The Walking Dead: How Andrew Lincoln's Rick Grimes Exit Strategy Led to World Beyond

The idea for what became The Walking Dead: World Beyond emerged out of a long-planned exit strategy for Andrew Lincoln's Rick Grimes, whose departure from The Walking Dead was in the works years before Lincoln stepped away in Season 9. What started with a black helicopter bearing a mysterious logo — three intertwined circles — developed into full-fledged mythology spanning all three Walking Dead shows. Years after Rick disappeared from the mothership series aboard a helicopter piloted by the Civic Republic Military, black-wearing CRM soldiers would return in new spinoff World Beyond — where they fill a crucial role in the build-up to Rick's return in the Walking Dead feature films.

"A big part of it came from the mythology that I was speculatively putting together back in season six and seven of The Walking Dead," the main show's former showrunner Scott Gimple told The Hollywood Reporter about the origins of World Beyond. "That started coming into my mind because it was the possibility of Andy Lincoln going away [from the main series], which was very much in my head."

Gimple, who has since become the chief content officer of AMC's expansive Walking Dead franchise, began mulling over Lincoln's exit as far back as the show's fourth season. Lincoln once envisioned leaving the show in Season 8 but stayed on for the first five episodes of Season 9 under newly elevated showrunner Angela Kang.

Lincoln's time with the series ended when a CRM helicopter shuttled Rick away from The Walking Dead and into a new corner of the zombie apocalypse. Another new corner would open with World Beyond, created by Gimple and former TWD scribe Matt Negrete.

"The way I've always approached the story, even as a writer-producer, before I was a showrunner, when I did not even have the last say on where things were going, I still was trying to come up and plant seeds towards other ways the story could go," Gimple said. "And other things you build up in your mind and maybe they come to pass the way that you think they're going to come to pass, or maybe they don't, but you just bank those ideas or you move them in other directions. There's all sorts of things in The Walking Dead that went that way."

The three-circle symbol appeared in connection to Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh), the then-leader of the junkyard dwelling Scavengers, and the CRM conspiracy extended into the fifth season of Fear the Walking Dead. The Civic Republic Military is now the connective tissue linking the Walking Dead Universe, so far made up of three shows and the coming film franchise.

"But as the Three Circles mythology got more and more built up and it fleshed out, it's a very big mythology and it became apparent that, even with the way that Rick Grimes is tied up in all of it, there was another avenue to explore. There's actually a few other avenues to explore," Gimple said. "And as the ideas of the characters were coming together for World Beyond, it seemed very interesting to marry them. But the characters from World Beyond were coming first and the general situation that they were in, but the general situation they were in really did seem in line with some aspects of the Three Circles mythology."

The franchise is now a mythology-rich universe. Beyond the CRM, other mythologies are coming to light — like the Commonwealth in The Walking Dead and a mysterious new threat over in the sixth season of Fear. The biggest of all is the secret society that is the Civic Republic, now known to be home to 200,000 survivors.

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"And one other thing I'd say is that Three Circles mythology is not the only new mythology to The Walking Dead," Gimple teased. "We hope to have many more and we're working on others that, whether they span one show or two shows, or whether they get into the movies or whatever, this is the first of many big mythologies we're hoping to do."

The Walking Dead returns with six new episodes in early 2021 on AMC. For all things TWD, follow the author @CameronBonomolo on Twitter.