The Walking Dead cast, producers, and fans gave star Andrew Lincoln an emotional San Diego Comic-Con send-off on Friday. The series’ creative team also announced that actress Samantha Morton (Minority Report and Hulu’s Harlots) will appear as the series’ newest villain, Alpha.
Season 9 of the series doesn’t kick off until October, but Lincoln is already preparing himself for the end.
This will be the British actor’s last go-round as the show’s hero. The news leaked back in May, but creator and executive producer Robert Kirkman confirmed the goodbye this week. This allowed Lincoln, who has been on the AMC zombie drama from the start, to speak freely about his exit Friday at two separate San Diego Comic-Con panels.
“I want to say something because there seems to be an elephant in the room,” a noticeably choked up Lincoln told an estimated 6,000 attendees at the start of the fan panel in Hall H shortly after receiving a standing ovation. “This will be my last season playing the part of Rick Grimes.”
A number of fans booed Lincoln’s announcement, but the actor pressed on to explain his side of things during the panel, which also included stars Norman Reedus, Danai Gurira, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Lauren Cohan.
“Now hear me out, please. I love this show,” he said. “It means everything to me. I love the people that make this show. I promise not to cry. I’ve done enough crying onscreen. These guys and everybody back in Atlanta are the greatest surrogate family I could have ever wished for, but I do have a family and it’s time to go home.”
Lincoln, whose past credits include the 2003 Christmas rom-com Love Actually, said he didn’t want to spoil how his character will leave the show but added that, “This is a really terrific story for Rick and Michonne.”
Later, when Lincoln chatted with reporters about his final season at a press conference, he said he wanted to talk to fans first and then the media about his decision because die-hard supporters of the series and the comics have been so inspiring.
“I’ve been coming to Comic-Con in San Diego for nine years and fans have been so beautiful, and it’s such a part of this experience. And that relationship is hard to leave behind,” he said. “But I have a relationship with my family, and I can’t keep going back and forth between England and Atlanta. This is something I’ve struggled with since the show began and here we are. My kids are older now and they need me.”
At the start of the fan panel, AMC showed off an action-packed trailer full of teasers, including a time jump in season 9 and Maggie (Cohan) has finally had her baby. The trailer also made it seem as though Daryl (Reedus) could take over command from Rick.
Daryl isn’t the only candidate. Angela Kang, who used to be a writer and producer for The Walking Dead, is now the new showrunner and said women characters such as Michonne (Gurira), Maggie, and Carol (Melissa McBride) will take more of the lead this season.
Speaking of powerful women, Kirkman confirmed that Morton will join the cast this season as Alpha, who leads a villainous group called the Whisperers. Executive producer Scott Gimple said the show hasn’t cast Alpha’s underling, Beta, yet.
But Gurira and Reedus said no one can fill Lincoln’s shoes.
“I truly believe this is the best leading man on television,” Gurira told reporters of Lincoln, who plays her on-screen love interest. “Andy has set the tone since the pilot. His discipline, character, and kindness has taught us how to carry on without him. He has so equipped us — I couldn’t be thankful enough to learn from him. It’s been a true joy.”
Reedus also praised Lincoln, adding: “It’s always been an ensemble. This is a very female-driven season with a lot less bravado and a lot more depth. Like Danai said, Andy set the template. You can’t take Rick’s place.”
The Walking Dead season 9 premieres Sunday, October 7 on AMC.