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With Andrew Lincoln’s last episode as Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead now upon us and airing Sunday, fans are bracing for a program moving forward without its fearless leader. The producers on the show are well aware of the trepidation by viewers surrounding this momentous event. “People have a gut reaction,” says executive producer Greg Nicotero, who directed Lincoln’s farewell episode. “And their gut reaction is, ‘I don’t know how I feel about that. I don’t know if I want to watch the show if Rick Grimes isn’t on it anymore.’”

But Nicotero has a message for any doubters who worry about the direction of the program in a post-Rick Grimes world. “The thing I can really, honestly say with 100 percent confidence is the show will not suffer because of the loss of Rick Grimes,” promises Nicotero. “He’s a great character, he’s an amazing actor, but I just I feel that as this show evolves, I just really don’t want people to feel that this departure signals the end of the show, because we have a tremendous amount of story to tell.”

BTS - Season 1 - Andrew Lincoln Walker Guts
Credit: Scott Garfield/AMC

Nicotero points to the fact that while Rick Grimes has been the focal point of the story so far, he’s still been just one point. “Rick has been instrumental in telling a good portion of that story,” says the director. “But let’s be honest: We’ve had a lot of story that was told by Carol, we had a lot of story that was told by Glenn and Maggie, we had a lot of story that was told by Daryl, and Shane, and Lori. I feel very strongly that we still have a tremendous amount of story to tell with the great characters that we still have.”

Nictotero’s words actually echo what Lincoln himself has said about the show continuing with him, and his excitement for what lies ahead matches his former lead’s as well. “Listen, we’ve had a f—ing blast this year,” says Nicotero. “And it’s probably the most fun I’ve had on the show in the last couple years because I feel that collaborative nature of us really buckling in and fighting to make sure that we’re doing tribute to Andy’s time here and everybody’s commitment. Norman and I talk on the phone twice a f—ing day about how we can preserve the show, and how we can maintain the quality that both he and I want, because we’ve been doing this so long. We’ve been here nine f—ing years, man. Nobody’s phoning it in, you know?”

That’s not to say Nicotero won’t miss his longtime partner-in-crime. “I’ve been on the show since day one. Andy and I have been tremendous collaborators, and great, great friends over the last couple years. We kind of grew into who we are. Andy grew into Rick Grimes, and I sort of grew into the director that I am, and we did it together. It still really hasn’t hit me, to be honest. There were a couple of days on set when we would just be looking at each other and there was so much that neither of us wanted to say because there’s so much history between us. I love the guy, I respect him, and I know exactly why he’s doing what he’s doing.”

Make sure to read our account of Lincoln’s last day as well as written tributes from cast-members past and present. And for more Walking Dead intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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The Walking Dead

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

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