Lauren Cohan can't guarantee a future return to The Walking Dead, but the actress says her seven-plus years on the zombie series will "never, ever leave" her.
"I've been really busy, so I've been definitely distracted from getting too much into my thoughts about it," Cohan told GameSpot of her looming Walking Dead exit. "But I had a lot of time to think about it before I came back to Walking Dead this season. And what the show means to me, what my family there means to me, what my time there has meant, and how this role has impacted my life which is immeasurable."
Cohan was quick to mention her presumed survival only leaves the door open for a maybe-one-day return to the show, but for now, her time with The Walking Dead has ended.
"It feels like the greatest way to honor it is to keep it open-ended because whether it's about me going back as Maggie or whether it's about me just taking in, absorbing, and honoring everything I've learned there," Cohan said.
"It never leaves me. It will never, ever leave me. And that is I think the greatest compliment you can give to anything and to any group of people because we all came together to make something that we didn't know was going to have this success that it did," she added.
Since boarding the show in Season Two in 2011, Cohan's trajectory as an actress evolved alongside Maggie's transition from farmer's daughter to gun-toting widowed single mom and designated leader of the Hilltop community.
"It taught me to trust in such an important, creative way. I don't think I can ever shake that," she said. "Once you have an experience like that, it really dictates the measure of how you want to connect with people going forward in my work."
Cohan famously entered into extended contract renegotiations with producers at AMC ahead of Season Nine before re-upping with a new six-episode contract. She said on Andy Cohen Live last month the request for a pay increase was "pretty standard renegotiation" and that she didn't request to leave the show.
"My Walking Dead story is open, it's not finished," Cohan said. "You don't break up with someone and forget about them and delete them from your life, no, things transition into different places."
In a chat with PEOPLE, Cohan similarly suggested Maggie's story will lack finality — i.e., death — teasing "the possibilities for how Maggie remains in the story and re-enters the story... are multitudinous."
Cohan next stars in big-screen Peter Berg-directed Mile 22 alongside Mark Wahlberg, out Aug. 17th. She'll then go on to co-headline new ABC spy dramedy series Whiskey Cavalier, debuting in 2019.
The Walking Dead returns with its Season Nine premiere Sunday, Oct. 7th on AMC.