Andrew Lincoln Almost Left 'The Walking Dead' Last Season

Fans may already be mourning the loss of Rick Grimes ahead of his season nine exit from The Walking Dead, but it turns out that actor Andrew Lincoln almost started that mourning process a season sooner.

Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Lincoln, who has portrayed lead character Rick Grimes since the pilot episode in 2010, revealed that Rick's exit was initially set to come in season eight and that his departure from the AMC series has been planned ever since season four.

"I had a conversation during season 4 with [executive producer] Scott Gimple about this," Lincoln said. "We spoke about it and said, 'There's got to be a shape. We need a shape to work out if we get to season 5 then maybe we've got a couple more.'"

The shape that the plan began to take came in the form of a planned exit in season eight.

"There were all these ifs and buts and strategies. And I said, eight sounds like a good number.' Eight seasons was certainly something," Lincoln continued. "Last season was a shape that I had in my head and it was certainly something that Scott was possibly thinking about as well that was a completion of a certain chapter which could be called Rick's falling."

Ultimately, that chapter did not come to an end, and Rick Grimes made it through the season relatively unscathed, something that Lincoln credits to himself not having yet been ready to part ways with the character and the series.

"Season 8 came and it got more complicated," Lincoln explained, having come to the decision while at Comic Con in 2017. "I realized that rather than have the funeral, I had to prepare for the funeral and I had to make sure everybody was comfortable with the funeral arrangements. And I don't think I was ready for the funeral! You know what I mean? I was like, I don't think I'm ready to go yet!"

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In July, however, Lincoln's decision became final, the actor announcing at San Diego Comic Con that season nine would be his last. Despite having prepared himself for his exit, Lincoln is not entirely ready to cut ties with the series, as he is set to return to Georgia to shadow directors before eventually directing an episode of his own in season 10.

Fans can watch Rick Grimes' final episodes when The Walking Dead season nine premieres Sunday, Oct. 7 at 9 p.m. ET.