Andrew Lincoln will soon be ending his tenure as apocalypse leader Rick Grimes, and his Walking Dead crewmates are keeping specifics around his exit close to the chest.
“I thought, ‘Wow! That is really cool,” Seth Gilliam, who plays Father Gabriel, said of Rick’s ending during the Season Nine premiere party in Los Angeles Thursday (via Vanity Fair). “I think it’s going to be really trippy for the audience.”
Longtime executive producer and director Greg Nicotero — who helms episode 905, expected to be Lincoln’s last — said he and new showrunner Angela Kang worked diligently to give Rick an appropriate finale.
“We wanted to write him out by giving Rick a send-off that paid tribute to his entire journey on the show, and in a way that was worthy of his character,” Nicotero said.
Lincoln himself, who steps away in favor of spending more time with his young family, said his final episodes this upcoming half-season are “breathtaking.”
“I’m very proud of the work we’ve done this season, and where the story is going,” Lincoln said. “In the episode I leave, it launches and makes the rest of the season even more incredible and so beautiful. One that you have never seen before.”
It is not yet known if Rick will die, as is the typical sendoff for most characters on The Walking Dead, or if his looming absence could be tied to the mysterious, recurring helicopter that played a minor role last season and which has been conspicuously placed in all advertising thus far for Season Nine.
The Rick Grimes actor said at the red carpet premiere the night came as a “very emotional and rough” one.
“This has been the most extraordinary experience of my career. The people that I have worked with on this show have become my extended family, and, without a doubt, I’m going to miss them the most,” Lincoln told reporters. “The real love and respect for them makes it hard to say farewell. It was a difficult decision for me to make — to leave the show — but the right decision.”
Norman Reedus — the star behind Rick’s best friend Daryl Dixon and Lincoln’s real-life best buddy — said he understands why Lincoln is bowing out after more than eight years.
“I have a son myself, and I’m constantly going back and forth to go see him, and it’s hard to do that. He’s got a beautiful family, and he needs to be with them,” Reedus said. “Family is the most important thing in life, so you can’t be mad at him for leaving. But I’m going to miss the hell out of him every day. He’s like a brother, and he’s a very important person to me.”
Danai Gurira, who plays Rick’s lover and co-leader Michonne, described Lincoln as “so loving and supportive” and “the quintessential leader.”
“He wants you to succeed, and he’s happy for you when you do. He makes you a better actor, and teaches you to be better to others,” Gurira said. “His form of leadership makes you feel immediately part of the family. I’m going to miss his generosity, his presence, and his energy. It’s been a beautiful journey, and an honor to work with Andy Lincoln.”
Kang said previously she’s aware there are “a lot of expectations” surrounding the departure of both Lincoln and his Rick Grimes, saying she felt “a great responsibility to the fans to try to write him out in a way that’s worthy of his character.”
The Walking Dead returns with Rick Grimes’ final episodes starting Sunday, October 7 on AMC.