation that Andrew Lincoln is leaving The Walking Dead during season 9 has been a massive headline-making announcement. In response to that shocking news, we've gotten a slew of headlines about what kind of plans are being set in motion to fill the void after Lincoln departs the show.
While notions like Norman Reedus' Daryl Dixon taking over as the lead character are exciting to consider at the moment, there is inevitably a big looming question hanging over any such kind of decision: will it be enough?
Why It Can Survive
It must always be remembered that, at its core, Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman designed the (comic book) series to be the antithesis of other zombie apocalypse sagas - i.e., a story that didn't end with the demise of a certain set of characters, or didn't arrive at a nice convenient "cure." The Walking Dead was designed to be a zombie apocalypse story that ran without definitive end, and while TV operates by a vastly different set of rules, it's in Walking Dead's DNA to a story that's bigger than just one man.
At this point in the TV series, The Walking Dead is an ensemble drama, more than the story of Rick Grimes, as it used to be. Characters like Daryl, Carol, Morgan, and even Negan hold just as much interest and appeal for fans than Rick himself does. With that in mind, it's not hard to imagine The Walking Dead getting additional mileage out of its supporting cast ensemble for at least a few more seasons.
Fear the Walking Dead season 4 is currently pulling a soft reboot of sorts (doubling down in the soft reboot that was season 3), and it's working out pretty successfully. The former main cast has been all but whittled down to just three (and soon maybe just two) of the original six or seven main protagonists we started with, while introducing an entire set of new characters, as well as a crossover character from the main Walking Dead series. If that show can successfully retool its cast and focus, there's no reason to say The Walking Dead can't do the same. Meanwhile, fan-favs like Daryl, Carol, Enid, King Ezekiel or Jesus could be bumped up to bigger leads - and thanks to The Walking Dead comics, there's a literal and figurative "New World Order" of storyline to propel things, and excite the fanbase over story, rather than characters.
In terms of the cast: we've already seen what a fresh injection of talented character acting can do for the show (Jeffrey Dean Morgan's scene-stealing Negan), so with the right casting moves, we could get several strong new characters to fill the void of Rick and Carl. As stated, it's something that's worked for Fear in the last two seasons, and the main Walking Dead show would have much bigger clout to attract high-profile talent.
Why The Show Will Die
As soon as TV viewers heard that Andrew Lincoln was leaving The Walking Dead, there was one main comparisons drawn in a lot of viewers' minds: The moment when Steve Carell left The Office in season 7, and the show limped on for two more seasons, tarnishing its sterling reputation in the process.
There are, admittedly, a lot of parallels between The Office's loss of its lead, and what's now happening on The Walking Dead. The Office thought it had established enough of a popular ensemble cast to be bigger than just one man - but clearly overestimated its strength in that regard. The show also thought it was popular enough at the time to remain the sort of "event viewing" that made viewers tune in, but interest waned sharply after season 7 wrapped. The Office then thought an injection of big-name stars (Idris Elba, Will Ferrell, James Spader), would bring fans back to the conference table - but despite some great character performances from those actors, the move was overwhelmingly written off as a desperate gimmick.
To be fair, what happened to The Office may have no bearing on The Walking Dead. After all, times are different, there's a vastly different set of measures at work between network TV and cable TV, and The Walking Dead is a ratings juggernaut that can endure a much longer plummet, and still put up ratings in its post-Lincoln diluted run that a lot of other shows only wish they could reach. That said, we've already broken down why it may be time to kill The Walking Dead, and predicting Andrew Lincoln's departure (before it was announced) was a major point of our argument. Take that how you will.
In the end, a lot of this will be decided by you, the fans! If the fandom still shows up to watch the show once Lincoln is gone, and is as enthusiastic about the remaining cast as they have been, The Walking Dead could continue for years to come. Do you think it will go the distance? Let us know in the comments!
The Walking Dead will return for its ninth season in the fall. Fear the Walking Deadairs Sundays at 9 pm ET on AMC. For complete coverage and insider info all year long, follow @BrandonDavisBD on Twitter.