'Walking Dead': Is the Stage Now Set for Rick's Death?

Here's why it's time to start wondering about Andrew Lincoln's future with the AMC zombie drama.
Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for the midseason eight finale of AMC's The Walking Dead, "How It's Gotta Be," as well as major spoilers from the comics on which the show is based.]

Are we about to reach the end of the Grimes line?

Given what's happening with Carl (Chandler Riggs), there's a certain feeling of "the sky is falling" in the world of AMC's The Walking Dead. Sunday's season eight midseason finale ended with one of the most shocking twists in the show's history, and certainly the biggest departure from the comic books yet: Carl's impending death. (Riggs has one episode remaining — the Feb. 25 midseason premiere in which Carl will take his last breaths, as the actor has been written out of the show.)

Up until now, most Walking Dead fans viewed Carl as an untouchable figure, someone both the comics and the show would never kill, at least not until the endgame. That thinking still holds as far as Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard's comic book series, but the show? Not so much. And as a result, it's worth wondering about the other shoe that could drop, the other untouchable figure who could potentially be in for a fall soon: Rick Grimes.

From the earliest days of The Walking Dead, characters have come and gone like tears in the rain, while Rick endures. The decisive star of the series, Andrew Lincoln's brooding hero remains front and center in both the show and the comic book series, at the heart of every major action in both iterations of the story. In every respect, The Walking Dead and Rick Grimes' journey are one and the same. If The Walking Dead is the zombie movie that never ends, then Rick Grimes is the zombie killer who never dies. While that may remain the case for the comics, the show could be another matter entirely, for a few reasons. 

Since the launch of the AMC zombie series, Lincoln has not appeared in a single film or television project outside of his responsibilities as Rick Grimes. The actor, who lives in London with his family when he's not in Georgia filming the show, has made it clear that he's focused solely on Walking Dead for as long as he's involved in Walking Dead, and is otherwise devoted to his personal life when not on set. This week, in conversation with The Hollywood Reporter about the death of Carl, Lincoln made it clear that his own departure from the show is only a matter of when, not if.

"Yeah, I think so," the actor said when asked if he sees an end in sight for his time in the Walking Dead universe. "I've said to you before and I really feel that the fans — and also for my own satisfaction — that there deserves to be an end point. There needs to be an endgame and that is something that is definitely being talked about."

What Lincoln once described as a faraway inevitability should now be viewed as a potentially looming threat: that an endgame — which "is definitely being talked about," he says — could come for Rick as soon as the end of season eight.

"That's a question I'm not at liberty to answer," Lincoln said when asked if his Rick's journey would end sooner rather than later. "It's such an extraordinary story and in my heart, it deserves some resolution."

Beyond Lincoln's comments, there are reasons to believe Rick won't survive through "All-Out War," chief among them the pending death of Carl, who is very much alive in the Walking Dead comic books, and feels like an endgame character in that version of this story. If the show is willing to kill Carl, why wouldn't it be willing to kill Rick, especially given that Lincoln's contract is up with season eight?

There's the flash-forwards to consider, too: Rick was seen as an older man in the first episode of season eight, teasing the pivotal time jump that defines the Walking Dead story following "All-Out War." In that vision of the future, Carl was very much still alive and well — something we know can't possibly happen now, given the character's recent death sentence. We should question whether Rick's future is as it seems, then. Is it possible that what we saw in the premiere was nothing more than one possible future, an idyllic life that sadly won't come to pass for Rick?

Beyond the glimpse at the obvious time jump, there's the less obvious time jump: Rick's red-eyed visage, also seen in the season premiere, wondering if his mercy could prevail over his wrath. Given what we now know about the show's plans for Carl, it's clear to see why Rick would be so bleary-eyed at some point in the future of the war. It's not too much further of a leap to imagine that this version of Rick is a man who is closer to death's door than we realized at the time — so much so that perhaps he's seeing some vision of a future that won't come to pass, as he himself is about to pass. It wouldn't be the first time The Walking Dead delved into similarly spiritual territory; see Chad L. Coleman's departure as Tyreese for further reference, or the spaghetti dinner with the dearly departed Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Glenn (Steven Yeun) as well.

What would The Walking Dead look like without Rick Grimes? It's almost impossible to really consider such an outcome, given his importance in the storyline. Then again, it was equally hard to imagine this story existing without Carl, and that's a world we're absolutely entering. Given what we've seen of the show's "future," given the death of Carl and given Lincoln's own recent remarks, Walking Dead fans ought to start preparing for the grim possibility of losing another Grimes beyond Carl. If such an occasion comes to pass, may your mercy prevail over your wrath.

With that said, all hope is not lost, as Lincoln offered these thoughts on a potential return for season nine: "I hope so! We'll see how this back eight [episodes] plays out. The Walking Dead has been an extraordinary journey that isn't finished yet. I've always wanted to work in America because the language of American film is what I grew up watching and aspired toward. This job, I always wanted to raise my profile in America and this is beyond my wildest dreams. America is my second home now. I believe in America and in making stories in America. It's to be continued, is what I'd say in all areas. [The death of Carl] certainly feels like — when Glenn was killed, it felt like buttons had been pressed — and I certainly feel like this is the second button that has been pressed."

Meanwhile, we'll be over here re-evaluating our own Walking Dead character death odds ...

Follow THR.com/WalkingDead for all of our ongoing coverage of season eight.

Lesley Goldberg contributed reporting to this story.