The Walking Dead creator and executive producer Robert Kirkman says the show hasn't forgotten about the MIA Heath (Corey Hawkins) after his abrupt disappearance.
"Corey Hawkins, who played Heath, very great actor, got busy on a lot of things, [had] different things happening, this is what happens in the world," Kirkman answered when asked about Heath's disappearance during a Q&A panel at San Diego Comic-Con.
"And so I wouldn't want to spoil things, like it's entirely possible that he could be coming back at some point, but we'll see. We have not forgotten Heath. And everyone will remember that character when he comes back."
Officially, the Straight Outta Compton and Kong: Skull Island actor landed the lead role on short-lived 24 spinoff 24: Legacy, where he played ex-Army Ranger Eric Carter.
"He left a little card, and some tire tracks, but we'll see what happens with Heath," Hawkins told People in May 2017. "Yeah, I don't know, we'll see."
"We definitely have not seen the last of Heath, period," executive producer and former showrunner Scott Gimple told EW in September. "I will say that. I don't mean to disappoint the Heathies. He will be on the show. He will be within The Walking Dead again."
Heath hasn't been seen since 7x06, "Swear," which caught up with a near-starved Heath and Tara (Alanna Masterson) on the tail end of a two-week supply run. While out scavenging, the pair were nearly overrun after accidentally unearthing walkers from displaced sand. Heath saved Tara's life, almost getting devoured in the process, only for Tara to misstep and tumble off a bridge.
After making it back to the scene of the attack with the help of newfound Oceanside ally Cyndie (Sydney Park), Tara discovered Heath was gone. She found only Heath's busted glasses, the deep grooves of roadside tire tracks, and a dropped key card. On it, "PPP" was penned in marker.
"I hope that was you," Tara said, tucking the card into her back pocket. Heath's whereabouts fell to the wayside as Tara and the Alexandrians found themselves embroiled in a threatening conflict with the then-commanding Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the Saviors, who have since been defeated.
"I love Corey. I think he's a fantastic actor. I think we were lucky enough to grab him right at the moment where he sort of exploded onto the scene, so to speak," explained executive producer and director Greg Nicotero ahead of season 8 in October. "We can always hope that he can pop up every once in a while, or we leave it a little mysterious. We haven't really addressed much of that as of late."
When The Walking Dead returns with season 9, the series will have undergone a yearlong time-jump. New showrunner Angela Kang has yet to address Heath's potential return or a resolution to the hanging "PPP" mystery.
The Walking Dead season 9 premieres Sunday, October 7 on AMC.