Norman Reedus admits he "didn't agree" with longtime co-star and best buddy Andrew Lincoln's decision to leave The Walking Dead, but he "also understood" why the actor opted to step away after more than eight full seasons as Rick Grimes. Lincoln and former Walking Dead showrunner Scott Gimple began planning out a departure for the actor as far back as Season 4, with Lincoln originally expecting to leave in Season 8, until it was decided Lincoln would stay on for an abbreviated five-episode run. The send off under showrunner Angela Kang in Season 9 would end with Rick being spun off into the first Walking Dead feature film trilogy.
"I remember the day he left. I got my lunch, I went back in my trailer, it was so depressing," Reedus said on Popcorn with Peter Travers. "Then the chair that he always sat on, he had left an imprint of his body and blood on it, like the shroud of Rick Grimes. They came in to clean it up, I'm like, 'Leave it there!' That was a sad day when he left."
Reedus, also a father of two, reluctantly had to bid farewell to Lincoln in Season 9 episode "What Comes After," which ended with Reedus' Daryl, Danai Gurira's Michonne and other survivors witnessing Rick's apparent death.
"I understood why he left. He lives in England, he's got two little kids, he wasn't seeing his kids as much as he would like," Reedus said. "It's easy for me, I'm in New York an hour away [from Georgia]. But for him, it was time."
"I think his wife was like, 'You've been there a long time.' So I got it," Reedus added. "I didn't agree with it, but then again, I also understood it."
Reedus and co-star Melissa McBride, who plays Carol, are now the longest-running cast members still with the show. Both first appeared in the third episode of the first season, "Tell It to the Frogs."
"I've lost a lot of my friends on that show," Reedus said. On no longer getting to have fun with Lincoln on set of The Walking Dead, he said, "That's sad to me."
"We started that show together. But I think [Daryl] takes the ghosts of all the people that he's learned from with him," Reedus, now series lead, said of his bowman who has stepped up as more of a leader in Rick's absence. "I think you can see a little bit of Scott Wilson's character [Hershel Greene], Andrew Lincoln's character, you see a little bit of these characters in Daryl now."
Lincoln "would eat lunch in my trailer every day. I mean every day," Reedus continued. "He would call me on the way to work, he'd talk about what we're gonna do today, as soon as we'd wrap he would call me and talk about what we did today. And then he would eat lunch in my trailer every day and talk about what we're doing."
Ahead of Season 9, Lincoln said he needed "continuity" back home after giving his all to The Walking Dead since 2010.
"I mean, there's only so many sports days you can miss and really call yourself a father, so I think it was time for me to get back for some important days and just be around and have some continuity back home," Lincoln told Access.
After making his exit, Lincoln returned to the Walking Dead set where he shadowed a director with plans to step behind the camera on the zombie drama. In July, scheduling conflicts forced Lincoln to pull out of directing a Season 10 episode.
Gimple recently addressed the slow progress of the feature films set for theatrical release, saying in January, "It's coming together amazingly, but we're trying to make this very special for everybody involved and we're holding our feet to the flames. It's an incredibly deliberate process right now."
Release dates for the films have not been announced.