Andrew Lincoln Originally Planned to Leave 'The Walking Dead' in Season 8

The Walking Dead season 9 will be a milestone that sees Andrew Lincoln's Rick Grimes finally leave the show. However, a new article now reveals that Lincoln originally had a plan to leave The Walking Dead in season 8. Not only that: it turns out that plans for Rick Grimes' exit from The Walking Dead started being put in place as far back as season 4!

Here's what Lincoln revealed to EW about his Walking Dead exit strategy:

“I had a conversation during season 4 with [executive producer] Scott Gimple about this. You know, we shared young families and there was a lot of synchronicity between the two of us that were two heads of a show that seemed to be getting bigger and bigger. We spoke about it and said, ‘There’s got to be a shape. We need a shape to work out if we get to season 5 then maybe we’ve got a couple more.’ There were all these ifs and buts and strategies. And I said, eight sounds like a good number.’ Eight seasons was certainly something. Last season was a shape that I had in my head and it was certainly something that Scott was possibly thinking about as well that was a completion of a certain chapter which could be called Rick’s falling.”

While that plan sounded good in the simpler times of Walking Dead season 4, Lincoln's feelings changed over the course of the show, and by the time they were doing production on season 8 around the time of San Diego Comic-Con 2017, he'd had a fundamental change of heart:

“It was at Comic-Con that year that I made the decision that I couldn’t leave that year. I said to my wife, ‘I feel overwhelmed. I don’t think I’m ready. I can’t do it. I’ve got Norman, I’ve got Danai, I’ve got Jeffrey, I’ve got Melissa McBride, I’ve got Greg Nicotero — all these beautiful friends of mine and I don’t know if I can do it yet. I don’t know if it’s time. [Laughs] So that happened.”

Indeed, the big theme in Lincoln's explanation of his decision of when to retire Rick Grimes seems to be his perceived obligation to his castmates, who he didn't want to let down. When The Walking Dead season 4 was around, Lincoln probably didn't have as close of ties with the people now serving as the principal cast (and fan-fave characters), like Norman Reedus, Melissa McBride or Danai Gurira. However, as the show moved into season 5 and beyond that changed, and Lincoln realized that Rick leaving The Walking Dead would have a much greater impact - one that he needed to prepare for:

"I realized that rather than have the funeral, I had to prepare for the funeral and I had to make sure everybody was comfortable with the funeral arrangements. And I don’t think I was ready for the funeral! You know what I mean? I was like, I don’t think I’m ready to go yet!"

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Leaving behind Rick Grimes will certainly be a big deal for Andrew Lincoln, who has lived with this character for nearly a decade now. It remains to be seen what The Walking Dead will be after Rick is gone, but it's definitely going to be a rough patch for the fandom. While some fans are obsessed over the question of how Rick will die, it's also clear that a lot of fans are like Lincoln himself, and having trouble letting go of the character. There are already a growing pile of fan theories that The Walking Dead will find a way to bring Rick back - a testament to the fact that moving on won't be easy for anyone.

Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC. The Walking Dead returns for season 9 on October 7, 2018.