Though Lincoln has yet to confirm the news, The Hollywood Reporter wrote on Wednesday that the series star has plans to move on and "will be phased out in season nine in a fashion similar to Lauren Cohan," who currently portrays Maggie. Cohan will star in Whiskey Cavalier, which ABC picked up earlier this month. The unofficial announcement shocked many fans who believe the series can't continue with its main and, for some, most-beloved character who is still very much alive in the comic book series.
"If Andrew Lincoln is leaving The Walking Dead after next season, then next season needs to be the last season of The Walking Dead," one fan tweeted. End of discussion. That show w/o Rick Grimes is like Batman w/o Bruce Wayne."
If Andrew Lincoln is leaving The Walking Dead after next season, then next season needs to be the last season of The Walking Dead. End of discussion. That show w/o Rick Grimes is like Batman w/o Bruce Wayne.— Kenny BooYah! (@KwikWarren) May 29, 2018
Another wrote, "Andrew Lincoln is leaving The Walking Dead, that’s like the zombie worlds version of Steve Carell leaving The Office." In other words, this decision doesn't seem to be popular with the series remaining fanbase, which dropped to record lows earlier this season.
Perhaps in an effort to ease viewers' nerves, THR reports that AMC is in the process of negotiating a $20 million deal with Norman Reedus, who plays Daryl Dixon, to be the new lead. If true, that money could go a long way for Reedus and his girlfriend, Diane Kruger, whom Us Weekly reports is pregnant with the couple's first child together.
It's hard to predict what Lincoln's possible departure could mean for the series. On one hand, it's difficult to imagine a world in which Grimes isn't constantly protecting people. On the other, maybe it's time for someone else to take the reigns and breathe some fresh life back into the show. Then again, maybe it's time for the series to start wrapping up. Many shows don't make it past the sixth season, let alone soar past the ninth. Even Lincoln pondered that the series should consider tying up loose ends and concluding a few months back.
"There are lots of unanswered questions, and we owe a debt to all of the viewers to answer a few of those," he said, according to THR. "So, yes, once they're answered there is an endgame. I've said it before. There's certainly an endgame in my head."
Time will tell if AMC taps Lincoln for his version of an endgame, or if they will plow forward into the apocalypse for many seasons to come.
Refinery29 reached out to representatives for Lincoln and AMC for comment.