Will Andrew Lincoln Leave 'The Walking Dead'?

With fewer original cast members on the show every season, is the time coming for Rick Grimes [...]

With fewer original cast members on the show every season, is the time coming for Rick Grimes actor Andrew Lincoln to make a grand exit from The Walking Dead?

Fans of the AMC series on social media are divided with multiple types of conversations going on. Some fans defend the show against "haters," claiming it is as good as it's ever been. Others simply suggest those who aren't enjoying stop watching (and nine million of them have). Some are on the offensive, sending hateful messages to showrunner Scott Gimple in the aftermath of another core cast member bowing out in Season 8's midseason finale and premiere episodes, following a series of All Out War episodes which have been disappointing for many.

Two years ago, the conversations in Reddit threads and even on dedicated forums like The Spoiling Dead Fans were much more positive. Now, they're divided, and suspecting the end may be near for a show which was almost unanimously praised in its earlier seasons -- back when numbers like 17 million live viewers were attainable.

While Jeffrey Dean Morgan assured ComicBook.com he is in it for "the long haul" as the show's Negan, it's Andrew Lincoln who is beginning to sound a bit different for the first time and it might have been sparked by the exit of Chandler Riggs.

"This was the hardest... Losing Steven [Yeun] was... the thought of the journey without Steven in the cast was unbearable but this is... I didn't see it coming," Lincoln told ComicBook.com of Chandler Riggs' departure. In fact, the actor completely froze up while on a call with Gimple and learning the news for the first time.

"Scott called me up and said, 'You're gonna hate this one. I want to just forewarn you,'" Lincoln said. "Even then, I was waiting to say, 'This is a really cool way of telling me that I'm off the show, you know that?' That's what I thought he was about to say. He said, 'It's the kid.' I couldn't even say, 'No.' I was silent for a minute. He said, twice, 'Are you still there?' I just didn't see it coming."

At this point, Lincoln compares his work to standing on the edge of pier waving his friends off to sea as he stays behind. "[Rick has] lost the things that he's fighting this war for," Lincoln adds. "That has a huge effect on him and it changes him irrevocably." The interview was largely discussing the sour subject of Carl's death, Lincoln was, for the first time, sounding genuinely saddened by the events of the series. The closest comparison to the actor's tone in an interview with ComicBook.com would be the back half of The Walking Dead's sixth season which lead to Glenn and Abraham's death and a tough week at the office. Still, the actor was oozing with excitement for fans to see what was next back then.

Riggs has only been fueling the fire for fans suspecting the end of Rick Grimes. "That is possible, too," Riggs told THR. "I haven't talked to him much about it, but I know that he has a family that he leaves every year to come to Georgia for months and months to film The Walking Dead, leaving his kids back home in England. I know he's probably getting pretty tired."

Moreover, Riggs himself sent a message to The Walking Dead spoiler group Spoiling Dead Fans ahead of the midseason finale's airing. The ultimately successful purpose of the message was to request the group not ruin Carl's death from the viewing experience but another key bit of words has wheels turning in the minds of fans.

"Out of respect for me, for Carl, and for one of the last few seasons of the show, I'm using you to not spoil the ending of 808 once your sources inform you of what happens," Riggs wrote in the message.

Last few seasons?

TWD Rick 808

One might argue Riggs has no knowledge of how long The Walking Dead may or may not continue since he hasn't been a part of the production for months. Plus, AMC's power move of buying the studio where the series is shot wouldn't seem to make much sense if they're planning on wrapping things up. But, how long can the show go on without Carl? Or, how much longer can Rick Grimes last without the proper motivation to protect his son and rebuild the world for him?

As shocked as Lincoln was to learn Carl was being written out of the series, which turns out to be in favor of keeping Negan alive, he also seems to be having conversations about the shows ending -- which Riggs might have been around for. While Lincoln is "not at liberty" to reveal whether or not the end is actually near for Rick, he does tell The Hollywood Reporter that "there deserves to be an end point."

"There needs to be an end game and that is something that is definitely being talked about," Lincoln said. "I can't get into all of that. But all of that will be answered."

The argument of "Rick is alive in the comics," goes right out the window with Carl's death. Carl is a prominent character in those books (along with Andrea, but that's an entirely different story) who was simply written out by walker bite against the actor and his family's wishes, apparently. It was a creative decision which the showrunner takes complete responsibility for.

With ratings sliding in the wrong direction and fans arguing amongst themselves in Scott Gimple's Twitter mentions, could the chatter be enough to drive Andrew Lincoln away from The Walking Dead? Many fans are calling for a change in the series following their lackluster reception of Season 8's first half but, surely, Lincoln's exit is not the change they desire but simply a more clear and concise story, driven by characters and mystery as the show is in its best days.

"I'm very confident of a tenth season," Gimple assures THR when asked about the show's future and Lincoln's contract running out after Season 8. "I think it is a question but there is some business to handle with the things you just said." Worth noting: Riggs had the option to return to the AMC series under his recent contract -- it's the opposite problem with Lincoln who will need to be renewed in the off-season but an interesting fact, nonetheless.

"If they really plan on going for many years with this this show, I can't see Andrew Lincoln sticking around for much longer," Reddit user QKnightZ wrote. "Let's be real, when Lincoln goes, most of us who haven't already jumped ship will." It was a comment worth 217 upvotes in approval and a number of responses in agreement.

"I wouldn't be surprised if Andrew Lincoln didn't renew his contract past Season 8," another fan wrote in the Spoiling Dead Fans forums.

Whether or not Lincoln will continue as Rick Grimes in the years to come, however many they may be for The Walking Dead, can't be said for sure just yet. Until there is true news of Lincoln actually departing the series, only speculation will suffice conclusions using the facts and quotes from cast and crew. The actor promises his relationship with Rick Grimes is far from over but creative decisions and business decisions beginning to overlap could become a factor going forward.

The Walking Dead returns for the second half of its eighth season on February 25, 2018. For complete coverage and insider info all season long, follow @BrandonDavisBD on Twitter.