How 'Walking Dead' Just Set the Stage for Lauren Cohan's Exit

The Walking Dead Season 9 Episode 1 - Publicity - H 2018
Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

[This story contains spoilers for season nine, episode two of AMC's The Walking Dead, "The Bridge."]

As Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his companions work to build a bridge between communities, AMC's The Walking Dead itself is busy with some bridge-building of its own: the bridge toward Lauren Cohan's exit from the series.

Cohan, who has played Maggie Greene Rhee since season two, is poised to walk away from The Walking Dead, at least temporarily, later this season due to her series regular role on ABC's Whiskey Cavalier. (The ABC role followed what sources say was a salary standoff with AMC gone sour.) Unlike the talk surrounding Andrew Lincoln's looming exit as Rick, Cohan's coming departure has been discussed as more open-ended in nature, with hopes for her eventual return.

How will Cohan as Maggie leave The Walking Dead, a world in which there's rarely a way out beyond death? The second episode of season nine, "The Bridge," provided the first major clue to that answer.

Almost midway through the hour, Maggie and Jesus (Tom Payne) speak together about their plans for the Hilltop's future. Before digging into the drama surrounding Earl (John Finn) and Tammy Rose (Brett Butler), Jesus and Maggie conjure a familiar name: Georgie, the nomadic survivor played by Jayne Atkinson who first appeared in season eight to provide Maggie with a key to building a better future. Jesus and Maggie's conversation makes it clear that the Hilltop is still in communication with Georgie; what's more, it appears Georgie has repeatedly tried to recruit Maggie as part of her outreach efforts.

Just as Georgie provided the key for the return of civilization in season eight, it now appears she's back (in spirit at least) to provide the key for how Maggie can walk away from The Walking Dead without dying. Is it fair to look at this quiet exchange between Maggie and Jesus as the first step toward Cohan's coming exit? Is it wise to suspect that when Maggie leaves, it's going to be hand-in-hand with a new traveling companion in Georgie? Here's how showrunner Angela Kang responded to that question while speaking with The Hollywood Reporter: "That's a fair suspicion." 

Kang was quick to couch expectations ("I'm not going to say that's exactly what happens"), as well as expand on the importance of Georgie in the world of The Walking Dead

"It's like when you're playing a video game, and the fog of the map around you is expanding as you go into different areas to explore," she said. "That's what's happening with [Georgie's group]. The Alexandrian group thought it was just them before Jesus came along and told them, 'The world is so much bigger than you think.' Then they found out through Georgie the world is even bigger than that group thought. There will be certain societies that just kind of exist out there, that we don't constantly check in on. We don't always tell stories with Oceanside, but they're very much there. That's the same deal with Georgie and the twins. She's off trying to figure out who else is out there. That builds very much into the idea of civilization that all of our characters are grappling with."

"Either way," she insists, "we're still going to tell more stories with Maggie."

That's certainly the plan, at least, but is it the guaranteed reality? What assurances exist that Cohan will ever return to The Walking Dead once she leaves — and if she doesn't return, will her sendoff be a satisfying conclusion to the Maggie Rhee storyline

"I hope it'll work," said Kang. "We'll cross that bridge [when we get to it]. Lauren and I have had conversations, and she's excited to come back, even if it's not for a full season. We can work with that. That's scheduling problems. We'll figure out the story. She's great. We have a great relationship, and she still loves the show. Sometimes our actors need to spread their wings a little bit. We get that."

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