Did 'The Walking Dead' Just Reveal How Andrew Lincoln Will Exit?

The Walking Dead S09E04 Still 4 - Publicity - H 2018
Gene Page/AMC

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

With the writing already scrawled on the walls for months now, Rick Grimes' exit appears to finally be in sight on AMC's The Walking Dead. Andrew Lincoln's former sheriff was left on death's door in the final frame of Sunday's episode. 

In "The Obliged," Rick confronts physical and existential crises in equal measure, when members of his community turn their back on the Alexandria leader's coveted bridge-building project. Even worse, the plan hatched by Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) to execute Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) gets underway, pinging on Rick's radar. 

When Rick learns about Maggie's imminent arrival in Alexandria, he automatically knows she intends to kill Negan. As he prepares to leave the bridge's construction site in order to beat Maggie to Alexandria, Daryl offers him a ride on his motorcycle to get there faster. Of course, it's all part of Daryl's plan to derail Rick's efforts. The two veritable brothers quickly find themselves at odds over the issue, leading to a brief brawl, ending when both men fall into a deep pit on the side of the road.

For the next few acts, Rick and Daryl remain in the pit, arguing over the fate of Negan. For Daryl's part, he believes Rick hasn't had enough faith in the people he's spent most of his time with in the apocalypse. He implores Rick to let go of Carl (Chandler Riggs), saying his late son's dream of a world worth fighting for isn't, well, worth fighting for. The two men eventually escape the pit, but not without great trouble against a herd of walkers. Rick finds a horse nearby and announces his intention to lead the herd away from the bridge site, saying he still believes in his son's dream of a better future. It's a loaded moment as he parts ways with Daryl; the two best friends may likely be laying eyes upon each other for the final time, after one last incredibly fraught experience.

On his way to the bridge, Rick finds himself at a fork in the road, flanked on both sides by two huge herds of walkers. The horse reacts badly to the sight of the flesh-hungry monsters, launching Rick right off and into a pile of rubble. In the final moments of the episode, Rick is stuck in the pile, impaled by a metal pole through his lower abdomen, as the two groups of walkers appear to close in on him. The last viewers see of the face of The Walking Dead franchise appearing minutes away from death — either because of his serious injury or via the undead. 

Is this how Rick Grimes will die, consumed by walkers as he's literally pinned to his own dream? It sure looks that way, as AMC has already announced season nine's fifth episode as Rick's swan song. Given the severity of Rick's current injury, the proximity of the herd of walkers, and the fact that next week's episode will be Lincoln's last with the series (at least as series regular; he's already announced his hope to direct episodes in the yet-to-be-announced 10th season), it's hard to see a way out for the beloved post-apocalypse hero.

For her part, showrunner Angela Kang is remaining tight-lipped on Rick's looming fate — on the specifics, at least. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Kang teases Rick's exit episode will feel like "a giant season finale dropped in the middle of the season," which sounds like a fittingly epic sendoff for the iconic hero.

"There's an emotional story to it," she says. "There's also a lot of adventure, action, heroism and some pretty big twists. I'm excited for that. I think there's going to be some things that are unexpected for the viewers. It's pulse-pounding and epic."

If big twists are ahead, is it possible Rick makes it out of the episode alive? One possible path to survival: Maggie, last seen in "The Obliged" riding near the bridge, seeing the aftermath of a skirmish between the Saviors and other survivors, including Carol (Melissa McBride). With Maggie on her way to Alexandria, but still so close to the construction site, she may be able to ride in and save Rick from his immediate death at the hungry maws of the dead — but even then, salvation will likely only be temporary, given the damage to Rick's abdomen. 

For what it's worth, "The Obliged" also further laid track for Lauren Cohan's pending exit, as Maggie once again received a letter from Jayne Atkinson's Georgie, who has repeatedly courted the Hilltop leader in the past. Perhaps one final moment of clarity with Rick, in which she's convinced to abandon her vengeance plot against Negan, will help push her toward joining Georgie's cause and taking a hiatus from the group.

Should the AMC zombie drama opt to kill Rick, it would be an even bigger blow to the franchise. In creator Robert Kirkman's comic series, which serve as the backbone for the TV take, Rick continues to be alive and well. The series has already illustrated its willingness to do the unexpected when star Riggs' Carl — long considered to be the safest character on the show — was killed off, in the biggest departure from the source material yet. Then again, this is The Walking Dead, the show that became infamous for trolling viewers after fan-favorite Steven Yeun's Glenn appeared left for dead when he seemingly fell into a sea of walkers with no way out. Viewers rightfully predicted that Glenn slid under a dumpster and waited out the undead, a fate the series revealed shortly after the character appeared all but gone.

Lincoln this summer at San Diego Comic-Con confirmed news reports that season nine would be his last with The Walking Dead. The actor, who lives in London with his family, said the time was right after spending nearly a decade fighting the undead and Atlanta heat on the show that he helped launch into a global hit. 

For her part, Cohan only signed on for a handful of episodes this season following a salary standoff with AMC. She later signed on to star in ABC's midseason action dramedy Whiskey Cavalier. Her future beyond season nine remains unclear, though producers have openly said they hope the door remains open for the woman behind Maggie to return to the series in some capacity. 

Both Lincoln and Cohan's departure leaves a major void on The Walking Dead, as both Rick and Maggie remain essential parts of the ongoing comic series. Co-star Reedus is in talks for a massive new contract that is reported to check in at the $20 million range as he negotiates a new role as the show's leading man. So far in season nine, The Walking Dead has hit a string of series lows. While the series remains a monster hit on cable, the ratings slide has been fast and staggering feat for a show once considered the biggest show on TV.

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