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Why Is Andrew Lincoln Leaving 'The Walking Dead'? Here's Everything We Know

When The Walking Dead returns this coming fall to AMC, it will be able to finally say it bested its rival Game of Thrones, running for nine seasons in comparison to the Westerosi drama's eight. The two shows have been compared since they first arrived in the 2010-2011 TV season, pulled from pre-existing properties sold at the local bookseller, with high body counts and terrible worlds to live in. But finally, the two will also be equal in having gotten rid of their main hero. Why is Andrew Lincoln leaving The Walking Dead? If the rumors are true, it seems the show is going off-book for good.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes was sort of the Sean Bean of The Walking Dead when it began. But unlike Bean's Ned Stark, who didn't survive Game of Thrones' first season, Grimes has been going for eight seasons and counting, surviving just about everyone, including his own son, Carl, who was killed off at the beginning of the second half of Season 8.

But The Walking Dead has been having problems as the seasons have gone on. After a huge cliffhanger at the end of Season 6 turned out not only to kill off one but two fan favorites in an extraordinarily brutal way, the ratings began to tank badly. The show was still following the source material faithfully. Entire segments of dialogue were coming directly from the page. But the viewers were no longer tuning in.

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In order to re-right the ship, next season will see a major production shuffle. Showrunner Scott M. Gimple, who has run the series since the fourth season, is moving up to "Chief Content Officer" to oversee the franchise universe. This is because the TWD universe is expanding, and spinoff show Fear the Walking Dead has stepped into crossover territory with character Morgan Jones (Lennie James).

Season 9 is therefore headed for what is known as a "soft reboot," care of co-executive producer Angela Kang, who is a longtime writer on the series. Her promotion to showrunner makes her one of the few women of color in a high-ranking position on a major show, and she's making some changes.

Supposedly, Season 9 will begin after a time-jump of some sort, which will allow Kang to reset the stage. Now, it seems this reset will put Rick Grimes out to pasture.

According to Collider, who broke the news:

Andrew Lincoln will be growling his way through the post-apocalyptic setting for just one more season before calling it quits. And while we won’t be spoiling just how the series’ founding character makes his exit, we do know that fans can only expect to see Lincoln in half-a-dozen episodes of the upcoming season.
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That's a huge move. The Walking Dead lasts 16 episodes a season, so Grimes being out after a half a dozen means he'll be on for less than half of Season 9.

Collider suggests the loss could be "catastrophic" for the series, and cause an even bigger outcry than when Chandler Riggs (who played Grimes' son, Carl) was let go last season.

[W]e’ll likely see an even bigger fan fallout when Lincoln leaves in Season 9. To fill the void in the show’s leading man status, we’re also hearing that AMC has offered substantial compensation to long-running series star Norman Reedus to not only stay on board, but to take over the show’s leading role.

With the show effectively recreating itself from whole cloth this season, perhaps the exit of Lincoln will prove as good for the show as Bean's was for Game of Thrones. Fans will find out next fall when The Walking Dead returns for Season 9.