“I love this show, it means everything to me,” he told the audience at “The Walking Dead” San Diego Comic-Con panel. “I love the people who make this show. I’m particularly fond of the people who watch this show. This has been the most extraordinary, amazing and beautiful experience of my career. I don’t want to turn this in to an Oscar acceptance speech or an obituary, as we’re deeply proud of the work we’ve done this season.”
Lincoln and the show’s producers declined to elaborate on how Rick would depart the show, but Lincoln added that “my relationship with Mr. Grimes is far from over. He’s a large part of me… I’m really excited about this season. There are two episodes that, to me, are my favorite episodes since the pilot. No one is bigger than the story and the story this year is incredible.”
As for what’s next, “I’m going to take a break. It is time for me to go home,” Lincoln said. “Saying that, I have one eye on the scripts. I don’t know, it’s been so much a part of my life. It’s been my everything, I’ve breathed it for 10 years. I believe in the story so much that I can’t spoil this for you. But it’s a really terrific season for Rick’s story and Michonne. I get to play with all of my favorite characters this year. I’m so in love with Rick Grimes and the people on this show that I can’t put it down just yet.”
Not addressed on the panel, however: The status of Lauren Cohan (Maggie), who will only appear in six episodes this season (due to her obligations on ABC’s midseason drama “Whiskey Cavalier.”)
Meanwhile, like the comic series, “The Walking Dead” takes a time jump in Season 9, and several producers and stars compared it to a western. With gas degraded and roads unusable, the characters must rely more on hand weapons and horses.
“The first eight seasons were one chapter, and Season 9 is a new beginning, a whole new show,” said executive producer Scott Gimple. “You’re going to see a world that’s different than it’s been. We did two years of all-out war. This couldn’t be more different.”
Added executive producer David Alpert: “We spent so much time tearing the world apart, the loss of civil norms and institutions — I’m talking about the show — but like in real life, there is hope, and we’re starting to see society come back. It’s not a smooth process. But seeing that come back is the most exciting thing for this season.”
Season 9 is also the debut of executive producer Angela Kang as the new “Walking Dead” showrunner, and the panelists were effusive in their praise. “Angela’s been my favorite writer,” Norman Reedus said. “It feels like a western this year, it’s great!”
As for the fate of Negan, now imprisoned, “it’s a different year, a different side of Negan,” Jeffrey Dean Morgan said. “Negan gets to interact with people up on this stage he hasn’t had to interact with before. That’s super fun.”
Added Kang: “Negan is Negan, and Negan wants to stir up trouble sometimes, so we’ll play with some of those stories.”
Characters showing up from the comics this season include Earl the Blacksmith (played by John Finn) and Tammy Rose (Brett Butler). Also, Robert Kirkman revealed that Samantha Morton will play Alpha, the leader of the group The Whisperers. The actress currently stars as a madam on Hulu’s “Harlots.” Here’s a full roundup of new characters:
Brett Butler as Tammy Rose – A salt-of-the-earth resident at Hilltop.
John Finn as Earl – Hilltop’s blacksmith and Tammy Rose’s devoted husband.
Rhys Coiro as Jed – A rebellious Savior who refuses to fall in line.
Dan Fogler as Luke – A fatigued survivor who understands there is safety in numbers. He values what is beautiful and hopeful and makes us uniquely human.
Zach McGowen as Justin – a hostile Savior not interested in working together with the other communities.
Angel Theory as Kelly – Connie’s ever-alert and ever-protective sister.
Samantha Morton as Alpha.