"He is definitely out of the show this season. The intention is, this is his exit from the show," Kang told BBC. "But who knows what time may bring. We always love our Andrew, so since we've got some time jumps you never know what might happen."
Despite Lincoln's oft-talked about and widely publicized stepping away from the series, neither cast nor crew have said the long-surviving Rick Grimes will perish when Lincoln makes his exit.
Co-star Khary Payton, who plays King Ezekiel, previously suggested the door is open for a return when talking to Express.co.uk, similarly saying only that Rick "leaves the show."
"When I look back and think about [Rick's exit] I think it was an amazing event, and I just got this feeling that nothing's set in stone, I'll just leave it at that," Payton said.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays Rick's archfoe Negan, carefully told Access that the sendoff is "a good exit."
"Look, it's a hard deal, Rick leaving the world of The Walking Dead," Morgan said. "So I think his exit... is an okay exit, all things considered. It's befitting of Rick Grimes."
Lincoln himself hinted his farewell episode will be a bloody one, but has yet to so much as pretend that his Rick Grimes will be the latest major casualty to reach The Walking Dead.
"My relationship with this part is far from over," Lincoln told ComicBook.com. "I'm not gonna say anything more than that but I will say, 'Watch this season.'"
Other characters have been sent off The Walking Dead without dying, including Morgan (Lennie James), who exiled himself before crossing over to spinoff Fear the Walking Dead, and former Savior Dwight (Austin Amelio), who was spared execution by Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) in favor of banishment.
"Lennie James is a perfect example of leaving without dying and doing rather well on it, so there is that way," Lincoln told press during San Diego Comic-Con.
"And then there is obviously the other way, which we've done quite a lot... Obviously I'm not going to tell you which way [Rick leaves]. I mean, I'd prefer the Lennie James of it all. But I think what we have in store this season is truly remarkable, and I'm very proud of the work that we've done."
AMC has plans to manage the Walking Dead universe over the "next decade, plus," according to AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan, which would see Chief Content Officer Scott Gimple implement his plans to further mine and expand the brand through future television shows and movies. AMC is reportedly looking to partner with large media companies on the potential projects that could collectively cost several hundred million dollars.
Lincoln left only to be more present in the lives of his young family, who live overseas, far from the series' Georgia set. He has already returned to set to shadow a director as he looks to make his first Walking Dead directorial effort, likely in Season Ten.
Lincoln's last episode, "What Comes After," will see Rick sent off with cameo appearances from the dead, including Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), Hershel (Scott Wilson) and Shane (Jon Bernthal), whose returns were officially announced by Kang at New York Comic Con. That episode premieres November 4.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.0comments