This is gonna hurt.
On Thursday during The Walking Dead‘s Comic-Con panel in San Diego, Andrew Lincoln confirmed the rumors: He’s exiting the series that he’s been the face of since the beginning.
“I want to say something, because there seems to be an elephant in the room,” he said early in the panel. “This will be my last season playing the part of Rick Grimes. Now hear me out, please. I love this show. It means everything to me. I love the people that make this show. I promise not to cry, I’ve done enough crying onscreen.”
Lincoln called this “the most extraordinary, amazing, and beautiful experience of my career.” He continued: “I suppose what I wanted to say is that my relationship with Mr. Grimes is far from over. And a sort of large part of me will always be a machete-wielding, stetson-wearing, zombie-slaying sheriff deputy from London, England.”
Not wanting the panel to turn into an “Oscar acceptance speech or obituary,” Lincoln aimed to turn the attention to his final season. “We’re deeply, deeply proud of the work we’ve done this season,” he shared. “I’m really, really excited about this season. I think there are two episodes that for me that are my favorites since the pilot….This has always been an ensemble and it will continue to be an ensemble. No one is bigger than the story, and the story this year is unbelievable.”
EW confirmed in late May that Lincoln was poised to say goodbye to Rick Grimes when the show returns for the upcoming ninth season. The Walking Dead comic creator and show executive producer Robert Kirkman commented on the reports ahead of the panel, saying Lincoln “wants to do something special on the way out.” He added, “We’ve got something amazing planned. I wouldn’t want to spoil anything, but anybody who’s been a fan of his journey, who loves Rick Grimes, who loves the world of The Walking Dead, you’re going to want to see what we do.”
The panel ended with a standing ovation for Lincoln, initiated by costar Norman Reedus, and the cast embraced in a group hug before leaving the stage.
The Walking Dead returns for Lincoln’s final season on Oct. 7. Head here to see the season 9 trailer.
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