AMC President of Programming David Madden has explained why the network opted to advertise Andrew Lincoln’s final Walking Dead episodes as Rick Grimes, a tactic some audiences argued was an unsolicited spoiler.
Rick’s headline exit was heavily promoted because “if you were a fan of the show we wanted you to know this was your opportunity to see, live, his departure from the series,” Madden told the New York Times. “We wanted to honor that moment, and then at the same time tell people what would come next.”
AMC branded the front half of Season Nine as “Rick Grimes’ final episodes” in September as part of the final thrust of advertising before the newest season’s October premiere, just months after Lincoln first confirmed his exit from the series during San Diego Comic-Con in July.
“The greatest regret I have is that people aren’t experiencing this fresh,” Lincoln told the Times of his exit, which ultimately came in the form of a seriously wounded Rick being whisked away in a helicopter by the fleeing Anne (Pollyanna McIntosh).
Lincoln is off the mothership show for good but both characters are set to reappear down the line in the first Walking Dead movie — one part of a television movie trilogy to be anchored by Lincoln’s believed-dead Rick Grimes.
The misdirect wasn’t intended to be a gimmick or meant to manipulate fans, said showrunner-turned-Walking Dead chief content officer Scott Gimple, who masterminded the plan allowing Lincoln to exit the television series while keeping his former sheriff’s deputy among the living.
“I hope that people don’t feel that way, but the internet is quite a vast place, so I imagine some folks will,” Gimple said.
“It was a compromise because I didn’t want to be disingenuous to fans, but then of course, I didn’t want to give away the story,” Lincoln explained of tip-toeing around an exit that many believed would end in the kind of finality characteristic of The Walking Dead. “But yes, I’m very relieved that I can talk about it now.”
Asked if he was concerned some viewers might feel “hoodwinked” after assuming Rick’s final episodes indicated a death, Lincoln answered:
“It was a concern that we start saying one thing and people are anticipating a death, and we don’t give them that. You can’t please all people all of the time. That’s why I try to stay out of reading about things like that. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning.”
Lincoln himself noted his sendoff episode would be bloody — audiences later saw Rick impaled by a protruding piece of rebar after being bucked off a spooked horse — but the actor and his co-stars never teased a death, instead cryptically hinting Rick would live on. Showrunner Angela Kang, who inherited the show in Season Nine, similarly dropped hints Lincoln’s Rick would resurface later on before his helicopter sendoff in his final episode first aired November 4.
AMC is eyeing a 2019 production start for Lincoln’s first Rick Grimes movie. The Walking Dead returns with new episodes Sunday, February 10 on AMC.