Actors come and go on The Walking Dead at a rather alarming rate. Characters are constantly introduced and killed off, leading to a revolving door — okay, maybe not the best example in this case considering what happened to Tyler James Williams’ Noah — of fresh faces taking over. And there are a lot of faces. There are currently 20 cast regulars on The Walking Dead, and only five of them have been there since season 1 (and that includes Lennie James, who appeared in the very first episode, left, and then returned full-time in season 6).

But even with all that change, the name at the top of the call sheet has remained the same: Andrew Lincoln. However, even the most committed actors — and I’ve never seen a lead as mentally, physically, and emotionally committed to his show as Lincoln — can get restless after a long stint. With The Walking Dead now heading into its eighth season, one can’t help but wonder if Lincoln might be thinking about life after the show.

You especially can’t help but wonder when he tells you a story like this: “I was talking to James Badge Dale about acting, and we were just talking about completing stories,” says Lincoln. “I think that there’s an innate feeling and certainly in me that I love doing a play or doing the film because you get to put a period on the end of it and you get to do it nightly, which is really exciting. TV is different. The format is different because it is about sort of a continuum. But, you know, there is a sense to me that really needs some… it sounds like I’m in a shrink’s head, but there is a completion thing that I think I deserve for doing it for so long. And also probably the audience would like some completion.”

Lincoln was not talking about the show ending sooner rather than later. Rather, he was discussing the possibility of the show continuing on without him, which he says could be just the twist the show needs. “There’s only so many ways you can bend and stretch this and that. I’m not saying that the show would ever finish, but I certainly think that there’s an opportunity for the show to change at some point, and I think it should.”

A Walking Dead without Rick Grimes? Could that actually exist? Lincoln thinks so. Maybe this isn’t a show about Rick Grimes surviving in the zombie apocalypse after all, but rather it is about his young son growing up in it. “Absolutely,” says Lincoln about a potential shift from father Grimes to son. “Absolutely. It’s beautifully set up for that — for the camera to be certainly his story, and then it just shifts off. If ever there was a landscape or an environment to do that, it’s our show. But whether or not that’s this season… well, you have to find out, don’t you?”

Lincoln is not the only one that thinks the show can go on without him. The creator of The Walking Dead comic, Robert Kirkman says, “I think it could,” when asked about the show continuing without its star. “Andy is the leader of this show and his dedication to the show is absolutely inspiring,” he says. “Everyone just looks up to him and he’s a huge part of this show. But we have a very strong ensemble, and there’s a lot of characters that could carry the show. The Walking Dead is a story very much about a world and a bunch of people inhabiting that world.” However, Kirkman adds, “I don’t think we have to worry about that any time soon.”

Showrunner Scott M. Gimple also says The Walking Dead could survive the loss of Lincoln. “Absolutely,” says Gimple. “We’ve just scratched the surface of this world. We don’t want to go on without Rick Grimes, but again, in year 20, in year 30, who knows?”

Gimple also points to the way the show has dealt with death in the past as a guide to how it might handle the loss of its most important character. “We lose terrific actors and terrific characters because that’s part of the narrative,” says Gimple, “and we’re always forced to go on and figure out a way to make the narrative work and to make it the best show possible after losing people. So I don’t think any show is more prepared, sadly, to lose people than The Walking Dead is. As the show goes on and on and on, who knows? But I’m also certain that we will do it in a way that only adds to the narrative and only makes the story richer for losing these incredible people.”

So there you have it, with clues that a transition to an Andrew Lincoln-less Walking Dead could happen as soon as this season, and as far away as season 30. What do you think? Could the show survive the loss of Rick Grimes? Weigh in below in the comments and for more Walking Dead intel, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

Episode Recaps

The Walking Dead

AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.

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