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The Real Reason Lauren Cohan Is Returning To The Walking Dead

Just when you thought she was out, the Walking Dead franchise pulled her back in.

Back in January, RadioTimes reported that Lauren Cohan, who portrayed Maggie in seasons 2-9 of AMC's post-apocalyptic zombie thriller, was set to make a return. This was good news for fans — Cohan's departure never initially received the attention it deserved — but with season 10 barreling toward its (delayed) finale, fans were starting to worry that all the hubbub over Maggie's comeback was just a feint. The series' creative team has certainly proven that they're not above a fake out or two, but all those fears were proven unfounded by a teaser at the end of last week's episode. Maggie is indeed returning to the world of The Walking Dead, and that long-awaited homecoming is set to take place on the season 10 finale.

Cohan's departure from the series was as abrupt as it was unexplained within the show's continuity. Just after Maggie cemented her reign over the survivors at Hilltop, rumblings started to bubble up from the press that Cohan was dissatisfied on The Walking Dead, and eager to explore a budding film career. Her season 9 contract negotiations also got hung up on the tiny issue of money (via Entertainment Weekly). So, what's the real story behind Cohan's sudden return?

Lauren Cohan was always planning to come back to The Walking Dead

Soon after the drama leaked, AMC announced that Cohan would officially be leaving around the same time as leading man Andrew Lincoln (who portrayed Rick Grimes). Losing two of the show's staple cast members in the same season seemed like an impossible blow for the franchise to absorb, but The Walking Dead emerged from its time jump with a leaner cast and a tighter focus on popular characters like Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus).

The series bid adieu to both Lincoln and Cohan, but the two stars (who had been with the series since seasons 1 and 2, respectively) received very different going away parties. Rick was given a proper send off in a helicopter after a heroic stand at the Alexandria Bridge, whereas Maggie simply vanished from the Hilltop without a trace. On the other side of the big season 9 time jump, she was already gone. Viewers got it second-hand that she had up and left the Hilltop with her son Hershel, never to be seen again.

At the time, Cohan pretty explicitly left the door open for a return after she had time to explore other aspects of her career. She told EW, "I think that we like finality, and it's almost because of how much I like finality that I'm forcing myself not to have it and I'm forcing myself not to give it, because it wouldn't be sincere. Any kind of guarantee that I could give could not be sincere to the fans, to my Walking Dead family, to myself... And it was like that on set. It was, 'I love you guys, I'm gonna come visit.'"

At that time, she was already having discussions with Gimple and showrunner Angela Kang about the potential opportunities for Maggie to return to the story. With the season 10 finale on the horizon, it seems like the plot was finally ripe.

Lauren Cohan's Maggie has a major part to play in The Walking Dead's next chapter

As The Walking Dead winds down its Whisperers story arc, the true ending of its source material is finally coming into view. The entire franchise is based on the comic series of the same name by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Tony Moore. Potential spoilers for upcoming seasons of The Walking Dead abound, so read on at your own risk.

In the final issue of the comic, the story jumps far into the future. We follow an adult Carl Grimes (still alive in the comics), now married to Sophia (also still alive in the comics) as he wanders the new world built by the survivors. At this point in time, the zombie threat has been so marginalized that even seeing a walker is considered a rare and exciting event. The survivors have joined together with a massive community that spans the entire eastern United States, and the President of this eastern alliance is... Maggie. If Cohan's return proves to be more permanent, it may mean that the show is slowly moving toward the endgame that comic readers already know is coming.

Lauren Cohan may be returning to place Maggie in her rightful leadership role

The extended final issue of The Walking Dead dropped without warning back on July 3, 2019. It was the 193rd issue of the long-running comic, and despite the lack of a heads up, fans felt that it mostly provided a satisfying coda to a series that they had been reading since 2003.

Endings are often the most difficult part of storytelling — especially when that story has been building over decades. With the TV series The Walking Dead starting to get a little long in the rotten tooth, Scott Gimple and Angela Kang must be starting to think about how to bring the survivors' journey in for a compelling landing. So much has changed from Kirkman's original story that it would now be impossible to follow the original ending to a T, but if Maggie is indeed returning to Alexandria for good, some critical features from the comic series' conclusion could be preserved. According to an interview with Cohan posted on AMC's official website for the show, Maggie will indeed be sticking around beyond the season 10 finale and into season 11, so anything's possible.

Maggie may figure into the ultimate ending of The Walking Dead

The focal conflict of the final issue of The Walking Dead comic series concerns a clash between a middle-aged Carl Grimes and the 20-something Hershel Rhee, son of Maggie and Glenn. Hershel has started a traveling sideshow of sorts, featuring walkers that he's collected from distant frontier regions for display. After everything he's been through, Carl obviously disapproves of Hershel's entire enterprise, profiting off of making light of the undead threat. Carl takes matters into his own hands and destroys Hershel's walkers, which lands him in legal trouble for destruction of property. The old way of doing things didn't quite mesh with the restoration of civilization and the rule of law. It's a difficult lesson for Carl to learn, but one that successfully encapsulated the series' running theme of rebirth.

If Gimple and Kang decide to give us a glimpse of the world that the survivors built, Carl will obviously have to be replaced with another character (Daryl Dixon, anyone?). But most of this drama could still play out with Maggie as President of the Commonwealth (as she is at the conclusion of the comic series), and the grown-up Hershel as the spoiled First Son of the eastern United States.

Lauren Cohan may provide Alexandria with the leader they need in a time of crisis

While The Walking Dead may have a long game planned for Cohan that draws on its source material, her return on the season 10 finale also serves a more immediate need. The survivors haven't yet dispatched the Whisperers on the show, and with Michonne heading off to search for Rick, they are left largely leaderless at a time of great peril. Maggie was just coming into her own as a battle-tested leader at the Hilltop when she split. Could she assume Michonne's mantle, and rally the survivors to resist Beta's coming onslaught?

In a more recent Entertainment Weekly piece, Kang gave the scoop on her plans for the elusive Maggie. She said of the impending return, "We'll see that Maggie is.... We'll know what's happened with her and what that means for our group." Pretty cryptic, but it sounds like Maggie and wherever she's been may be critical to the resolution with Beta and his Whisperers.

The season 10 finale of The Walking Dead has been delayed indefinitely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, so we'll unfortunately have to keep waiting to find out exactly how Maggie stages her return. We'll keep an eye out for the eventual announcement of the finale's air date, and we'll keep you informed.