‘The Walking Dead’: With Danai Gurira Exit, Will Season 10 Be Its Last?

Just days after The Walking Dead was officially renewed for its tenth season, it was learned on [...]

Just days after The Walking Dead was officially renewed for its tenth season, it was learned on Friday Michonne actress Danai Gurira is the next major Walking Dead star to exit the zombie drama.

Like Andrew Lincoln — who headlined the mothership series as Michonne's lover Rick Grimes until his departure five episodes into Season Nine — Gurira will return for just a handful of episodes in this next season, now in development under showrunner Angela Kang.

THR, who was first to report the news, says Gurira's last episodes will be interspersed throughout Season Ten.

Michonne could then segue into the Lincoln-led trilogy of television movies and reunite with the believed-dead Rick, father to Michonne's children Judith (Cailey Fleming) and RJ (Antony Azor).

The katana-wielding zombie slayer, who joined the ensemble in Season Three in 2012, has taken on an even more prominent role in the wake of Rick's exit, as have the similarly bumped up Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Carol (Melissa McBride).

Both stars in November inked hefty three-year deals securing their immediate Walking Dead futures. The only remaining cast members who have been with the show since its first season in 2010, Reedus and McBride's deals reportedly carry an option to appear outside the mothership series in spinoffs or movies.

Gurira had not yet signed, fueling speculation her blossoming movie career — she starred as breakout Wakandan general Okoye in Marvel Studios' $1.3 billion grosser Black Panther and $2 billion grosser Avengers: Infinity War — would signal the end of her Walking Dead tenure.

"She has been very vocal about saying that she loves the show. We love Danai; we love that character. Right now, she's got a lot of opportunities and she needs to weigh what she feels is best for her. But we certainly would want her on the show as long as she wants to be on it," AMC programming president David Madden said in November.

"We really want her to stay. She is an incredibly valuable character and I'm really hoping she stays. Obviously, the lesson of Andy is that the show can survive anybody's departure if need be but that's not our goal. The goal is to have Danai continue on whatever basis she can make work, given the other things that she has going on in her life."

The Walking Dead has since proved it could weather even the loss of its longtime leading man, transitioning its focus to an expansive cast of characters as the series earns its most positive critical response in years under the Kang stewardship.

While the loss of Michonne is another considerable blow to a series widely considered to be hemorrhaging leading characters — it lost Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs), Morgan (Lennie James), Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Rick in quick succession — AMC is upping, not slowing, its Walking Dead output.

"The Walking Dead is a universe... and we have a plan to manage over the next decade, plus," AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan said in September, adding that plan "is a careful plan to respect the world of the fans of that world."

In addition to the intended continuation of The Walking Dead and spinoff Fear the Walking Dead, former five-season Walking Dead showrunner-turned-brand chief content officer Scott Gimple has been tapped to shepherd the Walking Dead Universe and oversee the development of additional films, specials, series, and other digital content and offshoots from the main series.

Gimple previously remarked he envisions a 20-year run of The Walking Dead, inspired by creator Robert Kirkman's ongoing monthly comic book, which turns 16 in October.

"We are trying to do 20 years. The comic has certainly done it, and I look forward to every issue. The Simpsons has been on 26, 27 years, so that's a challenge — so OK, challenge accepted. Done," Gimple said in 2017.

"We try to reinvent the show every eight episodes. We have this story that is a fidelity to the comic book, but we're also exploring original stuff, and those things help us go on every year. We want to try do it better, do things we haven't done, take risks. It's scary as hell, but as long as we keep doing that the show can go on and on."

Reedus — who has openly declared his intentions to have bowman Daryl be the last man standing — explained in recent days The Walking Dead is "kind of like a virus, it sort of adapts and becomes a different thing."

"I mean, the secret is, we keep moving," Reedus said. "We don't do the same thing over and over."

That adaptive change brings with it not only fresh territory and new enemies, like the terrifying and walker flesh-clad Whisperers, but what Reedus promises is "our best season since Season One."

The Walking Dead resumes Season Nine with new episodes Sunday, February 10 on AMC. Season Ten debuts in October.