We know that Andrew Lincoln is leaving The Walking Dead in season 9, and we know why thanks to Lincoln telling EW it was to spend more time with his family. But while castmembers like Norman Reedus, Danai Gurira, Lauren Cohan, and others have talked about what it is like saying goodbye to Lincoln the actor, how will the show be saying goodbye to Rick Grimes the character?

We asked new showrunner Angela Kang exactly that, and how the departure of Rick fits into the tapestry of season 9 (which premieres Oct. 7 on AMC). “The goal this season was just to pay homage to that character — the character that brought us into the show,” says Kang. “Rick Grimes has been somebody that people have loved watching, just loved this character’s journey. He is this man who was looking for his family, and found them, and lost many of them, but has fought on and on. And I think that’s meant a lot to people. And we just really wanted to be respectful of that character and send him off in a great way. So that was the charge for us this season.”

But for The Walking Dead to continue to be successful, it doesn’t just need to send off Rick Grimes with proper pomp and circumstance; it also needs to shift the protagonist perspective. Kang notes that the other big job for the creative team in a world without Rick is to continue to “tell the story of the people going forward, because it’s never been a story just about this one man. It started with him, but it’s always been a story about this group of people that have each other’s backs, that help each other survive, that help each other be more human. And that’s the story that we’ll continue to tell.”

And Kang is confident that the remaining cast is up for the task, thanks to the lessons that Lincoln gave on a daily basis. “He has so empowered the other actors to carry on the positive legacy that he’s had on the set all these years,” says the showrunner. “And they really have absolutely stepped up. They have been stepping up all season. So we have all these wonderful actors that are on our show that are gonna be just as positive, and wonderful, and warm as he was. And that’s really the lasting legacy that Andy leaves us as a human being on our set.”

That legacy will continue to play out when season 9 premieres on Oct. 7.

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