Former 'The Walking Dead' Star Jon Bernthal Pens Loving Tribute to Andrew Lincoln

Jon Bernthal, who played Shane Walsh in the earliest seasons of The Walking Dead and who will be returning to the series this season to help send off exiting leading man Andrew Lincoln, has penned a loving tribute to his inspiring former co-star.

"I love Andy. I can't think of another actor in my life that has had more of an impact on me, and that is more important to me," Bernthal wrote (via EW).

He is fiercely dedicated, but also unbelievably available and kind. I think the thing about Andy that strikes me the most is, often you get one of those or the other. Often you get people that are so unbelievably focused and encompassed by their work that they're almost like a marvel to look at. But the thing is that they remain sort of closed off, and part of their process requires an unbelievable amount of self reflection and almost a wall around them. Andy's really the only guy I've ever worked with who has that amount of dedication and that amount of commitment, but remains completely open and completely available for anybody. I think when it comes down to it, it's just an ultimate love for the project, a love for the work, and a love for the community of people that make the work.

My first memories of Andy are at his audition, and then us going down to Georgia together and starting this process. We were two young hungry actors who felt so unbelievably blessed to be there. We were f—ing nervous, man. We were a pair of nervous wrecks. I remember one day in our first week of filming, Andy just turned to me and said, "Hey man, I'm not going to be nervous anymore." I saw this man take ownership of not only this part but took ownership of being the leader of this entire project. I remember when we were shooting his initial scenes in the hospital, I saw him walking around with nothing on but a hospital gown, screaming up to the heavens to get prepared for a scene. I remember just sitting down on a rock and watching that. I had never seen anything like it before — how maniacally committed he was, and how far he was going.

When I met Andy, I was right on the cusp of being a father and a husband. I've learned life lessons from Andy on how to do that — how to do this job, and how to be a father and a husband and a leading man. To this day, not too much time goes by where I don't look myself in the mirror and say, "What would Andy do?" So many times when I'm getting frustrated on my set, or when the chips are down, or when I just need a second to myself, I need to just concentrate on my own character and I feel like I'm about to burst, I try to get centered. I say, "What would Andy do? Think about Andy. Think about Andy Lincoln." I love him and I believe in him, and I'm so f—ing grateful that he had such an influence on my life. I would not be the man I am, I wouldn't be the father I am, I wouldn't be the husband I am, and I surely wouldn't be the actor I am if it wasn't for my time with him.

Bernthal, who has since found frequent success on the big screen and established himself as a leading man in Marvel's hit Netflix series The Punisher, said Lincoln is "just a very important person to me, and unlike any other."

"Definitely the best lead that I've ever worked with in my life in any capacity," he wrote. "As I go forward with The Punisher and with some of the movies that I do, I often times do everything I can to emulate that, and I've failed. I fail. I don't think there will be another Andy Lincoln."

Bernthal's Shane was Rick's longtime best friend and former police force partner-turned-chief rival, who tried to supplant Rick as leader and claim his family — wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and son Carl (Chandler Riggs) — as his own in the earliest days of the zombie apocalypse.

After learning Lori was pregnant during their time holed up on the Greene farm, Shane attempted to murder Rick — a plot that forced Rick to kill Shane in self-defense. Rick has since taken Shane and Lori's child Judith as his own, raising her as part of a loving family unit with Michonne (Danai Gurira).

Shane will reappear — by way of flashback or hallucinations — in Season Nine, seven seasons after Shane was killed in the penultimate episode of Season Two. Bernthal last appeared on the series in a 2012 Season Three episode, when a dazed Rick mistook a Woodbury resident for his dead former best friend.

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Executive producer Scott Gimple, who was "bummed" Bernthal's supposed-to-be-a-surprise appearance was leaked by paparazzi, said the return will involve "some very cool, very heavy stuff."

The Walking Dead Season Nine begins Sunday, October 7 on AMC.