The Walking Dead star Pollyanna McIntosh opens up about Rick Grimes actor Andrew Lincoln's decision to step away from the zombie drama television series after eight years, an exit that nearly occurred during the show's eighth season in 2017-2018. It was Lincoln who first revealed he originally planned to leave The Walking Dead in Season 8 after forming an exit strategy with franchise chief content officer and then-showrunner Scott Gimple, who began devising long-term plans for Lincoln's departure from the show as far back as Season 4. This wouldn't come to fruition until five episodes into Season 9, where the British actor's tenure ended when Rick was flown away from the main Walking Dead show alongside McIntosh's Jadis-slash-Anne.
"Him and [his wife Gael] wanted to keep the kids in school in the UK, and they've achieved that, but there's a certain amount of years after which it's like, for Andy, he said they're at the age where they need their dad around. This is the time," McIntosh said on the Talk Dead to Me podcast. "I know he'd been planning it for a while, because he might have gone in Season 8. There were whispers, to me, that it might be happening then. I say 'whispers' because, of course, no one was supposed to tell me."
Lincoln's original exit would have come at a time when Rick's group of zombie apocalypse survivors were engaged in all out war against Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the Saviors, who wouldn't be neutralized until Rick defeated Negan in the show's eighth season finale.
"So he'd been planning it, but he really wanted to get it at the right time. He wanted leaving the story to be good for the show, for the character," McIntosh added of Lincoln. "He's got so much respect and love for what The Walking Dead is, and the fans, and so he wanted to get it right, so it didn't happen then. And then the next season, there I was taking him away in the helicopter."
The now 46-year-old actor signed an extension for an additional five episodes of The Walking Dead Season 9, the first under current showrunner Angela Kang, which teed up Rick's new adventure in the forthcoming Walking Dead feature films plotted by Gimple as a trilogy.
AMC and Skybound Entertainment will partner with Universal Pictures for theatrical distribution, and Lincoln will be joined by McIntosh as their characters take viewers into a new corner of the expansive Walking Dead Universe.
"He wanted to go and be a dad and be present in his kids' lives on a permanent basis, and I'm sure he'll still be working — I know he's doing a lot of charity stuff, because he always does — so sheriff's hat off to him, I think he did a great job with it," McIntosh said. "And because he loves the character so much, he wants to carry on in the movies, which is cool."
McIntosh also delivered an update on the movies, first announced in November 2018, saying the franchise's big screen expansion won't be cancelled despite delays. Skybound Entertainment co-founder and Walking Dead executive producer David Alpert recently confirmed production is on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In 2018, Lincoln told Entertainment Weekly about what would have been Rick's eighth and final season — referred to as "Rick's falling" — before Gimple explained to The Hollywood Reporter that there existed "many iterations" of Rick's endgame that ultimately went unused.
Most recently, in an update provided to ComicBook.com, Gimple revealed Lincoln is hands-on involved with the films and the star is "itching to get back" to the Rick Grimes role.
For all things TWD, follow the author @CameronBonomolo on Twitter. The Walking Dead Season 10 finale premieres Sunday, October 4 on AMC.