Here's How 'The Walking Dead' (Finally) Addressed Lauren Cohan's Departure

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

Throughout the first half of season nine, Walking Dead viewers were able to prepare not only for Andrew Lincoln's exit, but for when to expect the departure as well. The same luxury was not afforded to fans of Maggie Rhee, the Hilltop commander played since season two by Lauren Cohan. 

While it was known season nine would mark Cohan's final arc with the series (if only for now) due to her commitments to ABC's Whiskey Cavalier, nobody knew in advance that her last appearance would coincide with the Rick Grimes swan song. THR revealed the timing of Cohan's exit with showrunner Angela Kang, who noted Maggie's final episode of the season was indeed "What Comes After," Lincoln's last episode with the series. 

With that said, Kang and virtually all other parties involved insist Cohan will some day return to The Walking Dead, with the door left wide open for Maggie's eventual comeback. Thanks to the latest hour of the series, "Stradivarius," the way is now clear for Maggie's hopeful return, not to mention her current whereabouts.

The episode, directed by Michael "Abraham Ford" Cudlitz, brings viewers back to the Hilltop for the first time since the time jump, shedding some light on how things have changed in the vibrant community over the six years we missed. Among the most pivotal changes, there's this: Jesus (Tom Payne) now serves as the Hilltop's leader, albeit reluctantly. It's revealed that Maggie has been away from the Hilltop for some undetermined amount of time, along with her son, Hershel, who would now be right around 7 years old. Jesus agreed to lead the community in her absence, a choice he now seemingly regrets.

Where did Maggie go? The popular theory wins the day: she went off to work with Georgie (Jayne Atkinson), the community builder who has long been trying to recruit Maggie into her fold. Her exact whereabouts are unknown, except for the fact that Maggie is "someplace far," helping with the construction of a new community. Early in the episode, Jesus reveals the following status update on Maggie: "She's good. Happy."

It doesn't, however, sound like Maggie left the Alexandria Safe-Zone under the happiest of terms. The story heavily implies extreme tensions between Maggie and Michonne (Danai Gurira), their feud so serious that Michonne refuses to set foot inside the Hilltop. The issues between these old friends are so notorious throughout the communities that Siddiq (Avi Nash) only tells Michonne about Maggie's departure when he feels he absolutely has to; when she learns the truth, Michonne is genuinely shocked that Maggie has gone.

What happened between Maggie and Michonne — besides the obvious, that is? It's entirely likely Michonne blames Maggie for Rick's "death," since it was Maggie's vengeance plot against Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) that helped put Rick in the position to "die" in the first place. Ironically, it was Maggie who refused to set foot in Alexandria for so much time; now, it's Michonne who is too angry to visit the Hilltop.

Given that Maggie is currently "someplace far," The Walking Dead writers have left themselves an out for when and how to bring Lauren Cohan back into the narrative, assuming such an occasion ever comes to pass. She could literally be anywhere in the world, leaving the door wide open for a surprise comeback appearance, whether that's at the end of season nine (in time for the much-hyped carnival, perhaps?), a season further down the line, or even her own series of feature films a la what's next for Rick. Could Maggie even show up in the Rick Grimes movies? That would be one easy way of keeping her in the Walking Dead universe while Cohan still maintains her ambitions beyond the zombie apocalypse.

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