Bidding a fond — and frequently bloody — farewell to characters on The Walking Dead has become a tradition of sorts for fans of AMC’s popular zombie drama series. And yet, the potential departure of one particular character has sent tremors through the show’s fanbase and led to questions about whether the long-running series can survive without him.

Former sheriff Rick Grimes, the character played by Andrew Lincoln who has led the series’ ragtag group of survivors through countless threats from both humans and living dead, is rumored to be ending his run on The Walking Dead with the upcoming season 9.

As initially reported by Collider, Lincoln is rumored to appear in only six episodes of the upcoming season. With the eighth-season exit of cast member Chandler Riggs, who played Rick’s son in the series, Lincoln is now the last remaining cast member from the series premiere to have an active role in the show.

According to the unconfirmed (and therefore, unofficial) report, actor Norman Reedus is being courted as a potential replacement for Lincoln as the series lead due to the popularity of his character, Daryl Dixon.

Possibly joining Lincoln in exiting the show is Lauren Cohan, who has portrayed fellow survivor Maggie in the series since the second episode of season 2. Like Lincoln, Cohan is only contracted for the first six episodes of season 9, so it’s a possibility that two of the series’ longest-running characters could be nearing the end of their zombie-filled journey in the upcoming season.

The eighth season of The Walking Dead lived up to its “All Out War” tagline by pitting Rick, Maggie, Daryl, and the residents of several survivor communities against the forces of a group known as The Saviors, led by the brutal Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). The battle raged throughout most of the season, culminating in the final episode that pitted Rick against Negan, face to face, in a final brawl for the future of the survivors’ communities.

Along with potential changes in front of the camera, season 9 of The Walking Dead will also have writer and co-executive producer Angela Kang move into the showrunner role on the series. There is currently no premiere date set for season 9 of The Walking Dead.

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