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The Real Reasons These Walking Dead Characters Are Leaving

Fans of The Walking Dead were both floored and devastated when news broke in May 2018 that not one but two of the show's most beloved characters would be saying farewell in the upcoming ninth season.

News leaked nearly simultaneously that both Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan would be leaving after appearances in just six episodes of the next season. Lincoln plays Rick Grimes, the intrepid yet ever-beleaguered protagonist of the show, and his popular co-star Cohan's character, Maggie Greene, has been a fixture on the horror drama since she joined the series in its second season. The news came on the heels of the heartbreaking death of Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) in season 8, while fans are still recovering from the loss of Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) in season 7, both fan favorites who'd been with the show since the beginning.

Needless to say, Walking Dead fans are probably starting to suffer from a bit of separation anxiety at this point as the dangerously small list of season one survivors continues to thin even further. But another question that left fans scratching their heads from the day the news broke was why these two actors were leaving now. Initially, it was all speculation and rumors, but as the dust has settled, a much better picture of why these two decided to say adieu to the show has quickly taken shape.

It was time to come home

As far as Andrew Lincoln is concerned, up until Rick Grime's epic (and by epic, we mean both kickass and ridiculously drawn out) departure from The Walking Dead, the superstar had been giving one simple reason for leaving the show — and it didn't have to do with money or arguments behind the camera. One thing has complicated his enormously successful run as The Walking Dead's lead character: the show shoots in Georgia for half the year... and his family lives in the U.K.

That's right. Andrew Lincoln spends half of the year away from his family, as in he's literally living in a different country, and he's just plain tired of it. As he put it in an interview with EW, "I have two young children, and I live in a different country, and they become less portable as they get older." He summed it all up with the concise statement, "It was that simple. It was time for me to come home."

So that's it: Andrew Lincoln isn't having a showdown with AMC execs, he isn't rubbing the director the wrong way, he isn't upset with the departure of important characters or how his story has been handled. He just wants to go home.

Tricky renegotiations

While Andrew Lincoln's reasons for leaving the show seem fairly simple, the tale of Lauren Cohan is not quite so cut and clear. And, unfortunately, it appears that the center of the issue boils down to that age-old factor: money.

The situation with Cohen seems to have been as simple as a contract ending and the completely rational expectation that one can renegotiate before signing up for more of the same. In the entertainment world this stuff is as normal as breathing. But according to a recent radio interview, apparently, it's been a bit harder to get through that whole "renegotiate" part than might have been hoped for.

The truth is, Maggie is as important to the show these days as anyone, even Rick, and it stands to reason that she could expect more than a modest bump in her paycheck. Some reports even mention a not unreasonable desire for parity with Lincoln and Norman Reedus — who plays the enormously popular Daryl Dixon. Whatever the specifics might be, it does appear that some sort of rather large financial hiccup has spiraled into at least part of the reason that Cohan will only be appearing in six episodes of season 9.

No longer the center of attention

While Rick Grimes has always been one of the most important characters in the show (the first episode starts with him alone in a hospital and then follows him until he finds everyone else, for goodness sake), the truth is, he's never had to carry the show alone. In fact, in spite of ever-present post-apocalyptic danger, the show has managed to maintain a robust supporting cast, many of which have risen to prominence and should have no problem helping to keep the show going in a new direction.

In fact, in early July when that first season 9 poster was leaked, everyone exploded with talk about the crumbling capital building (and that helicopter!) in the background. The image seemed to make it fairly clear that the show might be heading north once again (remember, it started in Atlanta and has already moved north from there with the Alexandria safe zone located just a hop, skip, and a jump from the capital). The signs all point to another departure from the comic book storyline, which had been returned to somewhat for recent events in the war with Negan. But with Carl dead, Rick literally evacuated by helicopter (and gearing up for some movies of his own), and Maggie also about to be whisked away in some fashion or another, it's clear that the writers are gearing up to send the show off in an unexpected direction yet again —  a direction where overall comparisons to the comics will be more difficult, as well as criticism of specific changes.

Moving on to lighter things

Another motivating factor for Cohan seems to have been the rather large role she'll be playing in the new ABC series Whiskey Cavalier. While Cohan has been acting for years, and in numerous roles besides Maggie on The Walking Dead, she'll be one of the leads in her next project, which means she'll have less time to go around. It already stands to reason that the vacuum left by Lincoln's departure will mean that several of the Walking Dead actors will have to step up their involvement to fill the gap, and with Maggie so crucially important at this point, she would probably have had to put in substantially more time. That works when all you're doing is picking up side gigs here and there and can otherwise focus all of your energy on one show, but Cohan would have found herself torn between two primary roles.

She'll be headlining the new ABC show alongside Scott Foley (Felicity), with the two co-piloting an action dramedy that's quite a departure from the zombie-infested wasteland of The Walking Dead. Cohan has established herself as a household name through The Walking Dead, but while she loves the show, she seems to want to branch out with her newfound levels of fame and look for "comedy and happier fare" beyond the horror genre.

Moving on... but not dying

Even in light of Andrew Lincoln's reasons for leaving the show, it was rumored for months beforehand that this doesn't have to mean the end of Rick Grimes. Further fueling this theory, Lincoln made some rather vague statements. Speaking with EW, he said, "Yes, it's my last season on the TV show, The Walking Dead." You could take that at face value and assume that the conclusion can be drawn that Andrew Lincoln is done acting in Robert Kirkman's post-apocalyptic world for good.

But that's just not what diehard fans do, is it? They held on to hope, and as the last moments of his farewell episode on the flagship series unfolded, it became clear that the theme of Rick's last two episodes had misleadingly pointed toward death. Savvy watchers of the show know that you just can't always trust what you're seeing — and sure enough, after being impaled, passing out way too many times, and leading a very cooperative horde of zombies on a chase studded with all sorts of fun cameo-filled flashbacks, Rick went down with his bridge, floated downstream... and got picked up by a helicopter.

AMC followed it all up with a huge announcement that Rick wasn't just still alive, he was going to headline the next big phase of their larger Walking Dead Universe plans by reprising his role in three feature-length films. Andrew Lincoln done playing Rick Grimes? Hogwash.

But Maggie's not quite finished

In spite of her looming exit in the opening chapters of season 9, Cohan has made it clear that her "Walking Dead story is open." While this may be little more than niceties uttered about taking life one step at a time, it also could imply that this might be little more than a break for Cohan and the show — although she's remained vague with statements like "Let's see what happens. I don't know where it's gonna go, let's see what happens," as she said during an interview with EW just weeks before her goodbye.

Perhaps Maggie will be carted off somewhere zombie-free where the character can be left in storage until a later date. Maybe, with the possible shift to Washington D.C., she'll simply be left behind and offscreen. Certainly, after her recent confrontation with Negan, she has less vengeance to execute, which frees her up to be "put on hold" if necessary. But on the other hand, maybe all this really means is that they're simply going to bump Maggie off and leave Cohan to find her new comedic path on her ABC show, and all she's trying to do is not ruin the surprise. Whatever time shows us, it appears that at least according to Cohan, she's in a period of transition and very little is set in stone.

Real-world ramifications and Rick Grimes' character arc

Lincoln is leaving the show to spend more time with his family and star in a few movies, and good on him for having the guts (pun intended) to bow out when the time came. But while real-world events are causing this change to Rick Grimes' presence on the show, that doesn't mean that a development as dramatic as Rick's removal wasn't warranted at this point anyway.

After all, Rick has seen nearly everyone he cares about killed, eaten, mauled, tortured — the list goes on. Sure, he's had Michonne, Judith, and his hopes for rebuilding the future, but that's about it on what was once a fairly extensive list. He's stooped to horrendous levels to keep his people alive and out of danger, and as those credits wrapped up on season 8, they left Rick both triumphant over the great threat that had been Negan and grieving the loss of his only son. Between the sweet taste of victory and the anguish of personal loss, it seems there aren't many better spots for Rick to say his goodbyes — here at the end of a great chapter in the Walking Dead.

Champion, mother, matriarch

As we mull over what the implications of Cohan's break with The Walking Dead might mean for her, we must also consider what it means for Maggie. The character's star has steadily risen since we stumbled into her at the farm in season 2. She's gone through the loss of her father, sister, and husband, the horrors of the Governor and the war with Negan, and countless other harrowing situations. But rather than break her or turn her into zombie food (or both!), it's transformed her into a woman of steel.

We recently saw her seize control of the Hilltop to restore order and direction to the beleaguered community. From there, she became one of the primary moving forces against Negan. And let's not forget she did all this while pregnant. Now, in season 9, we've watched her execute Gregory and seen Negan cower at her feet. This woman is intense.

The truth is, with things clearly about to make a major shift, Maggie could easily be left behind. She's settled now — at least as settled as you can be in The Walking Dead — as a leader and a mother, and if there aren't any zombie bites in her near future, the solution to Cohan not being with the show any further may be as simple as leaving her behind at the Hilltop, living as much of a happily ever after as any post-apocalyptic survivor could hope to have.