On-screen on Thursday, Kirkman confirmed that leading man Andrew Lincoln (aka Rick) would indeed be exiting the franchise this season. Sources told THR that Lincoln will have an exit strategy similar to co-star Lauren Cohan (Maggie), with the latter returning for only six episodes as she segues to ABC’s midseason drama Whiskey Cavalier following a salary renegotiation gone south with AMC. Amid Lincoln’s pending departure, star Norman Reedus (Daryl) has been in negotiations for a new $20 million-plus deal to take over as The Walking Dead‘s leading man.
All the creative changes come as The Walking Dead season nine will feature a time jump in a storyline ripped directly from Kirkman’s source material. As in the comics, the series will take a leap forward following Rick’s war with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and, according to Kang, will focus on the larger theme of “what it means to have a civilization.” That was among the narratives teed up at the end of season eight when the show opted to kill off Carl (Chandler Riggs), who long had been considered the future of the series and (spoiler alert) continues to kick ass in the comics. That helped set the stage for Lincoln’s departure.