Since its first episode, The Walking Dead has been Rick Grimes' story. He was the audience's guide through the zombie apocalypse and he's been there every step of the way for eight seasons. Now his time on the show is drawing to a close and Season 9 will be Andrew Lincoln's final one. But how much longer exactly will fans get to spend with Rick? When is Andrew Lincoln's last episode of The Walking Dead?
Lincoln's last episode will be the fifth one of the season, "What Comes After." When Episode 3 aired, the show's official Twitter account revealed that Rick only had two episodes left, which would mean Episode 5 was his swan song. That confirmed earlier reports from Entertainment Tonight that Episode 5 was the end of the line for Lincoln. They speculated that based on the fact that it was going to be directed by executive producer Greg Nicotero and at the Season 9 premiere, Lincoln mentioned that Nicotero was the one who shot his last scene.
"I think it was about day two of filming and I asked Greg Nicotero who was shooting the episode, 'How many pints of blood does a human actually hold?' because I'm not sure I'm going to make it through the credits sequence," Lincoln joked.
Though Episode 5 may feel early in the season to say goodbye to Rick, it's actually more time than the character was originally going to get. According to Entertainment Weekly, Lincoln planned to leave during Season 8, and his exit had been planned as early as Season 4. But while the eighth season was still filming, Lincoln realized he needed more time to prepare for leaving the show. He simply wasn't ready yet. "It was at Comic-Con that year that I made the decision that I couldn't leave that year," Lincoln told EW, continuing:
I said to my wife, "I feel overwhelmed. I don't think I'm ready. I can't do it. I've got Norman [Reedus], I've got Danai [Gurira], I've got Jeffrey [Dean Morgan], I've got Melissa McBride, I've got Greg Nicotero — all these beautiful friends of mine and I don't know if I can do it yet. I don't know if it's time." So that happened.
But Lincoln might not be gone forever, even though his return would come in a very different form. He won't be reprising his role as Rick any time soon, but he may come back to direct an episode of the show in Season 10.
In another interview with EW, Lincoln said that he did get a little upset reading cool scripts that he wouldn't be a part of, but he knew the show would be just fine without him. In fact, he thought The Walking Dead would benefit from taking a new direction and letting other characters take the lead. But no matter how the show fares after Rick's gone (and the exact circumstances of his departure remain under wraps), fans will surely miss the character that has led them through this journey since Episode 1.